Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Sometimes, when someone really wants you to know something, they don't tell you. They let you discover it.

In the freshman comp class I'm TAing, a student turned to me today and asked, "Want to read my paper?”

I said, "Sure." I'm not going to turn down a student, especially one who's even mildly excited about the admittedly dry subject of essay writing. Plus I'd been curious about the quality of the students' final drafts (as a TA, I don't grade). And beyond all that, I love reading.

The paper was about his experience being an ethnic minority gay man in the military who'd been raised Catholic and is currently in a relationship with another gay serviceman. It discusses the possible consequences Proposition 8 could have on him, if upheld.

The paper was not only well organized and demonstrated a depth of critical thinking, but was also impassioned, measured, and extremely affecting. I read it and thought, I hope he gets a God damn A. (I may be biased, though; Prop 8 still pisses me off.) The other thing I thought was how generous it was of him to share this with me. I've liked this student from day one--funny, engaged, earnest, polite--and I take it as a compliment that he chose to divulge this to me.

The students anonymously workshopped their papers in class this evening, and when this student got his back, the only comment written on it was "gay." I am choosing to think of it as a topic assessment rather than a disparaging remark. I am also choosing to think that the reason no one commented on the paper wasn't that they didn't know how to approach the topic, but that they were so affected by the writing, that they didn't have any criticism.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Free To Be...You and Me

Overseen at Starbucks: a toddler in yellow footie pajamas printed with monkeys, sipping a grande milk. When I grow up, I want to go out in public in one-piece loungewear (with or without attached foot protection--I'm flexible) and stare at adults without feeling impolite, and with everyone thinking I'm as sweet as a venti caramel macchiato.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Less Time in My Inbox

On the three-hour drive from San Francisco to Mendocino County last week, the conversation turned to Facebook and email. We seemed to feel the same: we are suspicious of Facebook and feel email has taken over our lives.

Ariana said email doesn't have to play such an integral part in our lives. There is, after all, this thing called the telephone. I've decided to try picking it up more. 

I've also decided to restrict my email habit to twice a day. Once a day might be even better, but I don't want to do anything drastic and then, losing all self-control, spiral down to a place where I'm constantly refreshing my inbox, trying to get an unread-email fix. Twice a day it is. So if you don't hear back from me right away, fear not. Either give me a few hours to respond, or check your phone. I might be trying to call.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pack Animals

(Frannie's quite a friendly dog.)

(Louie explores Bowling Ball Beach.)

(My favorite hike of the week.)

If I have one complaint about the week in Mendocino County, it's that the locals weren't terribly friendly. When not writing, reading, talking, or hiking, I was running the area's beautiful roads and trails. It was a good way to clear my head...except when I was being chased, first by four geese, and then four chihuahuas.

Who knew a change of scenery would be so helpful to my writing? It's not like I needed to hole myself away in order to write--I'm already motivated on a daily basis. And it's not like I needed the time to write--I already write on a daily basis. But it was indeed the change of scenery--both the landscape and the company of thoughtful, generous writers--that made all the difference.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Gone Fishing

Gone writing, actually. Up to Mendocino County with two other writers. I will return with pictures, oral stories, and hopefully a full written story draft.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Second-graders Shock Me. Then I Outsmart Them.

Time moves fast. I realized this today when, after reading a book about an acrobat who walks a tightrope between the Twin Towers during the buildings' construction, a student raised his hand and asked about the buildings. I said they were no longer standing, and he asked why. I asked if he remembered September 11, and he looked confused. The teacher told me the kids were born in 2000 or 2001, so wouldn't remember the terrorist attacks. I was totally shocked. Every week I read to these little people, and while I know they are young, I never realized they were that young. I guess I didn't comprehend that anyone hadn't lived through this day that affected us all so profoundly. So I ended by telling the boy that some not-very-nice people had destroyed the buildings.

Since these kids are so young, I was able to outsmart them with the second book, which was about a girl who misbehaves. One of the things she does is show her underpants to a boy on the playground. It probably would've been okay to read, but I didn't want to risk it so I skipped that page. How did I do it without arousing suspicion in some very bright second graders? I taped the pages together with removable tape, and glided right past it, from the girl lying to her class about having 100 beavers as pets to lighting Joey Whipple's shoes on fire. They didn't suspect a thing.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte

(I don't want to brag, but am 11 for 12 in my bracket so far.)

