Friday, July 31, 2009


When you live in a townhouse with a complex-wide gardening crew, you can leave in the morning and return in the afternoon to find half your fern lopped off.

While the fern was being butchered, a friend and I were walking the sidewalks of OB and Pt. Loma. Block after block, as we passed full-fledged houses with front yards (that have personal gardeners, or extremely motivated homeowners), we talked about very personal things. We left our secrets in the birds of paradise and palm trees of strangers.

Aristotle used to lecture while walking, and his followers came to be known as The Peripatetics.

Countless people have walked across America with the stated purpose of losing weight or raising money. Probably, they also did it to conquer something hiding in their shadows.

Therapists sometimes conduct sessions while walking with their client.

I occasionally walk circles while drilling Spanish flash cards.

Perhaps next summer, I will walk across Luxembourg. Without flash cards, but with my husband and a few friends.

Our fern is quite sick, blighted with some sort of fungus that turns its once-green leaflets an ochre-rust. Our caminito doesn't get much foot traffic. But maybe just one person, recently passing by, left a regret in one of its fronds, shortly before it was cut off.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

And So it Goes

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the best way to help others. Right now, I am of the mindset that, instead of making my goal to help others, it should be to do what I'm good at. And from this, people will benefit.

At tonight's club meeting, Brian Long announced that he's resigning as club president. He took the position two years, after our good friend Jim McCann passed away unexpectedly. Although I don't know for certain, I don't think Brian decided to preside over two thousand zany triathletes because he wanted to help people learn about this sport. And he didn't do it to benefit his business. I think the position was suddenly vacant, Brian had the plenty of club experience as vice president, good organizational skills as a realtor, and the club needed a president. And in carrying out the duties of president, he's helped thousands of people.

Including me. And while most of the benefits I've reaped from Brian's leadership haven't been material, I also got a typewriter out of the deal.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Shined up and Shipped out

To me, the best short stories are round-cut, perfectly shined little gems. A sapphire, maybe. Today, the story I'm working on feels like a medical cadaver, dissected thrice over and left out of the refrigerator.

I am buoyed, though, by the thought that this story will, if I keep working, become something semi-precious. To prove the point, I just had a story accepted at the Concho River Review.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Brood

Today at Starbucks, a woman asked if I were saving one of the empty chairs. I said, "Nope," and she said, "Oh, good."

I invited her to use it, and she said, "Don't worry, I will. I have a bunch of grandchildren." She liken them to a school class, and I didn't think much about it until the woman's daughter came out the door, followed by five children.

The grandmother wasn't kidding.

The kids were all well behaved. I had been prepared to put in my earbuds, but there was no need.

Last night, my dad showed home movies to me and Bryan. After five and half years, my husband finally heard the high, squeaky voice of my childhood. And I was reminded of what a cute kid my middle brother was. And how my oldest brother lived the 1980's in camo. And I learned that my mother's subconscious finger twitching is a longer standing habit than I'd ever realized. And if ever I had any doubts, that my dad really did look like Alan Alda. Still does.

The Starbucks mother did a good job of managing her kids, considering there were drinks and pastries all around. But she did seem a bit distracted. I wondered how many small moments she misses or forgets in the chaos of having five kids--like a long-gone uncle telling a joke while an exuberant little girl pours make-believe tea. I hope she has a video camera.

Friday, July 24, 2009

19 Days

Thanks to my mother-in-law, the beets continued to grow while I was away. Almost three weeks in, there are several more seedlings.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thirty Something

Last year I posted this picture.

This year, I thought this might be appropriate:

I'm so glad we could spend the day tinkering with a 99-cent Rubik's-like Cube, scaring Louie by coming out of the bathroom door, and chatting while Grandpa snored.

Monday, July 20, 2009

"A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson

(Larry King accompanies Bryson on the Appalachian Trail.
Best free bookmark ever.)

I took this book to Tin House because I wanted to read something of the nonfiction persuasion. I don't want to spoil anything, but themes of perceived and realized expectations, of social interaction, of solitude, of adventure, of being content, of wanting more, of the great unknown, and the great outdoors (there are trees in Portland the likes of which San Diegans can only dream of!) crossed over well between the book and conference.

Plus, now that I've read about Bill Bryson hiking this behemoth of a trail, I don't have to do it myself.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Brain Drain

(What 9:15 PM looks like at the 45-degree north latitude in July.)

What is it about learning so much that makes one feel so stupid? I have been taking copious notes, thinking about storytelling, and considering stylistics and form all week. And now, on Saturday, having learned so much, I find myself unable to recall a good friend's name.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mountain Climbing

This morning I passed a woman pushing a double-wide baby stroller up a not-insignificant hill. Suddenly, revising a story didn't seem so tough to me. And I hoped the woman has a hard job--like particle physics or, really, motherhood (twins!)--because she'd do an awesome job.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Through You

Aimee Bender gave a talk today at Tin House. I read two of her books in college, after finding out she'd gotten her undergraduate degree from UC San Diego. But that was less than ten years ago, and I don't remember much about either book, except that I'd enjoyed them at the time.

I recently gifted Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat because I had fond memories of it. But all I can recall of it, other than those favorable impressions, are some fuzzy details about the titular case study.

