Saturday, July 26, 2008


Summer Writing Conference Fun kicks off tomorrow. Meted out between one rolling suitcase and a messenger bag, the things I will be carrying are apprehension, excitement, a box from Chuao, years of family support, and tireless encouragement from my husband. I will also have a copy of "The Things They Carried," several TV shows courtesy of iTunes, photographs of my husband and our Louie, and our team name O'Neill. I've remembered to pack snacks, a water bottle, plenty of running clothes, and the belief that other writers are coming for the same reasons I have, which include the desire to improve. Through their stories, through conversations, over dinner tables, I hope to learn a little of what they are carrying.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hot Pepper

I am so delighted that a tiny little short-short, titled "The Dog Walker," has found a home at the newish journal Pequin. Although none of you will take my words as impartial, this really is a wonderful journal that matches up short-shorts and photographs, and features a new pair every few days. Check it out, and then check back in September for my story.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

"Fifteen Candles" edited by Adriana Lopez

As I read the essays in this book, I wondered how publishers, editors, and those higher book powers intend readers to tackle such a collection. I have some monster story collections by Grace Paley, Richard Bausch, Flannery O'Connor, and Eudora Welty (I just realized these are nearly all Southerners. Odd.) that I delve into occasionally. Surely...I think?...these books weren't designed to be read all at once. But with essay collections, I'm not sure.

Anyhow, as someone will very little exposure to quinceañera parties (or bat mitzvahs, debutante balls, cotillion, or anything so formal for that matter--I did go through a Girl Scout bridging ceremony, though?), these essays were enjoyable little journeys into places I know nothing about.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Feliz Cumpleanos

Happy Birthday, Mark!

Monday, July 21, 2008

I Love What You Hate, and Vice Versa

So I went to local-tri-store-with-notorious-bad-customer-service today. I had a gift certificate and needed a new watch. Mirable dictu! The staff were actually helpful. I'd known the store had changed ownership last year. But I wasn't convinced that meant its employees would take me seriously as a customer, triathlete, or human, really. But things can change, and change is good.

I saw "Mamma Mia" with some friends. Parts of it I liked, parts of it I didn't. What I disliked were all the usual complaints about musicals, the things that are the very definition of a musical. So the logic then follows that the movie was successful, because it achieved its prescribed goals.

I recently received an extremely encouraging rejection from a journal editor. She couldn't take my submission, but asked me to send another. So I did. And it was rejected, too. I asked her to explain her reasoning, which she generously did. I thought a lot about her email. I could see her points. But what she disliked was precisely what I was aiming for. And there is, of course, more than one way to write a story. So I have to hope that some other editor will like the goals I've set out for the story, and find it successful, too.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Le Tour

So Le Tour's back. I've been watching it, but it's hard to really root for anyone. That sentiment was affirmed today, when it was announced Ricardo Ricco was pulled from the race for having a freakishly high amount of red blood cells. Ricco had powered through stage nine's mountains with extraordinary strength, and it turns out it may very well have indeed been out of the ordinary.

You may not be able to believe in any of the athletes, but at least the hosts don't disappoint. There's a new cycling team this year, sponsored by Garmin and that fast food Mexican joint owned by McDonald's. How does Phil Liggett pronounced it? Chi-POT-lee. Fabulous.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Daily Grind

(He looks a little glum, but I promise he was happy to be back.)


Two days in a row back at our old Starbucks makes Louie a happy boy.

So it turns out I didn't last too long on my HOA board. But I trust the remaining board members will carry on and fight the good fight.

Muchas gracias to Marc and Veronika for having me over for dinner! Marc made turkey chili and V made Spanish rice. A perfect duo if I ever saw one.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Today, Louie and I returned to our roots at our old Starbucks. And although the patio was crammed with ridiculously large Adirondack-like chairs, we were able to steal a table and two chairs. But this was during the afternoon lull, and I just know it won't be feasible during a regular morning. Oh, what's a girl and her dog to do? I really liked The Coffee Bean, but unless I can trespass through a condo complex, it simply isn't within walking distance. And there's something just so pure about our six little legs carrying us to a quiet place where I can make things up and he can people-watch.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Different Starbucks

(I think he was watching a cute little lab walk by.)