Okay, on with the book review.

Since graduating, I haven't read much classic literature. My tastes usually run towards the contemporary. A book doesn't have to have a cell phone in it, but I usually like a story with electricity. I don't know why. It's probably a shortcoming of mine. Okay, so anyway, I have been MISSING OUT. The stuff that happens in his book is crazy. I don't want to say too much for fear of ruining it for others (I've already done that to Veronika with Anna Karenina).

At Disneyland on Sunday, a young woman in our birthday group told me she isn't "a reader" but had recently become addicted to Twilight. I had to ask her for an explanation of what Twilight is (I've heard the name, but without context). After she told me, I thought the wacky plot points and unrequited love didn't seem too different to what I was reading, Jane Eyre. She said she'd almost bought Jane Eyre a few weeks ago, and would pick it up soon on my recommendation. So, maybe I've converted a non-reader to not only books, but the classics.

Hooters' Hoops Hysteria

(CBS' bracket was too boring. I went with Hooters'.)

I haven't followed college basketball this year, but couldn't let a tournament go by without filling out a bracket. So I based several picks on how much I like a particular team's mascot. I will always root for Ohio State's nut, as long as they aren't matched up against a certain turtle. I would have picked Dartmouth and their nebulous Big Green if they'd gotten a bid. And Syracuse's Otto the Orangeman is so bizarre that I picked them to the regional.

I also filled out a women's bracket. Of course, women's basketball doesn't get nearly as much press. Mark likes to say that it's a different game when played below the rim. Which I agree with. But the lady Terps are seeded number 1, and I'll take any victory I can get.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Traveling Companion

(Louie, post-vet appointment.)

I'll soon be leaving for a week in northern California at the house of a writer friend, where three of us will be reading and writing and talking, but not watching TV or YouTube. Ahh, bliss.

Louie will be coming with me, and will need a vet certificate to board the plane--a dog's version of valid ID. I hope his bling (dog tag and license) don't set off the metal detector.

The vet we've been seeing for two years is very competent, and very expensive. So I used this health certificate as an opportunity to try out a different vet. I think he's our new vet.

His practice may not have a website, a fancy waiting room mural, or refrigerator logo magnets. But it has really friendly staff who dote over Louie like he's a hollywood dog. The vet's the type of guy who probably surfs on his lunch hour. And he didn't even try to sell me on another teeth cleaning.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Penny Peep Show

For a penny, Bryan watched the hijinks of two men duking it out in a photo flip show. For another penny, I was treated to a monkey, dressed in a grass skirt, smoking and drinking. Cent for cent, it's the best deal in Disneyland.

Which is where we were Sunday for Karen's birthday. I don't see Drew and Karen often, which is a shame. They are a blast. Spending the day with them was thoroughly enjoyable, even if our friendship is something I can only peep in on every once in a while.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mea Culpa

What good is having your own blog if you can't out yourself for the crummy things you do? Yesterday, I forgot my father's birthday.

I like being able to dedicate a whole day's blog posting to someone's birthday. And here I was yesterday, not blogging at all because I didn't think I had anything to blog about. I am so sorry, Dad.

The best I can do is make a phone call once his time zone wakes up. Oh, and at least post this:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friendly Neighbor to the East

I've always liked Nevada. Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, the fact that camels were used as pack animals as late as 1870. And now for the second time this month, a journal based in this state, The Sierra Nevada College Review, has taken a story of mine. 

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Test Time

Read the following situation and see if you can figure out the reason for the student's problem:

"You are a 3rd grade teacher. Your new Syrian student speaks Arabic. He seems to hold his pencil in a very clumsy way and has a great deal of difficulty even copying work in English."

This is question number twenty on this culture quiz. My How to Teach Reading and Writing class finished off the quarter last night with a potluck and this quiz.

Think you've got an idea about the Syrian student's problem? Here's the explanation:

"This student is used to reading and writing from right to left, back to front. It will take longer to relearn this and to hold the pencil in a way that is appropriate for English writing." 

