Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sibling Rivalry

With a deadline coming up I made two trips to Starbucks today. This evening I sat inside and listened to a middle-aged brother and sister with a strained relationship argue in the sweetest, most pleasant tone.

I figure they decided to meet in a public location knowing they wouldn’t allow the conversation to get nasty with strangers around. Kind of like the theory that people consume less food while eating with others rather than alone. Nothing like holidays to force, er-, bring family together.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Since it’s still Thanksgiving weekend, I’d like to express my gratitude for Starbucks’ quiet patio, green-ginger tea, and turkey-bacon breakfast sandwiches. The latter can keep me in my seat and writing an extra hour, which is significant.

And also to the person who deserves co-authorship. Thank you.

Friday, November 28, 2008


You know when you have a friend or family member who won't tell you what's wrong? You know something's not right, but when you ask they just smile sadly and say "I'm fine"? I'm having this problem with a character right now. He has lots of issues, but he just won't tell me--the girl with the kind face--what's troubling him. Perhaps if I ply him with a Scotch neat.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


A buffet that spans four rooms is pretty darn good, but enjoying the food with family is ten times better.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


In tonight's ESL class at Grossmont that I've been helping out with, I brainstormed the beginning of a blog post. The class had talked about Thanksgiving, and the teacher then had them interrogate me about my turkey day plans by using present progressive questions. (It was good stuff, Paniks and O'Neill).

So like I said I was going to blog about this, until I got in my car after class and found rainwater on my seat. Yes, my sunroof leaks. I sighed, wiped off the seat, and figured I'd just have to carry a towel with me on days that call for precipitation. (Which, in San Diego, are thankfully few.) But after I'd pulled out of the parking space and accelerated, water poured down on me. to pour here in San Diego as I type this. I hope my car has an emergency drain hole, like a bathroom sink.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

When I Was Your Age...

A solution to that uncomfortable silence after Thanksgiving dinner where you and your relatives stare at each other.

Monday, November 24, 2008


This fine journal has chosen to print a story inspired by this, which was followed up with this.

If you're a typewriter fan, click the "1" on the journal's homepage and enjoy.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Overseen at Starbucks: an older man reading the Sunday comics. His eyesight must not've been too good, because he had the pages smashed right up to his face, so he could see the scenes and read the speech bubbles. Almost as good as describing each comic frame aloud to your daughter, right Dad?

For another story as short as a comic strip, check this out.

Friday, November 21, 2008


So I read to this second grade class Friday mornings. I love it, the kids seem to like the books, and the teacher gets a break. Between pages, I try to make the stories interactive by asking questions and letting the kids comment, which they’re always eager to do. So much so that I can’t call on all the hands before turning the page, otherwise I’d be there all day.

But these kids are not to be discouraged. If I don’t call on them, they’ll persist in raising their hand after every page. When I finally do, they ask me to go back one, two, three, FOUR pages, so they can make their comment. Sometimes what they’ve been waiting so long to say is a personal story, a question, or an observation.

I used to find this a little frustrating. We are trying to move FORWARD in the story! But now I like that they’re so engaged. And even more, that they will not be silenced. I could skip their raised hand for fifteen minutes, but they will not relent until I call on them. Then they will speak their piece and then fold their hands, completely satisfied. I’m hopeful for our future.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Can Artists Get Bailouts, Too?

I don't think the irony of automaker execs flying to DC on private jets so they can beg for a bailout is lost on anyone. It's two-faced to extend one hand for money, when the other behind your back is sporting a Rolex.

But perhaps the bigger issue with these jets is that after they'd transported execs to DC so they could ask for handouts, the execs blamed their low sales numbers on the underachieving US economy. Maybe if they'd travelled from Detroit to DC in one of these cars they produce, they'd realize the reason Americans aren't buying their cars isn't because of the economy, but because they're terrible, terrible cars.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Capítulo Cinco

My Spanish is beginning chapter five, and I am so excited because if the chapter outline is correct, it will teach me the difference between "ser" and "estar." Both are the verb "to be" but are used in quite different ways in Spanish. As far and I can figure out (which isn't much, but give me a couple weeks and a chapter test), "ser" is for descriptions and "estar" is for locations and temporary conditions or feelings.

Which, if you think about it, can really get at some big questions. It makes me think of a character I'm working with now, who became a local celebrity after winning a burrito-eating contest. Is his celebrity status a permanent, core part of his personality? If so, ser/es would be appropriate. Or is it a temporary condition, one that will go away once the public grows bored or he tires of it? If this is true, then estar/está is correct.

