Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Where Were You . . .

An old unfinished meme I found in my files, and remarkably suitable for a year-end look into personal and public history.

1. When John F. Kennedy was shot (11/22/1963)

Sitting about 18 inches in front of the TV. I was 4, and I had a serious crush on him. I remember it vividly.

2. When Mt. St. Helens blew (5/18/1980)

Living in a commune in Bryn Mawr, PA, and working doing market surveys over the telephone. We couldn't get a line west of the Mississippi for days -- the ash cloud knocked out all the satellite signals. Five years to the day later, I was getting married to the scientist who calculated what percentage of the mountain blew up.

3. Reagan's shooting (3/1981)

Working the 6AM to noon shift in a Dunkin' Donuts in Bryn Mawr, PA. The consensus among the customers was that Reagan's shooting was a normal political hazard, whereas the assassination of John Lennon was deeply unfair and wrong. It was pouring down rain, I remember that.

4. When the space shuttle Challenger exploded (1/28/1986)

Working as a production editor in Westport, CT. I was in total shock. I grew up watching the space program, and I always loved it. I also remember where I was when the first Apollo space capsule burned on the ground -- it was my older sister's ninth birthday.

5. When the 7.1 earthquake hit San Francisco (10/7/1989)

Watching the World Series pregame show on TV. (I'm a baseball fan.) My husband and I were living outside Philadelphia. He had to fly out to Silicon Valley the next week, and he brought me back an earthquake survivor T-shirt.

6. When the Gulf War began (1/15/1991)

Married, in grad school, and living outside Philadelphia—about 3 miles as the crow flies from the Navy Yard. My husband was doing something mysterious that took him to Washington, DC, for three days a week. He warned me that if he ever called and asked if I'd seen my mother lately, that I should grab the silverware and the cats and flee to her place in the mountains, because it was a warning that Iraq was nuking us. Now in those days, we didn't have call waiting. That evening I was on the phone with my friend Gillian, whose birthday it was, when I realized that Jeopardy wasn't on the TV. Instead I watched the tracery of Cruise missiles. The war had started. I got off the phone and saw the whole sky turn white. Then there was a series of brilliant flashes, and then vast booming.

"That's it," I thought. "They're dropping the bomb." So I went out on the front porch to watch the world end.

Unfortunately, at least for my dignity, it was an unseasonal thunderstorm, not the apocalypse. When I told Billy about it, his reaction was amazement at my stupidity. Why hadn't I fled to the basement? I could have taken shelter there and survived. It hadn't even occurred to me.

This is one of the most typical stories about me.

7. When OJ Simpson was chased in his White Bronco (6/17/1994)

Still living outside Philly in that grand old brick house. We'd gone to a twilight matinee of Speed, which was opening that weekend, and when we came out we heard the low-speed chase on KYW, the local news radio station. Kafkaesque.

8. When the Branch Davidian compound burned in Waco (4/19/1993)

Out shopping at the Strawbridge and Clothier in Springfield, Delaware County, PA. I happened to be next to the electronics section, looked up, and saw the blaze on fifty or sixty TV screens at once.

9. When the building in Oklahoma City was bombed (4/19/1995)

Still outside Philly. Specifically, I was working in my office in the western front corner of the house, second floor, listening to the radio as I worked.

10. When Princess Di was killed (8/31/1997)

By then we'd moved upstate, back to the county where I grew up. I first heard about it when I stopped for gas and practically tripped over a stack of Sunday newspapers. Again, an eerie moment of horror: "Diana Killed in Accident" looked so much like a headline about my niece's death not 7 months before.

11. When Bush was first announced President (?)

I can't remember when, exactly, it was announced, but by then I had left my husband, was living in Binghamton, NY, and working at a job I loved.

12. When the 6.8 earthquake hit Nisqually, WA (2/28/2001)

Still in beautiful Binghamton. In the next month, it snowed five feet there. Beautiful snowy Binghamton.

13. When terrorists knocked over the World Trade Center (9/11/2001)

Back in Binghamton. I'd moved out here to California, but I needed to return to wrap things up. The story is here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Happy Holidays!

To all my friends I wish the joy of the season. May the year ahead of us be filled with joy, wisdom, peace, and love.

For me, the light comes back with Christmas.

The Guest: A Christmas Prayer

Tall, cool, and gentle, you are here
To turn the water into wine.
Now, at the ebbing of the year,
Be you the sun we need to shine.

It is the birthday of your Word
And we are gathered. Will you come?
Let not your spirit be a sword
O luminous delightful lord.

--Harold Monro

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

News from the Epicenter

Email from my friend Doug Gordon:

Things are ok here, but it was definitely the largest quake I've felt, having missed the Loma Prieta and Northridge parties by living elsewhere at the times. Was asleep when it hit, and have to say that riding a sixer on a waterbed is an interesting experience. The wave peaks threatened to launch me out of bed. Not having my glasses on, it was hard to see specifically, but the trees out the windows seemed beset by a tempest. Actually, I recommend being asleep, because I didn't seem to get quite the fear response I might have had if I been fully conscious, though consciousness comes fairly quickly at such a time.

