Saturday, February 28, 2009


I love that at conferences, cheese danish are an acceptable breakfast. I love that at this conference, sitting on the floor, shoeless, is an acceptable way to write. And that there is a strolling lunchtime magician. And a scheduled recess, with cookies and Crayola markers.

Friday, February 27, 2009

At the Rental Car Counter

The agent who helped me brought up my reservation and asked where my last name was from. I said Czechoslovakia. She said that in Tagalog, it means "to go upstairs."

I think it's pretty cool that it's an action verb. Whenever I think of my last name, I think of my grandpa as a child in Bratislava. I've heard his stories (how he tells stories!) about the house that had seemed so big to him. And the window he wasn't tall enough to look through, but and had to boost himself up with a chair if he wanted to see what was happening on that side of the neighborhood.

I don't know why people ridicule rental cars. Working door handles, non-leaking sunroof, shiny paint. All this and customer service with some etymological trivia served up with a smile and a wonderful Filipino laugh. What's not to love?

Thursday, February 26, 2009


In my office hour today, a Southeast Asian student came in needing help on her compare/contrast paper. She wants to compare the cities of San Diego and her hometown. We talked about the differences in education, and she explained that, at home, a student's secondary/high school grades determine what they can study in college.

"If you have good marks," she said. "You can study medicine. If you don't, you study literature or geography."

So I guess anything less than science is left to the underachievers? How sad. And how misguided. I'll leave the "literature" sucker punch alone and instead ask, rhetorically, have you seen Google Earth? Holy cow. Underachievers the people behind this program are not.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Permanent Midnight" by Jerry Stahl

My brother gave me this book for my birthday (along with a shea butter and lanolin shampoo and cream rinse; don't worry, they're for Louie). "Permanent Midnight" is a memoir of a one-time TV writer's drug addiction. Shooting heroin and writing for the family-friendly "Alf" and the baby boomer hijinks of "Moonlighting"--good stuff. Since the memoir he's published several novels. It's interesting to read a memoir from a writer whose creative work you aren't familiar with (except as manifest in the quirks of planet Melmac).

If I were to guess about a book like Fatty Arbuckle, based on "Permanent Midnight," it probably has pervasive drugs, some pornography, profound self-doubt, absent parents, the desire to do right but the overbearing compulsion towards self-destruction, and, maybe, a flash of light at the tunnel's end. Sounds good to me.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Okay, Okay, I Get It

Today I received ten email rejections from the same journal for the same story. Okay, I get it. I suck and you hate me and I should either live out the rest of my days under a rock or get a new career, and at the very least never submit to you again. But maybe you could've gotten your point across in, oh, say five rejections? Mark, what are you waiting for in getting in on this fun?

My last blog link (until next year's Tour of California!) about the Borat showing. Viva la TCSD!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Wait For It...

Brian and Buck in Technicolor. For the impatient, fast forward to 2:30. Well done, gentlemen, well done.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

In the Name of Charity

You wish you were part of a club where this is your President (scroll down to 13:53:04).

In Brian's defense, he isn't "unfit" at all. Sasha Baron Cohen didn't exactly look good in it, either. Or John Mayer.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why I Live at the P.O.

Today I received a "Thanks, but your story arrived outside of our submission period" letter from a literary journal. Except I'd mailed it a month before the closing deadline. I smell a disgruntled postal worker.

A few months ago, I got a "Thanks, but we're going to pass on this poem" response.


In case you don't know, dear reader, I only write prose. I guess it's safe to assume the journal didn't "get" my piece.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pants on Fire

There's a liar in my Rolling Readers class. I've suspected it for a few weeks now, and today the evidence became overwhelming.

I like to engage the kids in the stories by asking related questions. If the book includes a toy factory, I'll ask if anyone's been to a factory. If the book's about Karate, I'll ask if anyone practices karate, or another sport.