Louie and I went to a nearby Starbucks for morning writing, but not our old Starbucks. The cafe has actual table and chairs, but damnit it's not within walking distance. If I have to start up my car, I'd rather go to The Coffee Bean or Pannikin. The search continues.

Today was my first volunteer session with United Through Reading. The officer who toured me around Juvenile Hall last month definitely wanted to instill fear in me. Which is probably a wise thing. But today's session was happily unintimidating. Myself and two other volunteers spoke with seventeen female inmates about the importance of reading to children. We then helped the girls choose a book to send to their child, sibling, or other young relative. In two weeks, the inmates can elect to have us record them reading the book. The DVD and book will then be sent to the child (if not, then just the book goes in the mail). I'm sad that I'll be in Napa Valley during the taping, but look forward to doing it next month.

Two days in a row for the ocean for me! The old Monday Shores swim and it felt good to be back. The water was seventy, but I still wore a wetsuit. 

When I got out of the ocean, a news team was interviewing people for thoughts on Bush's bright idea of offshore oil drilling. The only plus I could think of was that an oil derrick would be a hell of an object to sight on. Although the water might be so polluted that it wouldn't be safe to swim in.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tri Season

A big thanks to the mighty Tom Johnson, who got me back in the ocean after nine months. It was the first swim at the Cove to prep for Gatorman (which I may or may not do.) I only did a half mile, and did it with my wetsuit, but it felt alright. Gatorman or not, the swimming will do me good because I've recently decided to do Pumpkinman. Go TCSD!

Last night, BO and I saw Wall-E. This movie pulls at you same as a written story. Just the scene of that little robot puttering around, compacting trash on a planet that's long been vacated and forgotten him, oh.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Pannikin (Del Mar)

(Louie living the good life.)

I like coffee shops that write their menus on chalkboards.

I’ve previously been to the Pannikin in Encinitas, but had only passed by this one in the Flower Hill mall (which has the enviable location of being next to an independent book store).

What we primarily came for, atmosphere, was just what I was looking for. A quiet place where people say hi but otherwise leave you alone. Extra points for non-corporate décor. And the outdoor patio is covered, so I’ll never worry I’ll burn or Louie will overheat.

The mint tea is fabulous.

Just inside the shop sat a women’s knitting group. At one point, a knitter stood up and modeled a blue two-toned sweater vest, needles still hanging off various seams. I was impressed.

Overheard at Pannikin: whether, or whether not, would-be first-time buyers should pull the trigger on a home in Escondido. The young husband had a background in ornithology, and as he and his wife and his in-laws watched the little patio birds, he said birds that eat too much bread develop clubfoot. He used to tag birds somewhere in Ashland, and had noticed a rise in the condition. The best guess is that it comes from hand feeding in public places, and scrounging in parking lots. So Americans aren't the only ones who get by on empty carbohydrate calories.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf

This coffee shop is a little more than a mile away, but difficult to walk to. So Louie and I packed into the car and drove over.

It wasn't clear which teas on the menu could be brewed hot and which were available iced (I was hoping for the latter). So I asked the barista and he rattled off a slew of words that do nothing to give clues about what they might taste like. Fancy Formosa Oolong? Lung Ching Dragonwell? Genmaicha Green? Sound like items you'd find in a Burpee catalog.

Wanting to minimize my geekiness factor, I ask for something fruit-flavored and end up with Tropical Passion. Which I assume has some sort of third-cousin, twice-removed relationship to the passion fruit. It’s tasty, although at $1.95 it's fifty cents more than Starbucks, and ten cents more than Stratford.

Their outdoor patio--the real reason I've come--is great. It's open with plenty of tables and chairs, and I think this airy feeling contributes my ability to create fake worlds. I could definitely sit and work here for several hours.

The clientele leans more “Del Mar.” I overheard talk about whether or whether not a girl inside the shop was indeed a girl named Paris, and what it meant that one girl hadn’t said hi to her, although she had smiled. Like, oh my Gawd!

But there was one sweet couple reading newspaper headlines to each other like they genuinely wanted to the other to know these things. They weren’t doing it to knock society, to brag, or one-up the other.

And Louie? He’s a simple dog and I think his simple needs were met. I appreciated the water bowl for dogs passing through.

