Saturday, May 31, 2008

Looking Up

Today, instead of receiving rejection, I received two dozen daisies from my husband.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ultramarathon Man

Tonight's Tri Club meeting came in the form of a movie premiere. "UltraMarathon Man," which follows Dean Karnazes as he runs fifty marathon in fifty states in fifty days. Which begs the question: what leads someone to attempt something so nutty?

I think the reason lies in the fact that those of us living the good life--people with good health, enough food, potable water, safe shelter, a stable government--have the luxury of pushing ourselves to achieve things that don't have to be done. For Karnazes, it's incredible displays of athletic endurance. For my husband, it's round the clock science. Me? Writing stories.

I suppose I bring this up now because I've been taking a lot of literary rejection lately. Usually I have a thick skin for this type of thing, but it's wearing on me. It makes me wonder why I want to publish. The whole process kicks your ass like a long-distance race.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tell Me a Story

For better or worse, you can keep a lot from a child. In my classroom this morning for Rolling Readers, rather than explain that I hadn't brought the promised Indiana Jones book because I've been laid up with a nasty stomach flu, I simply said I'd brought something else that I thought they'd like. Not a question was asked. My stomach was a conflagration, but I was still able to do all the characters' voices to perfectly hyperbolic pitch. Next week? Indy for sure.

A belated congratulations to my workshop mate, Brian, who recently placed a story.

Happy long weekend!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"Native Speaker" by Chang-Rae Lee

Eh....This book is nowhere near as good as A Gesture Life or Aloft.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sea World

My friend Becky loves her job as much or more than an election precinct trainer. Bryan, his mom, his uncle, and I went to Sea World today. Becky works as an orca trainer and graciously hooked us up with park passes, a tour of the back pools (complete with feeding snow to whales), and lunch beside another pool.

Becky had perviously told me that, depending on which part she played, this year's daytime Shamu show could have her doing quite a bit of dancing. For the one we saw, she was able to skip the dancing and instead swim. Which included a spectacular dive off the whale's snout. And I thought the swimming she did at Shores, or at Ironman Wisconsin, was cool.

John tossing a snowball to a whale.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Voter Training

I had training today for the June third election. It was mostly the same, but what's different makes a difference. Precinct trainers really love their jobs, and I appreciated their enthusiasm. If we had to be stuck together on a Saturday with less-than-fascinating material, it helps to make the best of it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

"Black Lagoon Favorites" by Mike Thaler

My first children's book review!

At this morning's Rolling Readers session, I read the stories in Black Lagoon Favorites, which follows a young boy's wild, worst-case-scenario imaginings of his school's employees. The kids in Mrs. Jefferson's class loved them, and in fact had requested these Black Lagoon stories. Before starting this reading gig, I was stressing about choosing books that would be age-appropriate. Second-graders are usually eight or nine years old. Would a book intended for six-to-eight be an insult? Would nine-to-twelve be boring? It turns out what matters to these kids is, beatifically, a good story.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Oakley Hall

Today I received an email from fellow '07 Squaw Valley attendee Renee Thompson, with news that Oakley Hall, the workshops' founder, passed away. You can read about him and all that he accomplished here.

My sharpest memory of Mr. Hall at last summer's conference was passing him on the valley's bike path while out for a morning run. He was out for a morning walk and gave me a jolly, slightly scared wave. Running writers can be a panic-inducing bunch. He will be missed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Glimpses of Louie

My mom left this morning. While here she snapped plenty of pictures, and I'm including my Louie favorites below.

Tomorrow, Bryan's mom arrives. I told Louie that she most likely won't take his picture, but the level of affection wouldn't change.

"Then We Came to the End" by Joshua Ferris

This book takes you somewhere. Specifically, a Chicago advertising agency in the midst of lay-offs. But it's the story's energy that allows you entrance to something solidly "other." With the snappy dialogue and a "can't be bothered with proper dialogue tags or paragraphs" attitude, the book feels a bit Hollywood, a bit Generation X, a bit like the world of sarcastic advertising folk.

It's told in the first-person plural, meaning narration often goes something like, "We didn't know who was stealing things from other people's workstations. Always small items--postcards, framed photographs. We had our suspicions but no proof." At first, you feel like you're peering over a cubicle wall into a very different world. Somewhere in the book's middle, though, you feel a part of the collective "we."

This book works in movements: humorous office anecdotes, which then ebb for the narration of an employee with breast cancer, and finishes up with a co-worker reunion at a book tour event of another previous employee. Funny to heartfelt to contentedness.

Monday, May 12, 2008

San Francisco

Let's be up front about things and give credit where it's due. We owe this whole trip to Mark. A friend of his is helping open a new (ritzy) hotel in Sausalito, and Mark invited BO and I to go up with him for the weekend, stay in the hotel and check out the city. Then it turned out my mom would be on the mainland for our SLO trip, and it was Mother's Day weekend anyway, so we made the trip a foursome. Here are some sights...

We ended the first day with a Giants game.

Saturday we spent in Sonoma, where Mark and BO began their sommelier training.

After four vineyards, we stopped for cheese and bread, along with this $3.99--er, $2.99 salametti.

Sunday. Everyone photographing everyone.