I'd figured the student had never written in his first language, and therefore didn't have the motor skills to use a pencil. I'd completely forgotten about Arabic being arranged differently on the page.
The quiz is long, but there's some really interesting stuff in it. Like number thirty-one!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kinko's Is My Laundromat

Throughout life, I've been fortunate enough to have only once needed the services of a laundromat--in Wall, South Dakota--for three months. And while the rust stains the washer left on your clothes were a bummer, I sort of enjoyed my time in that laundromat. It was part reading nook, part dance hall, part hangout in this tiny little town (think Endora, Illinois from "What's Eating Gilbert Grape").

In Kinko's this afternoon, I realized this corporate copy store is the closest thing I've got to a laundromat-like experience. In both places, there are people working on the same type of work, independently, yet in a shared place. Maybe I need to get out more, but I feel an excitement at Kinko's, the idea of people assembling projects to the rhythmic tune of copiers churning out the work.

I'm a Kinko's semi-regular, either copying TESOL work or story manuscripts. If only I mailed out story submissions as often as I wash clothes. If only Kinko's would add a coffee shop, like some laundromats. Maybe I could be copying one completed story, while working on the next.

Monday, March 9, 2009

On a Purple Couch

I am so grateful--the sort of gratitude that stops you on a walk and your dog sniffs whatever he so pleases while you think, thank you--for the kindness of friends.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Interpersonal Skills

This morning, I thought I saw a dead body. Turns out a guy was just napping in his driveway (who naps face-down?). As I passed by, his adult son came out of the garage and through smiles communicated, "it's funny to see a guy sleeping face-down on his driveway."

At Starbucks, I chatted with a CHP officer. His name is Louie, which is easy to for me to remember, given the cockapoo that goes everywhere I go. Louie (the CHP, not the cockapoo) said my name would also be easy to remember, because he’d once dated three Michelles in a row.

On the phone with United Airlines, trying to get Louie (the dog, not the CHP) a primo spot in my leg room, I realized no one—not even computers—want to talk with you if you’re in a sour mood. Like the deviant Disney artists who embed naughty pictures in their films, voice-recognition software programmers create applications that can recognize accents from all over the world, but not any words spoken with malice. Which only warps your voice further, until you are put on hold and eventually hung up on. Which is where communication stops.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

How We Write

While working on a short story in class last night, (my apologies, professor), I suddenly remembered being back in junior high and writing long, gossip-filled letters, which I'd give to friends during the passing bell and get one in return. Part of the fun of these letters was folding them into elaborate shapes--butterflies or frogs or lidded boxes. I suppose all it's akin to kids text-messaging in classes now. But honestly, texting seems so boring. And brief. And without the chance to expand your origami skills.

At last weekend's conference, someone asked speaker Ruth Danon what she thought about writing long-hand versus on a computer. It's a question writers often lob around, and the usual answer is that long-hand is infinitely better than a sterile computer. Ruth's answer was that it's generational. She prefers a pen, because it feels like an extension of her. But she said that to young people, the computer is an extension of them.

My answer is that a rollerball pen's great if you can get it. A computer will do when you can't, and when some serious story surgery is in order. For brainstorming and for the beginnings of stories, I prefer the glass keys of an early twentieth-century Smith Corona. If I ever get the nerve (or a big enough writer's block) to tote a typewriter to a coffee shop, I'll blog about the looks I get. I'll type the entry right there.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Stolen Blog Posting

Check this out.

I'd write a couple things about it, but I got the link from an HTML Giant post, and their comments are the same as anything I'd say (Who knew Dick Cavett blogged? Love Cheever's voice. No commercials!) The only thing I take issue with is the Giant's "not an Updike fan" comment. I'm a total, blubbering devotee. Harry Angstrom...hello? Making do with Janice...cardiac arrest on a boat with his granddaughter...the car dealership...his fuck-up son, Nelson...come on, it's terrific stuff.

Oh, and I thought "The Swimmer" was incredibly interesting, and fresh for having been written mid-twentieth century.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Here is my disclaimer: For a long time, I have admired Andy Rooney's writing. I grew up in used book stores, and purchased and enjoyed several of his paperbacks.

Here is my blog entry: Mr. Rooney has officially lost it.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


I am so happy that The Tonopah Review, a journal based in the Nevada desert, has picked up a story of mine, which is set in the Orange County suburbs.