Tomorrow? Perhaps a shop with a little more glam.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"The Moviegoer" by Walker Percy

I like this book. I've heard a lot about Percy's interest in Existentialism, and that this book lives deep in the philosophy's trenches. I don't know much about Existentialism so maybe that's true, but the story isn't didactic in anyway (The Fountainhead, it is not). Instead, it's an empathetic look at the life of a twenty-nine-year-old guy who simply isn't too jazzed about year thirty. The plot meanders, and the story's dynamism lies in this.

Stratford Court Cafe

(Louie with his biscuit.)

Day one of Michelle and Louie Find a New Writing Hangout. Lou and I had been to Stratford once before with my mom for breakfast. The cafe is in a historic building, but you sit out front on their shady patio (trees and umbrellas). I ordered a peppermint tea, which I love and which the old Starbucks didn't carry. Louie got a Straford dog biscuit. :) The atmosphere is low-key, with Sting and Coldplay albums playing softly. The best sounds were the birds in the trees. It was like they were rooting for each word I typed. :)

Overheard at Stratford: One girl trying to read a word in the newspaper to her mother and sister. She was trying out different pronunciations that sounded a bit like vestal, vestibule, and vestigial. I finally decided it was the last one, and helped her out. I never know if it's rude to correct someone like that. But I figure if I didn't know something and someone could help me, I'd be grateful. And these women today were congenial.

Stratford was good, but is probably better suited to eating a meal. Tomorrow brings another adventure.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

"An Alphabetical Life" by Wendy Werris

My husband believes that if you approach something without expectations, you're rarely disappointed and usually pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, with this book, I was disappointed. It's a memoir of one woman's career in the book business, from store teller to publishing rep. Things didn't start well on the first page when I saw the dialogue was going to be anything but realistic:

"Ma," I announced, "I got a job today. I'm going to work in a bookstore."...I sat down across from her and lit a cigarette of my own. "It's our favorite one!" I said happily. "PIckwick Bookshop, up on Hollywood Boulevard."

"Oh, for God's sake! I love that place. Your father's going to be so proud of you when I tell him tonight," she exclaimed.

"Well, don't go too nuts over this," I told her. "I doubt I'll stay there more than a couple of months. It's just a temporary job, Mom, until I start college."

The other thing I just couldn't adjust to was the book's lack of scope. These chapters might have resonated more if they'd been shortened and published as personal essays rather than a memoir. Instead, the author tells us random incidents that don't become cumulative in any meaningful way, in the way that a long piece of prose (fiction or not) should be. For example, the chapters that include her rape and the death of both parents contain enough tension to support an essay, but in this memoir they feel floating. It's interesting that someone who's sold books most of her life doesn't seem to understand how conflict and consistency work in a narrative.

The author mentions her affinity for psychoanalysis at one point. It definitely permeates the writing, the result of which is a glossy tone (with more than enough cliches) that doesn't unpack any of the issues it raises. From page 246:

Out of emotional necessity, I've pitched many childhood memories into the black hole of detachment. My recollections of those Friday nights with my father, however, have only become more beloved to me with the passage of time. The remain a testament to have once been loved with the depth of a bottomless well.

I should say that I never did catch the memoir bug that started going around a few years ago. The form is so hard to do well. I don't believe a successful memoir has to wow and dazzle; a humble life is worth telling, if the telling incorporates and highlights and gives meaning to the small aspects. But if it's a humble life, and the story tries to reach beyond, then it's just silly. Memoirs are always on a tightrope; they're always tow inches from boring or self-congratulatory. (Mind you, I'm cognizant that I'm publishing my personal thoughts on a blog.)


The local Starbucks that Louie and I walk to each morning to write got some new patio furniture. Lots of comfy, laid-back, plush chairs on the patio. Which look very nice but aren't conducive to writing, either on a tablet or computer. So I'm thinking I may have to look for a new place. There's another nearby Starbucks (although not within walking distance), and a few dog-friendly cafes in Del Mar (which would also require the services of The Green Dragon). I think Louie and I will be making a local tour, seeing which place has good tables, good tea, some shade, and friendly people.

