Saturday, January 31, 2009

Failure

"Just add water" is menacingly deceptive.

Friday, January 30, 2009

"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz

Oh, how I wanted this book to work. I really liked Diaz's Drown collection.

And I was okay with the first hundred pages. Then it felt like the events were--well, they weren't random, exactly, but it didn't feel like they were tightly connected to what had come before, either. There was the whole fuk├║ thing running through the story. But the light touch it was given for most of the book wasn't enough to keep this story moving full-speed ahead.

Sigh...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tell Me This

I love that through a question, you can sometimes learn more about the interviewer--based on what they choose to ask--than interviewee and their answer. Babbitt's questions were totally appropriate tonight, but it's interesting when club members get called on and pose a question to the guest.

I recently asked my mom a series of questions about her childhood Saturdays spent at Hollywood Park, in the hopes of getting some authentic details for a short story. No tightly crafted story yet, but I'll give it six months before denouncing my questions as poorly crafted.

On Monday, my TESOL culture class will be interviewing a group of international students. Part of last class's meeting was spent developing questions, and based on these questions, I think I learned a little bit more about my classmates. Hopefully, the questions can do double-duty and I'll learn a bit about the international students, too.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Other Gardner

We know that John is the heavyweight in fiction.

Turns out there's another Gardner, Howard, who wrote the book (no really, he did) on multiple intelligences. His work has greatly influenced teaching theories, including second language acquisition.

On a website related to Howard, I came across another John. He wasn't related to either of them, but seemed like a nice man. Anyone who references "Peanuts" in scholarly conversations is a-okay with me.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike

Word that John Updike has passed. What a chronicler of all the messy things people, at his writing perigee, didn't want to talk about.

I feel so lucky to have sat next to him at a reading. Even though I didn't know it at the time.

I remember that when he showed up at subsequent readings that summer at Skidmore, and the room was crowded, he's quickly take a seat on the stairs, not wanting to get in the way. One time, someone who knew him called "John," and beckoned for him to take his seat. But Updike just raised his hand, smiled, and kept his seat on the stairs.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Triumph of the Humble


"I wrote about a page and a half and I looked at it, and I thought: This is a better idea than I am a writer," Gaiman said. Eventually he decided "I'm not getting any better" and finished "The Graveyard Book."

Proof that patience, even if your confidence didn't improve in that time, can work.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Thanks For Sharing

I am going to TA (aka IA, Instructional Assistant) for a community college writing class this semester, and today we had an orientation/training meeting. I'm pretty excited because the class will sort of be run like a workshop, with students commenting on and critiquing each other's work. And I thought I'd have to wait until summer to be back in the workshop setting! I hope no one flees the class after some tough criticism and has to be talked off a hill.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

200 Words Per Minute

My TESOL classes have resumed. Last night, in my class about techniques to teach Reading and Writing, the concept of speed-reading came up. Our book supported the idea of increasing a student's speed, in both text books and reading for pleasure. We students agreed that ESL students need to have adequate speed, but were against the idea of strictly focusing on the number of words per minute.

As a writer, I take particular offense with the idea of wanting to move through a text as quickly as possible. Last month, I overheard someone singing the praises of an author. Their reason for liking said author so much? You can finish a book in two days!

I like an engrossing story as much as the next bibliophile, but just turning pages quickly does not a good story make. The point isn't to get to the end. The point is the end, and what happens in the messy middle.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dog Years

(Louie gets a birthday snack from my mom.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Anew


Monday, January 19, 2009

Tomorrow

Starting tomorrow, a dream deferred no longer.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Self-Storage

My parents have a little storage shed that, bit by bit, they clean out. It was supposed to have been emptied and the lease given up a couple years ago but, well, life gets in the way. They are back at it today, and my father called to see if I wanted anything. What he was offering had belonged to my grandmother, his mother, who passed away six years ago. The items he was looking to move (at the bargain basement price of free) were a grandfather clock, a spinning wheel, and one or two other things I can’t remember.

My husband never met my grandma. He’s heard the stories (there are plenty of stories), and we have plenty of video of her, but he’s never seen it. Maybe he will someday.

I think every person has at least one remarkable trait, and my grandmother’s most remarkable was making something from nothing. With an alcoholic father and seven siblings, she didn’t make it past tenth grade. But she could take an item from the red stamp store and return it to the blue stamp store. She could landscape her backyard with carpet, for free. She could trick her grandchildren into sweeping her massive front driveway. She got this granddaughter to eat bread crusts, saying it would make my hair curly.

When my father phone from their storage unit and asked if I wanted her clock or spinning wheel, and I said no, I thought about how quickly someone can go away. If we keep their belongings, do we keep them, too? Through their possessions, can other people get to know them? I’m not proposing that Bryan take up the spinning wheel. But if we put it in our home, and the sight of it sparked stories about her, would he come to know her?