This was the primary view we'd come to capture.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mom's Post

When Michelle and I first talked about how much fun it would be to take Amtrak to a city that was new to both of us, I knew we'd have a blast.  When making our plans, we referred to it as "Our Adventure," not just a run-of-the-mill "trip."

As a child I'd taken the train a few times, the longest being a cross-country trip that took three days (and nights).  I didn't want to sit in my seat the whole time, and enjoyed exploring it all: passenger cars, sleeper cars, dining car and the observation car where I could sit up on top and look out at the world.  My favorite spot was standing between the railroad cars because it was open to the elements, and so the noise and movement were accentuated.  I always loved the clack-clack-clack of the tracks, and the gentle rocking motion as we sped down the rails.  Last week when Michelle and I boarded and the train started moving, it was all very familiar, just like when I was a kid.

We took the Coast Starlight and highly recommend it; the views are stupendous and luncheon in the dining car was great.  The airlines can't compete with linen tablecloths, real silver, a tasty menu with reasonable prices, and service with a smile!  For three days we explored San Luis Obispo, walking everywhere of course, and seeing museums, antique stores, and wonderful restaurants.  Mostly though, we enjoyed talking about anything and everything.  We don't live in the same state anymore, so our in-person visits are very special to both of us.

The second night Michelle said "Let's call our husbands -- doesn't that just sound great -- call our husbands?"  The big smile on her face when she said this reminded me how much she loves Bryan, her husband of six months, and how lucky they are to have each other.  Of course we did call Bryan, as well as my husband of forty years (and believe me, we're also very lucky to have each other) to tell them about our day.  Being the terrific guys they are, they were happy to hear the excitement in our voices when we told them how much fun we were having.

Before long it was time for the train ride back to San Diego; we'd packed a lot into our days and said maybe we'd take a longer trip next time.  We didn't buy much and spent very little money, but came back wealthy with memories.  The song that keeps running through my head is Carol Burnett's theme song: "I'm so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh and sing a song..."

Thanks a million, Michelle, for coming up with a fabulous idea!

Later, Gater

Blogger, guest blogger, husband, and brother will be in San Francisco this weekend. Fascinating details on Monday.

The Flying Trapeze

My neighbor, Karen, is developing a self-improvement game titled "No Regrets," and I am part of her five-woman test group. We meet monthly to set goals that will challenge ourselves and/or positively affect society, therefore living life to its fullest. We also eat good food and gab. Some of the full life I've lived since starting the game? Volunteering with Rolling Readers, mailing a book to a friend, and picking up non-Louie neighborhood poop (no deed is too small).

Then Karen came to me with the idea of challenging ourselves physically. How? By swinging on a trapeze. I thought she was brilliant. The class was ninety minutes, with eighty-nine of those minutes spent flying. Almost. We left the class (which is outside, in beautiful Escondido) wonderfully exhausted.

The trapeze rig.

Me (red shirt) being caught from a knee swing.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Science Experiment

I am working on a story that involves a sister and brother feeding frozen peas to their goldfish, because they don't have flake food. While typing the scene, it occurred to me that I didn't know if the peas would sink or float. So I picked up a bag at the store this afternoon, and performed my own science experiment. The result?

They eventually sink.

Monday, May 5, 2008

San Luis Obispo

Last week, my mom and I took Amtrak up to San Luis Obispo for a couple days.

Boarding in Solana Beach.

Union Station in Los Angeles, where we transferred.

Heading north...


Jamaican Jerk fries with a mango chutney from a Belgian frites cafe.

This old Carnegie library is home to the SLO Historical Society.

Dinner along the river at Novo.

Boarding the train to head home, I found my car keys I thought I'd lost about two years ago! A sure sign that my backpack has too many pockets.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Rolling Readers

Whoever devised free association as a writing method must have been a parent. My first Rolling Readers story session was this morning. It’s a pretty casual thing; I read stories to a second grade class in Mira Mesa and we occasionally stop and talk about the stories (today: Say Cheese! (an "Arthur" book) and Falling Up). It’s a wonderful group of kids who couldn’t wait to raise a hand and tell me something, whether it applied to the story or not. In asking the kids if they wore bicycle helmets, I got accounts gnarly skateboard crashes, of a bike being pushed into a lake by a parent with an SUV and questionable driving skills, of a loose bike seat. It was all wonderful stuff.

Going into the story session, I was nervous. What if the kids didn’t like me, or my books, or the voices I used for each character? I’d planned on bringing several books that the kids could choose from, and Bryan suggested I add Owen Meany to the mix. Because I apparently have an above-average Owen Meany voice (you know, the boy with the “wrecked voice”), and who doesn’t love John Irving? (Full disclaimer: at a recent baby shower, we brought Crime and Punishment for the tyke, when everyone else had picture books.)

To stave off fear, I considered picturing the kids in their underwear. But I realized I could get arrested for something like that. It turns out my fear was unwarranted. The kids all remembered me from our initial meeting. They were having a snack when I arrived, and showed me their green Vietnamese Jell-o, and confessed they sucked the coating off their white cheddar goldfish and then discarded them. We were fast friends. Then I began lobbing stories their way, which they returned with random stories of their own. I left the session with requests for several other books, and have two weeks to fill them.