Overheard at Starbucks: Two guys studying to be sommeliers. I heard the same thing from two other kids several months ago here as well. Perhaps the repetition is telling me it is indeed time to move on to another spot.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

You Get What You Pay For

Week two of ATP for me. For those not familiar with this workout, it's a bunch of exercises completed in rapid succession that are sure to kick your butt and also sure to embarrass. (Regarding the latter, the flopping fish are the worst.) It's also the second consecutive week that Eric's missed. We can't say for sure, but during the workout were postulating that with fatherhood just on the horizon he's gone soft. First his weekly mileage will drop below eighty, then he'll reclaim MarcFit's old "undertraining" motto, then he'll develop an affinity for lawn bowling. :)

Speaking of running, I got back in touch with a friend from Maryland who's also a runner. She will be running the NYC Marathon this November with Team Fox, which raises money to fight Parkinson's Disease. Good luck, Kate!

Monday, July 7, 2008


It's incredible how such dreary skies at the beach can buoy your spirits.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Getting Stuck

Today, in working on a story, I did the scroll-down-to-the-document’s-end thing, in the hope of finding notes to tell me where the story should go, or least push it through to the another scene. Sadly, I found nothing. So I switched gears and worked on three short-shorts, all of which went well.

One of them includes a dog, which has been a common component of my recent writing. It’s becoming a bit much. I’d hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but I have no other choice than to issue a moratorium on four-legged characters in my writing. Perhaps I should set limitations of my stories’ settings. Nursing homes, hospitals, restaurants; places where dogs are verboten.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

Happy Fourth of July! Today is good day to make sure you're registered to vote. If you want to vote for the first time, have moved, have changed parties, changed your name, et cetera, you can (re)register here. A Google search of your county with the words "registrar voters" will also find your local office.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


I recently discovered an HGTV show called "If Walls Could Talk". If you love stories like I love stories, you might want to check it out. The dramatic recreations can at times be a bit corny, but the stories they tell about people's houses (typically the home's history, which also typically incorporates past owners) are fascinating.

The theme of storytelling continues. Today I read a Little Bill book to my Rolling Readers class. Basically, everyone in Little Bill's family has their "thing" (the father, jazz records; the mother, kitchen heirlooms; the brother, baseball cards). Little Bill doesn't. Upon learning of Bill's frustration, his great-grandmother asks him to make up a story for her. What follows is a silly, nonsensical story about a "something" becoming a "no big thing." I read those pages and thought, "This is like ninety percent of my writing."

I have been remiss in thanking Veronika, my mom, and Bryan for their editing assistance (in both English and Spanish) on a story I submitted to the Napa conference. The manuscript is by no means done, but it would be utter crap without each of your help. Muchas gracias!

“Palm of the Hand Stories” by Yasunari Kawabata

What a find! Howard Norman tipped me off to these stories last October at Tomales Bay, and I am just now getting around to reading them. The beautiful description of these tiny stories as being “palm of the hand,” is right on, and is in keeping with the charming images contained within:

A woman who arrives at her hotel room and, exhausted, flops onto the bed, ankles dangling off, and shakes her feet until her shoes fall off.

A girl who meets a friend by plunging through his yard hedges, always to be caught by him on the other side.

A young girl who begs the past employers of her ill father for money, while the father waits outside. One boss looks out the window for the father, to berate him, and finds he has collapsed on the sidewalk from a stroke.

Lanterns bobbing in a valley below, the light for children out searching for insects. Then later, one boy offers a grasshopper to a girl. The insect held in his fist, the girl wraps both hands around it, and the grasshopper is transferred in a slow maneuver.

My experiences with translations is small. Paul Bowles’ Moroccan stories. Russian novels. A short list of Japanese and Dutch, and Czech novels. And at my first writing conference, my roommate was enrolled in the poetry translation workshop. From her, I realized that rather than being a conduit, a translator can greatly influence the new version of a piece.

Overheard at Starbucks: Espanol! I was able to understand single words or very short phrases, which isn’t good for much of anything. I studied Spanish so very long ago in high school, but would love to pick it back up. I'm thinking of enrolling in a community college course in the fall.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Thank You Sir, May I Have Another

I'd like to thank Veronika, Marc, and Nicole for kicking my butt this evening with an ATP workout. Thank God Eric wasn't there; I might not be able to get out of bed tomorrow.