Nothing major broke here. Two book cases fell over in the guest room (guess I'm gonna have to do something about that feature before I have someone else sleep in that bed), and various knick knacks took headers from various high places. (I'm happy to report that the Iron Giant missed the hearth on the way down from the mantle, so is intact, as are his companions, the cast from Yellow Submarine - sorry about that Paul, John!) Had very little leapage from the kitchen, though a quick examination of the cabinets revealed that had it gone on for another five seconds or so, I'd have started to lose stuff, as many glasses and other objects had their toes over the edge of the springboard. Power was out only for about five minutes or so, and never lost the phones, satellite, and internet, so figured out pretty quickly that I was more or less on top of the thing - there's always the thought that you've just caught the edge of something that's just wiped LA or something. Took slightly longer to figure out where the cats had gone to ground.

So, spent a large fraction of the day repacking the bookshelves while listening to the earth grumble occasionally. Having an earthquake of this size means you'll be putting up with a great many minor aftershocks, each of which does little other than grabbing your attention in that “wait for it” moment it takes to decide if we'll be having a sequel or not. The damage seems to be worse in the next town up the road, Paso Robles, as I'm sure every one is seeing on the news. Less newsworthy (as it doesn't make much of a visual for their fancy helicopters) is that there is some significant damage around. A friend's in-laws west of Paso have pretty extensive damage to their place--it sheared a toilet off its mountings!--and made landscape boulders well set in the soil roll to new spots. Other friends have some more cosmetic damage to deal with in their abode. I'm lucky in that my house is a simple, one-story box, the style least affected by such shakings.

Anyway, I'm off to my parents’ house for the holidays tomorrow (Tuesday), so I'll probably escape the bulk of the aftershock clusters. All is well here, though I did use up a good deal of my adrenalin reserves.

Monday, December 22, 2003

The Usual Bump and Grind

I didn’t even notice it at first. I was concentrating on work In any case, I have learned to filter out minor motions, since quakeproof buildings are designed to rock gently under the slightest pressure. (This includes people walking heavily through the office.) Then Michele called; her office is on the edge of her building, and she could see the trees swaying and feel the shaking fairly sharply.

Then the second wave hit—long, gentle rolling motions that lasted a long time. The overhead lights swayed.

Then it subsided, and we went back to work.

I checked over lunch, and it seems to have been a 6.5—a big quake—centered on Cambria. That’s down by San Luis Obispo, where I went to the writers’ conference in September 2002. I have friends in that area, so I may be able to provide a firsthand report.

Why am I willing to live in a place where the ground may start moving at any time?

Well, I always liked Philadelphia. And yes, Philly is seismically active, just on a smaller scale. (So far.) I went through several minor quakes there, including the 4.6 centered on Reading. Manhattan has its own fault under the Hudson River. There have been destructive earthquakes in Boston, Charleston, even the peaceful midwest. And given that earthquakes are possible almost anywhere, I’d rather be where the buildings are designed to withstand big shocks.

Then there are the unconsidered hazards of life in the Northeast. I have personally gone through uncountable snow storms (ranging from flurries to full-fledged blizzards), ice storms, hail, sleet, and violent thunderstorms with high winds and downed trees. Plenty of those routine storms were accompanied by a death or two: car accidents, freezing, someone struck by lightning, a heart attack from shoveling, fallen trees crushing cars or houses. I’ve taped windows against hurricanes. I’ve driven roads that were under a couple of feet of water and seen the damage the big floods caused, and I’ve bailed water in a flooded basement. One particularly stormy day, I raced a series of tornadoes down the Northeast Extension of the PA Turnpike. When I was living in Forest City, we had to take shelter in the cellar from a tornado, and the next day we drove through the devastation at Lake Carey and along 107. Two people died. I’ve survived 105-degree heat waves in city apartments with no air conditioning, although plenty of old people died in the heat. In New Jersey, we watched the local forest-fire risk gauge and hoped the woods wouldn’t burn.

I am not minimizing the shock and horror of those deaths. I am not saying that ice storms are easy or safe. They’re not; they’re among the few things that scare me, and I still remember the fear I felt one winter, when we had two ice storms a week for three months straight. But I know how to handle myself in those situations: how to protect myself from lightning or tornadoes, how to drive in snow or rain, and not to drive in ice.

Here in California, everyone takes certain precautions. No bookcases over the bed, for example. In fact, our bookcases are mostly bolted to the walls. Houses and offices are built to earthquake code. Bridges are retrofitted to handle the shaking.

Do I feel safe? Not absolutely safe, but then I didn’t feel absolutely safe back home, either. Maybe my feelings are warped by having such severe and life-threatening allergies. I could be killed by a stalk of celery, a bee sting, a dish of soba noodles or buckwheat pancakes. Those are all considerably more common than lethal earthquakes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Gay Marriage: Make Your Voice Heard

From my email:

The American Family Association has a poll on their website for people to give their opinion on gay marriage. They intend to present the results of this poll to the United States Congress in an attempt to instate a federal law against gay marriage.