The funny thing is, this question gets at the core of the character's psyche. Perhaps studying this chapter will help me finish the short story.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

From All Walks of Life

I have started helping with an adult ESL class. The professor is wonderfully generous and enthusiastic, but completely overwhelmed with long days and classes that each have students with all ability levels. So I am going to assist the three lowest-level students in her Monday night class. They are just beginning to learn English, and she has asked that we work on phonics. These students are from Chechnya, Uzbekistan, and a Turk who's from Russia. Their English is definitely remedial, but they are eager to learn and very friendly.

After class, the professor told me that the man from Chechnya saw his family murdered in the ongoing violence and political struggle there. He was able to escape to a nearby country, then another, and finally made it to America, where he has both asylum and post-traumatic stress disorder.

I wish this were an isolated event, but I realize his story exists in every ESL class across our great country. I suppose what makes it worth mentioning is not that he’s experienced such pain and violence, but that he’s made it out and to this country, that he wants to learn, and that we are going to enable him.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Overheard at Starbucks...

The silent barks of a small terrier. She was a rescue, and her owner said the previous one had her voice box removed. I will steer away from making an issue of the overt censorship metaphor, and just say this is so cruel. The owner apologized for the silent mouthing her dog was doing towards myself and Louie, insisting she was harmless. I told her that her dog was no bother at all. I would never pre-judge an energetic dog that I didn't know as poorly behaved. But would exercise some prejudice towards a person who found barking an inconvenient behavior of their pet.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Veronika and I went antiquing today, got brunch, and rounded out the morning at San Diego's Prop 8 rally. It just seems so simple to that love, wherever it's found, should be honored and validated.

After last night's concert, Jack in the Box taco-fortune cookies were handed out at the exit. I thought, "Cool! Maybe the fortune will help me finish my burrito story." It's about a guy who wins fame and adoration after eating a four-pound burrito. And you know, a fortune cookie shaped like a taco, a story about a burrito, it seemed symbiotic to me. So I opened the fortune taco today, and here's what I got:

I felt like Ralphie in "A Christmas Story," where Little Orphan Annie's secret message turns out to be "a crummy commerical" for Ovaltine. Back to Starbucks I go tomorrow, in search of a story ending.


Mark and I saw Ben Folds tonight. He was awesome, wacky, heartfelt, and, of course, melodic. Which was why it was so bizarre that I kept seeing cell phones light up during the concert and their owners sending texts, emails, and otherwise screwing around online.

I realize our society's pace has increased, but is kick-ass live music not good enough to hold one's attention? What would?


I can't think of a single thing to insert in the ellipsis.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Got Weekend Plans?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Great Northeast

Look for a reprint of my story "The Rules of the Road" in Lifelines. It's a journal published by the Dartmouth Medical School, with a slant towards medically themed work. I spent a winter at Dartmouth as an undergrad, through an exchange program, studying art history and running through their very beautiful, very cold landscape.

The thought of my humble little story bundled with other little stories and poems--sitting in a hospital waiting room, a college dining hall, cast in the snow and buried beneath ice and salt--is comforting, charming.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

SPAM and Cockroaches

Tonight, in the final meeting of my How To Teach Speaking and Listening class, we students demonstrated a portion of our final-project lessons plans. My partner and I had focused on teaching how to ask yes/no questions, and our demo was an abbreviated version of a Twenty Questions-like game with students guessing their partner's secret object. One of the items was a can of SPAM that I'd had on my desk at home. (This is where the eyes of any Panik reading this post perk up.)

After the demo, the student with the SPAM returned it to the bag, saying, "I haven't seen SPAM in a while."

And I said, "This can's a family heirloom. I've had it ten years."

Then I realized it was older than that. Much older. It had been a joke Christmas present that myself and each of my brothers had received one year. (We'd celebrated in Hawaii, and Hawaiians love their SPAM.) That Christmas, I was no older than eight. Which makes the SPAM twenty-one years old.

As I closed the grab bag, I thought, You've had that can of SPAM two-thirds of your life. What the hell have you done in that time?

This is a tricky question. Bryan and I often see twenty-four-year-old NFL football players on TV and say, "We've done nothing with our lives."

But if you develop the skills that were given to you, and apply them to useful means, or if you help someone, or do something larger than yourself, then you've made good use of your time. Even if you're not on TV, don't earn millions of dollars, and don't knock people over for a living.

SPAM is the food equivalent of the cockroach--it could survive a nuclear bomb, or whatever killed off all the dinosaurs. The cockroach and SPAM will both be around when we and our humble deeds and accomplishments aren't. It doesn't bother me in the least.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day

It may be November, but the weather's still wonderful.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Be Kind, Sign up Online-d

We at the TCSD membership department (and by "we" I mean "I") am trying to cut down on paper applications. It's good for environment and it's good for my time management. And members who join or renew online will enjoy faster activation, an auto-response with directions for the next steps, and that clean-laundry smell. Not that I don't enjoy talking with the really friendly postmen at the PO Box, but I'd prefer to walk away with less paperwork. Once again, you can join or renew electronically here.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

In Search of Apple Pie

Bryan and I went to Julian today. It wasn't a last-minute decision, and yet we didn't think to check the weather. We should have.