It is disheartening that I don't remember much about these books that had affect me so much at the time.

On last weekend's MarcFit run, a member told me he'd just bought the new Kindle for his wife. Apparently, you can make marginal notes and highlight text. Maybe this would help. If I could write notes and interact with the text, maybe I'd better retain the words (like those studies about doodling improving one's memory of auditory input).

Maybe there's no way to stop the slow seepage of knowledge or sensations or emotions. Perhaps you can't take anything with you. And we should be happy to simply enjoy what comes for the time it's there. Every book I read, every time my father rolls through town, and every moment with my husband.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wednesday Takaways

Spoken by writers at Tin House today, concerning stories:

"Nobody likes whiners."

"I don't want to know people who are in therapy. I want to know people who are still killing dogs."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In a Westport Dorm Bathroom

What's almost as cool as seeing the Virigin Mary in a potato chip? Francisco Goya in a marble wall.

Monday, July 13, 2009

"Banker to the Poor" by Mohammed Yunus

Finally, a cure for the hopelessness I felt about humanity after reading this book. If you haven't heard of Mohammed Yunus, he is a champion of micro-credit, which extends no-collateral loans to the poorest people on this planet. This autobiography (now eight years old) includes his early life, but mostly focuses on his efforts with Grameen Bank, and his views on poverty eradication. His bank is actually solving the problem of poverty by enabling people to take control of their lives.

The Honduran arm of Grameen Trust, Adelante ("Go ahead!" in spanish), also has an insider's look at the political unrest in Honduras.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Summer Camp '09

I have arrived at Reed College and Tin House, after watching the paintings of Richard Diebenkorn float by my window seat, and without my favorite fleece. But I am faring well without this favorite jacket, because an airport employee told me where to buy another. I am wondering if the best charity work one can do in their life is simple, everyday kindness.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Snail's Pace

Here's something I love about writing. The care that's taken with the choice of words that become clauses that become phrases that become sentences that become paragraphs that become scenes that become sections that become stories. Everything is crafted.

Here's something I love about ESL. The care that's taken with words here, too. You have to go slower--not a lot, but a little bit. It may take an extra thirty seconds to explain (or act out, or round up props) the concept of the California Aquaduct. You do not rush through and not care if anything you're trying to teach is getting through.

It's good to go slow. My very good friend feels that it's taking significant time to finish her doctoral dissertation. Bryan and I took six months to find the perfect dog. And then we took twenty-six years to find each other.

Monday, July 6, 2009


I feel taken. I now have independent confirmation from two native Spanish speakers that "escritorio" doesn't really mean desk. This is a basic word we learned in chapter one. Grrr. I wonder if the people who write language textbooks and include obscure synonyms giggle each night when they go to bed.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


These little beet seedlings popped out today--blurry-eyed but ready to take on the San Diego enclave of this harsh world we live in.

"Enrique's Journey" by Sonia Nazario

Forgive me if this blog entry runs a bit long. This book hit me like a Mack truck.

I picked it up in part because it was featured in the "One Book, One San Diego" library program, and in part because its story begins in Honduras--a place I have a plane ticket to.

I came away from the book:
A) Convinced that illegal immigration is bad for all involved parties, which includes:
-The immigrants
-Their families
-Their home countries
-The countries they pass through
-The United States
B) Completely pessimistic about humanity.

Actually, there is one group that does profit from illegal immigration: Americans who (cheaply) hire them to raise their kids, work as cheap labor, and tend their yards.

This is the true story of a Honduran boy who comes to America to find his mother, who left him 10 years previous because she was literally unable to feed him and his sister. She sends back money and toys from America, but it is not enough to make an appreciable difference in their lives, and anyway they resent that she left them.

Enrique makes seven unsuccessful attempts to come to America before making it through. Along the way (riding the tops of Mexican trains) he is beaten and robbed, endures extreme temperatures, struggles to find food and clothing, and is treated like an animal.

I don't want to give a play-by-play of what happens, but suffice to say this is not a happy, mother-son reunion story. Enrique finds his mother, but he feels that she abandoned her, and she feels that he is ungrateful. Everything is complicated by Enrique's girlfriend back home (and the baby he's never met), and I came to think that dividing families like this is just not good.

The ultimate solution is that the poor need to, somehow, be enabled with opportunities so they don't have to leave their countries. But hell if I know how to do it. Honduras, which was just starting to shed its Banana Republic moniker, may very well be about to collapse.

Anyhow, you should really read this book. Even if it will bum you out.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


To this blogger, the fourth day in the month of July means two things: patriotism and the Tour de France.

In celebration of our country's independence and the freedoms it affords its citizens, Bryan and I did whatever we wanted at a lazy pace, which included breakfast with the Tour.

It's stage 1 and already I am sick of the four commercials that run at each break. Especially the Nature Valley hiking chick. Can someone please submit here, so I don't have to watch this woman masticate in a faux philosophical way for three more weeks?

I haven't yet seen any of the shoe-string budget ad from the local bike shops, but am hoping they start running tomorrow.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Tails Between Their Legs

It would be funnier if the budget situation weren't so serious.