Saturday, October 31, 2009

Local Poet Wins Whiting Award

USD Professor Jericho Brown was just awarded a Whiting Writers' Award. Along with the accolades and another line on a writer's bio, the honor includes $50,000. Which, for Mr. Brown, probably nearly equals his USD salary (I feel authorized to say this; my husband graduated from USD, and thought his professors were all underpaid). Anyhow, good for Mr. Brown; poets aren't paid enough or valued enough in this country. No, I'm not about to rant about poets being rock stars in other countries, but Argentina issued special pesos with Borges' image. I'm not saying I want to live in Argentina (I go desaparecido enough on my own in San Diego), but if our government makes a coin for buffalos, can't we also mint one for Mark Twain, disheveled hair and all?

Friday, October 30, 2009

John Irving is Old School. He Likes Plot.

Next on my reading list is John Irving's Last Night in Twisted River. And after that? The Mayor of Casterbridge.

I like characters. And their thoughts, and their feelings, and their complexes, and their strengths.

I also like scenery. And its vistas, its weather, its milieu.

I also like plot. And I don't have to be embarrassed anymore. Plot is cool. John Irving said so.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

When you change the way you look at things, you look at different things.

Tonight I attended an achievement ceremony for SB 618 as a United Through Reading representative. The ceremony honored offenders who've successfully completed a reentry program. The aim of the program is to break the cycle of repeat offenders, and instead help offenders successfully transition back into society.

One of the program participants gave a speech that included the title of this posting. The speaker recently completed a degree in Underwater Welding, which I'm sure will afford him some interesting viewpoints. But really, bridge and boat welding or not, everything he sees from this point forward will be different.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Bidding Will Start at...

(Hopefully, this empty lot will soon be our new central library.)

For some people, it's action movies. For me, my thrills come from city council meetings. I attended today's session to support getting an updated construction bid for a new central library. The ninety-minute session was a nail biter, with Carl Demaio asking tough questions of whether library funds could be instead be used to pay down the Petco Park debt, and Tony Young wanting to ensure that local construction companies get the work. In the end, the council voted 6-2 in favor of keeping the library project moving.

During the public comment session, it was humbling to hear people speak. There was SDPL Foundation's Chair Judith Harris, the Friends of the SDPL's President John McAllister, and a former Executive Officer from the New York Public Library--people who've dedicated a good portion of their lives to libraries. And then there were students from a local charter school, one of whom said she didn't want to be in college by the time the new library was built. This construction bid is no guarantee that the library will be built. But, least for today, the hard work of these people has not been in vain.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian" by Sherman Alexie

I saw Sherman Alexie speak about this book at the 2007 LA Times Festival of Books. His talk was funny, outrageous, and sobering. But it wasn't until I was talking with Emma from the San Diego Library Foundation , and she mentioned Alexie having appeared at this year's San Diego Children's Book Festival, that I remembered this book.

With its combination of pathos, humor, and self-deprecation, it is classic Alexie. It's the story of a young Spokane Indian who wants to get off the reservation, and seems to be largely based on his life. The protagonist is a cartoonist, and mixed in with the text are humors comics that comment on the story. Sorta like Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

The book is marketed as for young adults, but it exists in that cross-over section. The part that hit me, as a thirty-year-old, was when the protagonist finds his mother's name written in his geometry book. Not only does he realize that his tribe teaches with thirty-year-0ld books, but that if he doesn't get off the reservation now, he will be there the rest of his life, and so will his kids.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Julian Library

Julian Branch County Library
Visiting Time: 1:00-1:30 PM
Did I get lost on my way? No. Bryan drove. And we had Marc's Magellan.
Book Checked out: None. Just browsing today.

Book Selection: 3 bookmarks
Seating: 3 bookmarks
Staff: 4 bookmarks
Architecture/Atmosphere: 3 bookmarks
Total: 13 bookmarks

So I've visited all thirty-six city libraries in thirty-six days, and I thought I was done. But I simply enjoyed myself too much to stay away. Today, I combined a trip to Julian with my first San Diego County Library.