Today, I found out this kid can play three musical instruments (guitar, piano, and trombone), has marched in a parade, owns a boa constrictor, and has seen a Yellow-spotted Bongo plant. When I questioned him on this last one, he gave me an emphatic head nod.

"Uh-huh. I have."

I told him I thought the Yellow-spotted Bongo was made-up. To which he dropped his head and said, "Oh."

I don't have kids. I've never studied child psychology. But I have a feeling that in some way, lying is part of being a kid. You're learning what you can do with words, and having fun making things up. I make things up every day at Starbucks. It's a smashing good time. I don't remember if I was a lying kid.

I wonder if this kid likes the attention he gets from telling each fantastical lie. Maybe he doesn't get enough attention at home. Still, it could escalate into bigger and more significant lies, and Wall Street doesn't need any more of those. Would it be too bold to read this book next week?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Guerrilla Reads

One month and one week later, at 5:18 AM, I finally found what I was looking for.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Los Mujeres Escriben

Mi professora de Español me dio un artículo periódico de LA Times ayer (online aquí). El artículo está una crítica de un libro sobre escritoras mujeres en Los Estados Unidos en el siglo XX. El libro se llama A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx. El artículo es interesante porque dice A Jury of Her Peers cubre escritoras mujeres que el gente de presente no saben. Por ejemplo, las escritoras Susan Glasspell and Susana Rowson, quiénes yo no sé.

Pero, el artículo no me hacen queiero leer estas escritoras; me hacen querer leer más por la escritoras que sé pero olvidé: escritoras como Charlotte Bronte, Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter y Grace Paley. Leí medio de el libro The Collected Stories por Grace Paley. ¡Me encanta! Pero, no lo acabé. El número setenta de Glimmer Train puede esperar. Necesito leer más Grace Paley.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Day In and Day Out

I always see this woman at Starbucks. She’s probably in her seventies, with shortish blondish hair. She wears the same clothes—red blazer, black turtleneck, red-and-black flowered knee-length skirt, black tights, tall black leather boots. She orders the same thing: a venti decaf and a venti whipped cream. I’ve never seen her sip the coffee, but she’s always digging into that whipped cream with a spoon. Everyday, she brings a worn wad of magazines (Time, People, an occasional newspaper section), that she flips through while spooning her whipped cream.

One of the Starbucks baristas is in my Spanish class, so I asked what she knew about this customer. The barista said her name is Beverly. She had a stroke, and doesn’t speak. The baristas know her, and know what to fix for her when she approaches the register. Although her movements are a little jerky she has pretty good motor skills, which allow her to come to Starbucks every day, in the same clothes, where she orders the same thing and reads the same magazines.

Sometimes a routine's constricting. Or at least not exciting. I walk to Starbucks and write nearly every day, no matter how many rejections I receive. It may not be exciting, but it is satisfying. It occurs to me that I should be happy for this routine, to be able to do it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Second Semester of Spanish Love Song

Los mandatos formales...y Erik Estrada!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Funny Valentine

Louie fell in love, broke up, and reconciled with a wheaten terrier this morning, all in the space of thirty minutes. I love the dog park.

As for Bryan and I, we did it up real nice.

It was Thursday night, while watching The Cosby Show (thank you, TV Land), that Bryan and I wondered just what a bacon burger dog was. And harboring a shared dislike of crowds, we decided we'd stay in Saturday night and grill. And so I present to you, humble readers, our Valentine's Day dinner:

(Hot dog wrapped in hamburger wrapped in bacon; cole slaw; and steak fries.)

Friday, February 13, 2009

"The English Major" by Jim Harrison

It wasn't that I didn't enjoy this book. Rather...I don't know. If a character is going to set out on a road trip, more should happen. Not more action. I wasn't ever bored as a reader. Maybe I just wanted Cliff to feel the experience more.

Day Five: Groundhog Day

(Temporary cone reprieve at the park.)

The vet saw the shadow of Louie's cone, and gave him five more days with his neck accessory.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Day Four: Patent Pending

(Louie ventures into caveman territory by creating a tool.)