(It started to sprinkle on the drive, and was raining in town.)

(Then the heaves opened and hail pelted down.)

(We went into Mom's to warm up with some apple pie...)

(...and hot cider.)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

"The sound is /b/. The name is b. Say b."

Today I completed the second half of my tutor training to begin volunteering with the Laubach Literacy Council. I am so excited to begin teaching English to a small group of students. I must confess that after the first half of the training (last Saturday), I questioned whether Laubach was a  good fit for me. The training had focused on teaching an immigrant their first few oral words of English. And I thought that I would be better suited to teaching at a higher ESL level (I have all this complex English grammar in my brain!). But in today's session, we worked on getting a student to reading a few words, then sentences, which then culminates into a story. Myself and all the other tutors were exceedingly excited at the thought that this story might be the first significant piece of text someone would read in English. Here is that story:

This is a bird.
This is a cup.
This is a dish.
This is a fish.
This is a girl.
This is a hand.

The girl has a bird.
The girl has a cup.
The girl has a dish.
The girl has a fish.

The girl has a bird in her hand.
The girl has a cup in her hand.
The girl has a dish in her hand.
The girl has a fish in her hand.

There's absolutely no plot, conflict, or resolution. And it's ten times better than any story I've ever written.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Verbivore

Did you know James Madison was the smallest President, at 5"4' and 100 lbs?

Richard Lederer spoke this afternoon at Mira Costa College. He's a linguist with San Diego ties, and previously hosted A Way with Words. He talked mainly about US Presidential trivia, in promotion of his newest book. But he also made sure to include some grammatical jokes, like: What's the difference between a cat and a comma? A cat has claws at the end of its paws, and a comma has a pause at the end of its clause.

I had to leave after the talk's first half--writing called--and didn't get to ask my question. Which is: "What part of speech is 'to smoke' in the sentence 'I stopped to smoke.'?"

It came up in my TESOL Grammar class. My professor solicited opinions from other Linguistic experts. The most likely explanation was that "to smoke" is an adverbial phrase, with the sentence having deleted an assumed phrase, with "I stopped (in order) to smoke." But the responses my professor received were so varied that I would have been interested to hear Dr. Lederer's response.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Broken Promise

Stop what you're doing, and go read this. If you like it (and I know you will), leave a comment.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Vote Early, Vote Often

I am so tired I could cry. Instead I will smile, and write this blog post.

Voting at my poll went extremely well, considering we had voters waiting when we arrived at 6AM to set up. Everyone got processed in a timely, courteous manner. If they came in the evening, they were treated to Presidential trivia.

Pizza deliverymen are awesome, and husbands who surprise you with frozen yogurt awesomer still.

We had about a dozen poll watchers, including a militant woman representing the Democratic party who wasn't going to smile (or be pleasant) for any reason. Not even my Presidential Trivia! She watched us set up, came back twice during voting hours and hoarded our street index, and then returned upon closing to observe us in such a way that could be called intimidation. Luckily, we are not a group who can be intimidated.

I missed a question on my Spanish quiz today. Everyone knows televisión is a feminine verb. Except for me, this afternoon.

But I made up for it with a good showing on my TESOL Speaking and Listening quiz. And then my partner and I brainstormed for a How to Teach Tone lesson plan that visually depicts the intonation of different types of questions, like concrete poems. Which as I can see it, is the only redeeming use for the poetry form.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

November 4, 2008

What are you doing reading this? Go vote!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Night Before

I just got back from doing some preliminary setup at my precinct. We constructed the voting booths, put out non-sensitive material, and elected me to bring the coffee maker. As ready as we'll ever be!

Nota bene: everyone likes baked goods and poll workers are no exception.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fall Back

The Daylight Savings time change does wacky things to your body. Medical data have shown that the "fall back" raises the incidences of heart attacks. And there are all those morning brunches with friends that are missed while sleeping through the "spring forward." And then there's that pesky side effect of artificially extending daylight--saved electricity. For Bryan and myself, the fall clock change transformed us into senior citizens.

It was about 4:15 this afternoon, when after some snacks, Bry and I both confessed to being hungry enough to eat dinner. So we cooked up some pasta and were chowing down by ten til five. To combat feeling like I was in my final stage of life, I decided to live it up and have wine with dinner. For those who might not be aware, this is pretty unprecedented for me. But it was a fruit wine (cherry) and tasted more like fruit juice that booze. Shortly after, I fell asleep on the couch, and I'm not sure whether I should also blame that on the time change (it was dark outside!) or the wine.