Julian's library is about a half-mile out from the main street, which is a great way to work up an appetite for pie. I looked around the library with Bryan and some friends but didn't check out a book (although if I'd signed up for a county library card, I could've). But I would've felt too bad returning the book to a city branch, and having the Circuit truck it all the way back to Julian. There are plenty of books in my city to keep me busy.

I spoke with the Assistant Branch Manager, Patty, who told me the library opened in 2004, on land donated from the high school, which sits next door. Previously, the library had resided in a one-room house in town on 4th Street. There is a lot of local art showcased throughout the library, in the form of murals, sculpture, and framed art. In case you were wondering, the library does indeed have a full section about local history, Apple Days, and cookbooks.

Patty told me that she started at this library 12 years ago as a volunteer, and in time moved into her current position. Here's her local tip: Soups n' Such is the best place in town to eat. And here's my tourist tip: while the pies is Julian are awesome, the ones down the road, in Santa Ysabel, are just a good and don't have a line. And Marc and Veronika's tip: the rosemary and olive oil bread at Dudley's can't be beat.

One half of a gate that divides the foyer from the main library.

Cozy and cabin-like, no?

Children's area mural painted by a local artist.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Magazine Love

The new Poets & Writers arrived in today's mail. Quarterly issues simply aren't enough.

Also in my mailbox was an issue of Smithsonian, my lapsed subscription to which I recently renewed. I have missed this magazine, and its presence in my home is not unlike the comfort that comes from having one's mom over for a visit.

I took to heart this passage from David Lamb's article about recently deceased Vietnam photographer, Hugh Van Es:

"I've searched for an answer why I stayed all those years," says George Esper, an AP reporter who spent nearly a decade in Vietnam. "What I keep coming back to was a young nurse from upstate New York.... She was tending the badly wounded. Some died in her arms. And I said, 'Wow. What a woman! Why are you here?' and she said, 'Because I've never felt so worthwhile in my life.' That's how I felt, too."

I met a friend for lunch today. She is struggling to enter the job market after earning a graduate degree. Lately, the rejections have been getting to her. Which, as a writer, I understand. But my friend feels that she is meant to be a therapist, and so can only continue her job search. Writing doesn't involve helping the ill--either on a battlefield or in a medical office--but this doesn't lessen my compulsion to do it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

San Diego Public Library--Vote Next Week!

(Good looking building, huh? Some think it's so good looking that it deserves to be built.)

Sometimes, I'm disappointed that I don't live in a more "hip" city. San Diego doesn't have a thriving arts community. It doesn't have fabulous theatre shows seven nights a week. Writers on book tour only pass through our fine city sporadically. None of our waiters are really actors. And you can't even drink on the beach anymore.

But it doesn't have to be this way. We San Diegans can change our city. Building a new central library--which will not only better support the thirty-five branches, but create a cultural center for arts programs--can be a significant step.

There is a lot of misinformation circulating about the proposed new central library. Its erection will NOT divert monies from the fire department, from Parks and Rec, or other services. If we build this new library, $80 million will come from the city's downtown redevelopment agency. $20 million will from a library construction state grant. Because this library is also going to house a new high school, another $20 million will come from school bonds. There are also significant philanthropical funds.

If you support a new downtown library, you can let your council member know with a quick email. There's even a handy webpage to help you find your council member.

You can find out more information about the new central library on this page of the Library Foundation's website.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"The Member of the Wedding" by Carson McCullers

I know Carson McCullers is a weird writer. I listened to The Ballad of the Sad Cafe on audio tape in high school, and was sufficiently apoplectic. So I don't know why it surprises me that I found The Member of the Wedding strange as well. Maybe it was that Sad Cafe was weird in a good way, but Wedding was just weird.

Sometimes I get really annoyed with books, because I want them to be better. I'm like the crazy soccer mom screaming at her kid to "pick it up!" I know stories can do better.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


This is all that remains of the Green Dragon.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Weekend Plans

San Diego likes tourists. They share our sunshine and bring in money. The Village in La Jolla is always filled with Europeans, and Sea World attracts families from all over the country.