With all the sympathy treats Louie's been getting this week, he's found a way to get more bang for his duck-and-potato buck: using his cone as a shovel for crumbs.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Day Three: Louie Gets Cocky

(Louie gets a little sun.)

Not only has he gotten the hang of walking with the cone, he's putting a little confidence into it. When his legs get into a canter, the cone picks up a little rhythmic swagger. Watch out, bitches.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Conehead: Day Two

Today, Louie learned that if he gives BO and myself an especially pathetic look, he will stay well fed with dog cookies.

What he's still working on: if his cone bumps into something, he needs to back up and try again at a different angle.

For the curious, the cone is an attempt to get an eye injury to heal. It's been several weeks with no improvement.

Monday, February 9, 2009

He's Had Better Days

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Super-human Strength

I am carrying thoughts of Kay Ryan with me today:

Kay Ryan may be the only American poet who describes her writing process as "a self-imposed emergency," the artistic equivalent of finding a loved one pinned under a 3,000-pound car.

...what may resonate most with other poets is the courage she has shown, year after year, to embrace those "emergencies" and follow them wherever they've led, even when it seemed that no one but her life partner, Carol, seemed to care.

...she has taught the same subject - remedial English - at College of Marin in Kentfield, Calif., for the past 33 years.

..."If there is a [literary] game of sorts, you can win by staying home and doing the writing," she says. "Good work can make its way in this culture."

Friday, February 6, 2009

Stop Me If You've Heard This One

In reading to a classroom every week, I like to encourage questions and interaction from the kids. With both of today's books, two separate kids put their hands up early on and proceeded to predict the rest of the story in detail. Successful kids books are pretty formulaic--a moralized ending; good illustrations; onomatopoeia; scene and/or word repetition; and candy, fuzzy animals, or bodily functions--and I guess by second grade you know the drill. Predictable endings in adult books, by and large, suck. But these kids didn't seem to mind knowing how it would turn out; they were content to be along for the ride.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

¿Te puedo preguntar?

In my How to Teach Reading and Writing class, there is a student who teaches Spanish. In the past he's offered to help with my Spanish homework. And he seems like a really nice guy, so I figure the offer was genuine. Last night, I brought in a Spanish assignment, but had momentary second thoughts about him looking at it. I don't have issues with getting a short story critiqued (usually, I'm screaming "You've gotta help me! It's a mess! Pretty please?"). But with something written in a foreign language I'm just beginning to learn, I gave a self-conscious pause.

Of course that quickly went out the window because I needed help. In particular, I had a few specific questions about articles (I hear you can always find the non-native speaker in the room by their errors with "a," "an," and "the"). He was extremely encouraging with what I'd written, and rather than tell me something was outright wrong, suggested better alternatives. I hope I can teach in this same encouraging way. I hope to not wear out his generous offer. Although I do at some point want to ask about the d/th pronunciation.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Far From Home

At Starbucks today, a taxi cab pulled into the parking lot. Which is a bit unusual for the area, because we are solidly in a suburb. Turns out it was driven by a French man, with his daughter in the back seat. They got drinks, then came outside and the girl sat next to me while the father went to his taxi.

I had Louie with me, as well as our neighbor's dog, Dee Dee. After sitting precociously next to me, the girl asked if she could pet Dee Dee. I said of course. And then, as the girl was standing there petting this yellow lab that was as big as her, she informed me that, "A wet nose means a dog is well."

I knew Dee Dee was well by the wagging tail. If you're petting Dee Dee, and then you stop, she'll nudge you until you resume. It's really very sweet.

The girl said she wanted a dog, but couldn't because she lived in an apartment. And then her father came and got her, and they walked back to his cab. As they drove away, I wondered what had brought their taxi cab up to this area. And then I wondered what had brought them to this part of the world.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


It is a different football experience to have babies at your Super Bowl Party. When the commercials suck, they are good entertainment. But when you cheer, they cry.