Friday, August 29, 2008

"Betrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald" by Ron Carlson

This book is a trip. Really. It takes you from Utah to Mexico to an auto shop to prison to, to, to.

The writing is clever. Unfortunately, it knows it and the book sometimes feels a bit too hip for its own good.

You might call this story madcap. A little too much, in my opinion. Round about the time protagonist Larry Boosinger busted out of prison (he was framed by the auto shop guys), I started thinking, at regular intervals, I don't buy this. Still, I admire the story's zeal. It has an effect similar to a cup of coffee.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Bottom

Tonight, with Barack Obama's DNC convention speech, I suspect many bloggers are writing about hope. I want to write about giving up.

At last weekend's Santa Barbara Triathlon, a local triathlete was injured in a bike accident. She was paralyzed from the neck down and dependent on a respirator. Through communication with her family, she determined that she didn't want to live in such a state, and medical staff removed her breathing tube.

While I believe in people having the right to do what they want as long as no harm is done to others, this deeply troubles me. She wasn't in a coma, didn't appear to have severe brain damage, nor was she unable to communicate. And yet she gave up.

I am not indicting her or her family for this decision. Rather, it troubles me that a woman who is no stranger to hard work (she and her sister hold a RAAM record) would be in such a state that she'd elect to opt out of her life. I suppose I am lamenting the torment that life can put people through.

Not to Make You Jealous, Dad, But Here's What You Missed...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Second Living Room

All we need is the barbeque back in its place, a new table and chairs, and the presence of friends.

For the curious, the trees are, left to right: tangerine, fuji apple, plum, apricot, and fig. The flowers along the bottom are--hopefully--zinnias. More on than when they bloom. And the grass is that so-thick-it-feels-like-a-mattress variety, also known at St. Augustine.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What I'm Thinking About Today

As a writer improves, does it mean she writes better first drafts, or that she pushes her final drafts further?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hola! Me Llamo Michelle

Today was my first spanish class. I went in feeling excited but nervous (I don't care how old you are, the first day of school is always slightly unnerving), and came out as exuberant as a child with a lollipop. I am so excited!

I studied Spanish in high school, but whether I want to admit it or not, that was quite some time ago. There have been so many times that I wished I could speak Spanish, so I finally enrolled in a community college class.

There is something wrong, though, when the course materials cost two times more than the course itself--where you get a real-live person teaching you four hours a week for fifteen weeks. Hopefully this is attributed more to the fantastic deal that is the California community college system, than a fleecing from McGraw-Hill.

Half of these course "materials" are subscriptions to online workbooks. I am skeptical that I'll learn this language by typing it as well as I would if my assignments were hand-written, but I'll keep an open mind.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The 2008 Great Pantry Reduction

(The state of our pantry after week one.)

Bryan and I can't be the only people who do this: you have a full pantry, but you eat and replace the same foods. Items that have been in our pantry for quite some time: whole-wheat rotini pasta, honey mustard, a jar of baby corn, Top Ramen, tropical jellies, scores of nutrition bars, and countless others.

So we've decided to eat our way through it. The primary rule: we will buy no groceries that are stored in the pantry. The challenge: to see how bare the pantry can get and still eat balanced meals. The fun: strange food combinations!

I'll post a photo once a week chronicling the progression, as well as any particularly unique meals.

This week's triumphs: significant progress on two boxes of Nutri-Grain bars, and one of two jars of artichoke hearts. The fifty-count box of Costco fruit snacks is going to be a challenge, but seeing as they're so good before and after workouts, I'm confident we can do it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

"Annie John" by Jamaica Kincaid

I took the oblique way around to this book. I'd read, and enjoyed, A Small Place in undergrad. Then in grad school we read the galleys for Mr Potter, and I felt taken advantage of as a reader. The endless repetition felt like an assault, and I am far too assertive a woman to stick around and take such abuse.

When I saw Ms. Kincaid speak at Skidmore last year, I thought I needed to try her work again. It took me thirteen months to do it.

Like riding a bicycle, the frustration I had with Mr. Potter came right back to me, as familiar as my Specialized Ruby.

This book is a series of interesting vignettes (how I loved the visual image of an obeah working to heal Annie!) that aren't a story. It's no secret that Ms. Kincaid's work draws largely on her life, and Annie John reads like notes for what could be a damn good story. But there is no meaning in the string of these events, and there is no arc.

The protagonist, Annie, has a turbulent relationship with her mother. But the ups and downs do not have reasons or motives: mother and daughter are either upset with each other or not, and that's all the narrative will give you.

Then there is the perplexing way in which Annie's close friendship with a girl is (or rather, is not) dealt with. Readers are led to believe the girls have a romantic relationship, but nothing is ever said about lesbianism. And then, inexplicably, the girlfriend, is abruptly out of the picture, Annie having simply outgrown her.

In the final chapter, Annie is suddenly boarding a ship for England and education. Nothing is said about this life-changing change in any previous chapter.

"Annie John" relates incidents that happen to a young girl, but does not make sense or give meaning to any of them.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

August Aquathlon

(Louie cheering on the swimmers.)

(The post-race crowd, enjoying the buffet and hoping their raffle number will come up.)