But I wish the Westboro Baptist Church would stay away this weekend.

I first had the pleasure of meeting Fred Phelps and his band of hatemongers in 2002, when his group protested the University of Maryland's performance of "The Laramie Project". (Which I recently blogged about.) The campus was treated to a mob screaming hate and wielding equally hateful signs, like pitchforks. These are the same people who disrupt the funerals of gay people who've died of AIDS, screaming and yelling at the deceased family members that their relative is in hell. The depths of their hate is completely unfathomable.

My lesbian co-worker at UMD filled me in on all about this Church's "work." She'd grown up in West Virginia--a place not exactly known for its open-mindedness--and yet the presence of this hate group (you can't honestly call them a "Church") on our campus made made her completely distraught.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

This Is It

This afternoon I sat by Starbucks' front entrance, rather than on the side patio. It afforded me a view of the door, and the people who went in and out of it.

There was the couple in a pill box, a top-up convertible Audi. They went in together and came out a few steps apart, the man holding blended brown drinks. The woman drove. Quickly.

There was the woman who hopped down from her SUV, hopped from the curb to the street and then back up to the store’s curb. In her return path, there was less hopping, because there was a cup with whipped cream as tall as the drink.

And there was the skater boy—who’s a Starbucks employee—and his girlfriend, who carried out two pink frozen drinks, and didn’t look embarrassed in the least.

And now excerpts from Gerald Stern's "This Is It":
I crawl across the street to have my coffee at the low counter,
to listen to the noise of the saws drifting through the open window
and to study the strange spirit of this tar paper café
I listen to the plans of the three teen-age businessmen
about to make their fortune in this rotting shack
I watch the bright happy girls organize their futures
over and around the silent muscular boys
and I wait, like a peaceful man, hours on end,
for the truck out back to start, for the collie to die,
for the flies to come, for the summer to bring its reckoning.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

100% Egyptian Combed Cotton

The first anniversary is paper, and the second is cotton. Not needing any new beach towels, Bryan opted to get me a box from Godiva. While year ten could be interesting (tin, aluminum), we've decided that, at least for the near future, every anniversary will be chocolate.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What We Say Without Words

At the park this afternoon, there was a father on the swings with his baby son. The son had some sort of developmental disability. The grandparents were there, too, with the grandmother taking video and the grandfather sitting at a nearby table. As Louie and I passed, I smiled at the grandfather in a way that meant I thought his grandson was beautiful, if disabled.

He must get this all the time. He was nice enough to smile back sincerely. And in that smile, and the cock of his head, he told me I'm not the first person who'd felt compelled to be extraordinarily friendly to him and his disabled grandson, and that he wasn't offended.

I was once in a Girl Scout Troop with a girl named Danica, who had Down's Syndrome. We never spoke of Danica's disability, although it impacted all of us--girls, adults, leaders--at every meeting, camping trip, or activity. We knew it was there, but instead of mentioning Down's Syndrome, we'd just ask if Danica wanted to be tentmates.

Monday, October 12, 2009

It Ain't Your Mom's Book Club

Books bring people together. All sorts of communities--prisons, colleges, talk shows, cities--have figured this out and have instituted reading programs. In 2002, I read The Laramie Project along with other University of Maryland students, faculty, and staff.

In 2007, San Diego instituted its One Book One San Diego program. I read--and was profoundly affected by--Enrique's Journey.

The 2010 book will soon be chosen. You can vote by going here.

The candidates:
Dreamers of the Day (Mary Doria Russell)
Outcasts United (Warren St. John)
Song Yet Sung (James McBride)

Friday, October 9, 2009

For Sale: '99 Chrysler Sebring--low miles!

(The guts.)

(The very small working area.)

(The finished product.)

Day Two of Larry and Michelle's Extravaganza of Fun.

The Green Dragon's exterior driver-side door handle has finally been replaced, nearly a year after it broke off. I'm embarrassed it took so long. It makes you think about what people can put up with, adjust to, and/or make peace with. For me, it was climbing over the passenger seat, despite laughter from others.