Bryan has one grandmother whom I know only through stories, some pictures. Here is my version of Grandma Wally: that she thought all respectable men ought to use a money clip; that she’d been the one who’d wanted to move to Florida, and her husband had agreed, because he would follow her anywhere; that she loved stinky cheeses. If there’s some object that reminds Bryan of her (other than his own money clip) that we could have, I’d want to make room in our home for it. Move a piece of furniture, give away some of my books, knock down a wall. Because stories, whether about something that’s already occurred or is still being told, are what we are.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Christmas in January

(Dad, Ice Cream Chef.)

Since my family was geographically scattered last December, we held our own festivities this month in Newport. For Christmas, my dad usually carves a goose. But this time we ate in a restaurant, and it wasn't goose. Afterwards, at a park, we made ice cream with this nifty little contraption--cookies 'n cream and lilikoi. Since my dad didn't have the opportunity to carve a bird, it made sense that he'd take the lead on the ball. I don't particularly like goose--because of the meat (it's greasy and a little gamey), not my dad's preparation of it. So I usually take a small slice and fill out my plate with cranberries, garlic mashed potatoes, and stuffing. For next year (which is this year, just 341 days to go!), I wonder if I can persuade my family to have a five-course meal of ice creams. Or at least substitute it for the Jell-o salad.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, Other

Steph and I were playing with one of these tonight. Before you give me crap, she had jet lag and I'm a little sick. So anyway, it's a twenty questions game, where you think of something and the computer asks questions until it narrows its options down to one. 

I couldn't stop analyzing each question's word choice. With "Do you pay to use it?" I got hung up on whether the computer was trying to figure out if it was something you rented, or whether any money was exchanged at all (as in a purchase) for the privilege of using it.

Stephanie, on the other hand--ever the statistician (she's done like a zillion hours of data collecting, and yes, that's a true statistic)--was quick and confident with her answers. From the start, she'd have the answer I'd eventually arrive at. In this, I think there's some example of Gladwell's book Blink.

But back to the game. It's pretty amazing. It guessed "pomegranate" after eleven questions. And "flip-flop" after fifteen (and one incorrect guess of "brassiere."). We stumped it on "lantern," though, when the computer really wanted it to be a bottle of vodka.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thirty!


Happy birthday to my kick-ass husband!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"The War of the Rosens" by Janice Eidus

It's been quite some time since I've read a third-person omniscient novel where the narration changes so rapidly between characters, like a flipbook. This is the story of a four-person, mid-twentieth century Jewish family in the Bronx. The story line's alright, nothing ground-breaking, but few books are. Of more interest is the narrative voice. There will be a scene that involves all four family members (parents and two daughters), and with each action in the scene, the viewpoint changes to the character who matters at that very moment. I can only imagine how exhausting it must be to keep track of so many character's personal thoughts like this. When it works, the book feels like good gossip.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Coco Heart

My Grandpa once heard a song on the radio that he loved. But the DJ didn't give the artist and song title, so my grandpa didn't know what the song was. He called up my father, described the song, and asked if he knew it. My father didn't. He called The Wherehouse (R.I.P.), and sang the part of the song he remembered. This is what that patient employee heard, in the voice of a Czechoslovakian immigrant...

"Co-co heart..."

This must have gone on for a few months, my grandfather asking us grandkids and anyone he came in contact with what this damn song was. Finally, the song came on while he was in the car with my dad. My Dad recognized the song as...

drumroll...

"Sacrifice" by Elton John. The lyric he mixed up was:

Cold, cold heart

Holy smokes! (as my grandfather would say), was he ever excited to have found his song! My Dad bought him the album, and then recorded "Sacrifice," over and over, on both sides of a tape. (Incidentally, this tape was in the glovebox of his car when he signed the title over to me. I keep it there. I like it there.) My grandpa loved to play this tape and listen to this song, his song, over and over.

Okay, so this is a long-winded route to a comparison. But the comparison I want to make is that, like my grandfather, there is something I once enjoyed but can no longer recall. Last month, I came across an online literary journal where submissions were made via a video of the author reading the work in a locale that's significant to the story/poem. It was so good, dammit! But I don't remember its title. I had thought I'd come across it in HTML Giant, but a search of their blog has been fruitless. Although I did find some awesomely-bad Photoshop work.

I swear, if I can find this audio-file-journal again, I will bookmark it, both in my long-term memory and computer memory. And maybe I'll dub my favorite audio file of theirs, over and over, on a tape.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Three, Two, One...

Last week, I talked with some girls about the importance of reading to children. Today, I returned and helped record them on DVD reading aloud a book they'd selected for a young person in their life. We set up the cameras is a small, unused inmate room, the walls of which were cinder blocks painted light cream. It looked exactly like my dorm room with a smaller window. When I realized the similarity, for a second I wanted to also draw other parallels, perhaps in simile form. Freshman year had been tough for me. But then I pulled myself out of my melodramatic funk and realized this small room wasn't some self-imposed prison. It was, literally, a prison.