Lou and I made it out for tonight's aquathlon. Good weather, good friends, and, of course, great pizza. Kudos to Brian, David, and Karam for an awesome event.

Yesterday's post alluded to the merit of Olympic race-walking. Check this out for questions about the merit of China's Olympic gymnasts.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


This is an Olympic sport, and softball is going away?

THIS is an Olympic sport shown in prime time, and triathlon had no coverage?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


It was a year ago today that a little cockapoo named Louie joined our family.

Neither Bryan nor myself know how we lived without him.


You stick around and talk with someone, someone who has only a meager understanding of your language, and you an even worse command of his, and you learn something.

Monday, August 18, 2008

"So Long, See You Tomorrow" by William Maxwell

If it were socially acceptable I'd carry this book around as I went through life, like a child holding the ear of her stuffed rabbit.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

#0 Blade

(Looking studly with his summer cut.)

I worked at a Coffee Bean this morning while Louie got the royal spa treatment at Le Petco. There I ran into a Highway Patrolman I sometimes see at my usual caffeine stomping grounds. Apparently, the Coffee Bean is his usual stomping grounds. You think you're breaking out of a rut, but you're just going from one chain coffee shop to another (different corporate gloss on the same thing), and seeing the same people.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Backyard Woes

(Welcome to our mess.)

(Louie keeps watch over his territory.)

A little while ago, Bryan and I signed a contract with a nice, licensed guy to redo our backyard. The job--a cement patio, some grass, a few fruit trees, and some flowers--should have been completed almost two weeks ago. So far, we have rebar.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Back to It

Today I began wading through the muck of my writing that was workshopped these past two weeks. I have four stories that need rewrites. And although it’s a wonderful problem to have—so much feedback on so many stories!—the task is as daunting as escaping quicksand. The only thing I felt capable of beginning to struggle out of was a short-short that was critiqued at Squaw’s afternoon’s open workshop.

Overheard at Starbucks: One woman telling another about rude, middle-of-the-night phone calls she’s been receiving. The account involved multiple continents, the FBI, identify theft, and a scorned lover.

Somewhere in the thick of it, woman #2 says, “This is, like, a whole story.”

Woman #1: “It is a whole story.”

How jealous I was of #1 and her endorsing friend, #2. My only consolation is that she took far more words than those in my short-short to spin her yarn.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Love Letter

It is with sweaty palms and a fluttering heart that I profess my love for my Napa and Squaw workshop mates.

We commuted in winery rush hour, we conspired to get me the vegetarian lunch option, we got you your much-beloved fig pizza, and we listened to (and learned from!) poetry craft talks.

We read our work aloud to each other one night, and listened to a published author stumble through her own book on another night. We ate overpriced seafood and found we had friends in common. We tried breaking into a pool. We succeeded in breaking down stories to see how they work.

In lieu of a promise ring, we exchanged manuscripts scribbled with notes of affection and solid criticism. We got to know each other over a very intense week, and while our relationships must continue long-distance I know we'll be very happy together.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


After two weeks of writing boot camp, I arrived home expecting some sort of reprieve from stories. But Bryan's mom generously treated us to The Phantom of the Opera last night, and before I could help myself I was analyzing plot, looking for motive, seeing where the line between inner and outer story blurred. I was a Phantom virgin, and confess to not having known anything about the story (other than what can be inferred from its title).

I thoroughly enjoyed the entire show. My favorite part was the curtain call, when this building of thousands, people who'd sat so politely silent during the play, were able to tell the performers how much they'd enjoyed watching them do what they love to do. And the performers seemed truly grateful. It was wonderfully symbiotic, It felt like a community, and the fact that this type of exchange isn't available to but a small coterie of fiction writers wasn't lost on me. It makes me want to don a mask and tell all the struggling writers whom I admire that their words do matter.

Without a disguise, I'd like to thank Marc and Veronika for an awesome Saturday run on a Sunday. I can't wait for Pain Day, otherwise known as Tuesday.

Friday, August 8, 2008


Coincidence is tough to pull off in fiction. Readers just don't buy a character meeting their long-lost, separated-at-birth twin late one night in the supermarket. But after these two weeks of writer's conferences, in which my path crossed in so many weird ways with other people's, I have to throw up my hands and say, "I believe!" Not that you'll find long-lost twins reuniting over a produce pyramid in any of my stories.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Then We Came to the End

It's almost time to leave Squaw Valley. I know because the last pen I brought is almost out of ink.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Writing Conference Take-aways

What I've learned thus far:
-Never deadbolt the lock on the pass-through door of your bedroom.
-Locksmiths are magicians.
-Rollerball pens don't travel well up to altitude.
-People coming together, to help each other in their solitary writing pursuits, isn't a contradiction at all.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Napa Valley

What an intense, friendly, serious, funny week. Every single day of my workshop proved enormously helpful to my writing. It was all so good, and I was beginning to worry that the advice would get muddled together. But then Carlson let us in on the secret to writing a successful vampire romance story. The secret? Well, there are two. One: lots of virgins. And two: vampires who just want to snuggle. If only I weren't at Squaw Valley this week, and unable to carve out time to write my version.