We consulted these instructions. But only at the start. Four steps in, when my dad was completing the steps quicker than I could read, we decided to blaze our own handle-installation trail, and do it ourselves. And by "ourselves," I of course mean my dad. I think his thirty-one years as a dentist--in which he'd worked on third molars and in other inscrutably tiny spaces--were practice for snapping that white clip back onto the rod.

The whole process took an hour and a half. Which isn't bad considering the instruction's author took five hours his first time.

The car will be on Craig's List shortly. Any takers?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cat Food

My father was visiting a friend a couple days ago, and the friend offered him his leftover Nutri-system food. My father, being a Panik (well, actually, being a Check) couldn't turn down something free.

This evening, we thought we'd give it a try.

We started with the soy crisps, which were rancid. I doubt they tasted good when they were fresh, but these had definitely been around too long.

Ever fearless, we pushed on with the pot roast, which my father eloquently described as "soft beef jerky."

From there, we took a break from entrees and tried the cheesy sweet potatoes. Which looked like baby food and smelled like a household cleaner.

The tuna casserole was the absolute worst. It looked, smelled and--as much as I can surmise--tasted like cat food.

Only the beef and pasta was remotely edible. As my dad said, it's pretty darn tough to mess up pasta.

Then we made the best decision of all, which was to go pick up sandwiches. When we got back, the kitchen still stunk of cat food. Later, though, I heated up some apply cobbler (homemade, NOT Nutri-system) and it seemed to clear out the funk.

Coming soon: I revisit and blog about my favorite childhood snack: the peanut butter and butter sandwich. Ah, youth.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"Sunnyside" by Glen David Gold

Glen was my screenwriting professor at UCSD, and I was so happy when "Carter Beats the Devil" came out a few years ago. But I was slightly underwhelmed by "Sunnyside." I think you have to know more about Hollywood's history to fully understand this book. But I just couldn't bother my brother with incessant phone calls (Who's Mary Pickford? Was Charlie Chaplin spotted in a couple hundred places across the US simultaneously? Why are screenplays so difficult to get produced?). But even if I didn't understand everything, and probably missed out on some of the book's joys, it was still an enjoyable read.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Everybody's Got an Opinion

...and I'm not even talking about healthcare or Jon and Kate plus their eight.

I'm referring to the National Book Award. You can vote for your all-time favorite award winner (as long as your favorite is one of six pre-selected choices).

For my own personal (writing) interests, I like that four of the six candidates are short story collections. The mighty short story.

I am ashamed (am I ashamed? Maybe I'm humbled) to admit that I've read works by five of these six authors, but only portions of three of these award-winning books--Cheever's, O'Connor's, and Welty's.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Flying Front Kick

Our Mini Cooper is not only my first brand-new car, but my first car with a manual transmission. Bryan has been teaching me how to drive a stick shift on his car these past few months. But it wasn't until Friday that I first drove on a freeway.

I'd expected Bryan to be in the passenger seat for the drive home from the dealership to give me advice. Except they offered us a paltry sum for the Green Dragon (it may not having a lot going for it, but it has low miles!), so Bryan drove it home while I took the Mini. I drove seventy miles by myself, including stop-and-go freeway traffic.

Two days earlier, I'd met with Lelani, the head of United Through Reading's Transitions Program. At one point, she showed me pictures of her two sons, and mentioned that they participate in martial arts. She said it was great for their confidence and self-reliance, saying her younger son had become much more outgoing and assertive after beginning Taekwondo.

Today, Bryan and I zipped all over San Diego in the Mini, with me at the wheel. It was like I was going for a black belt, and performing all the skills.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mini Arrival

I think we could fit four of these in our garage, although one is more than enough fun.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mini Movement

(Ours will be slightly less mini.)

Today, our Mini's online status went from "En Route" to "At Distribution Center," and our motoring advisor emailed to say it's at the dealership. Traffic must've been light on the 405.

BO and I plan to pick it up Saturday morning, and hope to be home sometime before Monday. But with the Toyota Speedway not too out of the way, and nine In-N-Out's between Santa Ana and home, there are no guarantees.