The girls all did wonderfully. Some were nervous, asking me if their hair looked okay. One had a book with lots of silly words and for a minute she was stressing out, saying, "I don't know these words!" I assured her the kid didn't know them, either. And if she mispronounced something, who cares? From Rolling Readers, I've found that any mistake can be covered up with some personality and a funny voice. Which applies for oh-so-many other things in life.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Complement

I used to think Louie needed me. That he depended on me for food and shelter. Until we went for a walk and he scrounged half a hot dog from a bush. Then I realized he could get along just fine without me. Although I would like to think he'd be a little less fulfilled, less happy.

Bryan is sick right now with some cold/flu bug. He could get his own medication, cook his own dinner, maybe even massage his own head. But I'd like to think that if he had to, he'd be a little less fulfilled, less happy. I know if the roles were reversed, I would be.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fondue


I would like to make an addendum to yesterday's blog entry. If it's true that a person can be measured by the friends they keep, then I've done pretty well these last thirty years.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Fresh Asphalt

My homeowner's association recently installed a new speed bump. I mention it because I turned thirty today.

And as I walked past it on my way to the park, part of me thought, Yes. It's good for people to slow down. I consider myself a careful person. I read slowly, I write slowly, I'm slow to arrive at decisions. I consider these good things.

But when I saw that fresh, deep-black asphalt bump with bright-white stripes, I also thought, No. People should be allowed to run flat-out. There is so much to do, and time passes so quickly.

I wonder if I am doing enough. If society would be better served had I been a doctor, a painter. If I could take myself and my Spanish skills to Central America and, somehow, help. Maybe Bryan and I could take in scads of dogs that need homes. There is always something more you can be doing.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Ghosts of El Grullo" by Patricia Sanders

This book disappointed me. It's the story of Yolanda, a young Latina girl who grows up in an east San Diego neighborhood and attends UC San Diego. The first part of the book deals with Yolanda's childhood and the death of her mother. The second part deals with her loathing of her father. Sprinkled in is talk of Latino pride, Communism, sexuality, and family dynamics. Throughout the book--but especially in the second half--Yolanda's pretty unhappy, and has a lot of resentment towards her father. But nothing he does seems to be so bad. I just didn't get this book.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

You Gotta Have Friends

(How could another dog not want to play with him?)


There was a new dog at the park today. Louie saw spotted him and immediately ran over to check him out. It was a Portuguese Water Dog, eight months old, and with some British-sounding name I no longer remember. Usually, Louie sniffs a dog and then goes on his way. Unless of course, the other dog has a toy--preferably one that squeaks--then Louie's on him like glue.

Dog-with-the-British-sounding-name didn't have a toy, but Louie was still really interested (no, the dog wasn't a female, either). Louie got in front of the Limie dog and pounced up and down, trying to get him to play. No dice. So he nosed Limey a few times, and Limey just brushed him off. Louie chased and barked at him, but the Limey looked the other way.

It was kind of sad, really. Louie wanted to befriend the British dog, maybe eat a little grass together or pee on the same spot, but the British dog wanted nothing to do with him. It reminded me too much of my junior high years, minus the peeing.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Medieval Help Desk

Funny stuff.

See any similarities between this and your job, Veronika?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

"Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell

I feel in the minority as someone who hasn't read either of Gladwell's previous books. My brother told me good things about Outliers, and then BO read and also praised it. So I cracked it open.

This is a worthwhile read for anyone trying to excel in something, or anyone interested in societal equality. Gladwell's hypothesis is that successful people are not self-made, but rather are given a series of opportunities that they capitalize on.

The book begins with Canada's system of choosing young hockey players for their development league, and shows that the boys who end up getting selected are the oldest in their academic class (January, February, March birthdays are by far the majority). Coaches choose them because they are just a little bit bigger than their peers. And then the development league gives them superior training, which increases the ability gap between themselves and the boys not chosen. And the advantages keep piling up until they eventually become professional players.

There's also a chapter that links Asians' excellence in math to their cultural heritage of farming rice paddies. The theory's a little light on evidence, although it's intriguing and deserves more research.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Indianapolis 17, San Diego 23

I would like to publicly profess my love for Darren Sproles.

Friday, January 2, 2009

I Heart Bibliophiles

Today I wrote chapter nine next to a trashcan. The Coffee Bean’s. I had done my morning work at the usual, then decided I need a change for the afternoon. While I enjoy my TESOL and Spanish classes, oh what freedom it is to have nothing to do all day except write, read, and write some more. And also recycle lead paint, argue with Time-Warner, and pay a parking ticket…But that's for tomorrow. I worked on chapters seven and eight at Starbucks. Then I pushed forward with chapter nine, and made a crappy short-short slightly less crappy at The Coffee Bean. What can I say? I get around.

So there was a trashcan was on one side of me, and a guy reading A Confederacy of Dunces on the other. He offered to share his table with me. I Y bibliophiles. Does that make me a bibliophile-phile? Sounds like a word that could be in Toole’s book.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Year of the Ox

There were seven new TCSD applications waiting in the membership queue for me today. What's your New Year's resolution?