I ask you all to please visit and let your opinion be heard. It takes about 45 seconds, and it is such an important topic. Whether you are gay or straight, conservative or liberal, your opinion matters, and you need to vote here.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Rambling on Roads

After the post of a few days ago, I wanted to offer a translation for my non-Californian readers: El Camino is the road where the car died, but it's much more than that. El Camino is El Camino Real, the old Spanish mission trail that runs from the Mexican border all the way to Sonoma County. It links the original missions: San Diego del Alcala (established 1769), San Juan Capistrano, San Gabriel de Arcangel, Nuestra Señora de los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Nuestra Señora de Soledad, San Juan Bautista, San Jose(established 1775), Santa Clara, San Francisco de Asis, San Francisco de Solano in Sonoma County (established 1823). That’s not an exhaustive list, but you might recognize some of the shortened names: San Diego, LA, Soledad (home of the maximum security prison), San Francisco, named for St. Francis of Assissi.

El Camino is the equivalent of Lancaster Pike, AKA Route 30, AKA the Pike west of Philadelphia, both in history and in current use. They’re both more or less Main Street for most of the towns they pass through, and they’re lined with strip malls, car dealerships, fast-food places, and other memorials to American culture. Yet both also run through some beautiful country between the urban areas.

The Pike was incorporated into the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway, which ran or runs from Atlantic City to San Francisco. Much of the Lincoln Highway has been swallowed by Route 80. From the George Washington Bridge to the Bay Bridge, 80 is a great road. (Well, at least on the eastern end, it always seems to be under construction, but I love it anyway.) Annals of the Former World, John McPhee's classic of popular geology, follows 80 from end to end, looking at the rock outcrops and discussing millions of years of geologic events, plus some history of the science and of the people along the way.

Route 80 links my old home and my new. Directions to my hometown from out here are easy: go north to the Bay Bridge, hang a right, and drive several thousand miles. I was born just north of 80; I remember it and 81 being constructed in the early and mid-1960s, when we were living in Columbia County. If you want to see Jackson, where I was a teenager, just take Route 81 North. Get off at Lenox, have an ice-cream cone, and then on to Jackson: twelve miles.

The old Lincoln Highway, of course, leads through and past other parts of my past. I went to college just off the Lancaster Pike. When I lived in Ardmore from third through sixth grades, we walked up and down the Pike. The Pike is also the Main Line -- the site of one of the greatest of all romantic comedies, The Philadelphia Story.” I lived in St. Davids, Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Ardmore, in venues ranging from a dorm on the exquisitely beautiful Eastern College campus to a commune in a row house.

Sometime I need to write about Southeast Pennsylvania. I need to write about the passion I have for Philadelphia, and the life I lived there. Not tonight, though. Tonight I am just amazed that all the roads converge here, in California.
A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider --
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give -- yes or no, or maybe --
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

--William Stafford, 1968

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Lost and Found

Someone in our house left a door open to the Bermuda Triangle. These items have all mysteriously disappeared or reappeared since Thanksgiving:

LostFoundTime Gone
My PDAUnder a cushion on a love seat where I rarely sitsix nights, seven days
Michele’s PDAat a Wendy’sovernight
A Fossil watch belonging to a Thanksgiving guestin a backpacka couple of weeks
A laptop belonging to an employerin the garageover a weekend (and giving us heart attacks most of Monday)
Several overdue library bookslet’s just say the fines are adding upstill missing
My headphonesunder the futon, where Little Bit was wrestling themall day yesterday
The transmission of Michele’s carin pieceseternity

Yes, Michele’s car died for good Wednesday night, as we were driving home from work. I was at the wheel, and I am grateful to God that the transmission collapsed where it did: just as I was making a left turn onto El Camino. I was able to get the car through the turn and into the parking lot of a tire place. Ordinarily we would have been on 85 by then, driving 70 mph in the car-pool lane, but we had errands on the way home, and I decided to take back streets rather than suffer through the traffic on 101.

We were lucky. It was rush hour, but nobody hit the crippled car. We were on side roads (locally known as “surface streets,” as opposed to freeways). It even had the decency to expire within half a mile of an Oldsmobile dealership. They’ve pronounced the car dead, and now we need to scavenge the books and other goodies from its interior, figure out how to get rid of it, and start looking for a new one. Thank God we’re at full employment now.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Your Name in Lights, Your School in Flames

Back when I was working at my former employer, I used to carpool with Ed. Ed was a native Californian (“I don’t want to live anywhere that there’s weather”) but even if he had come from Maine or Minnesota he would have been a classic Silicon Valley Supergeek, subvariant Clean and Wholesome. The short haircut and guileless blue eyes of an astronaut. Eagle Scout. EMT. Got his degree from UC Santa Cruz, a college best known for its mascot: a banana slug. Professionally he was a systems architect and a brilliant one. (He was hired back in the days when my company hired only geniuses.) He kept a Devil Duckie on his computer at work.

In his free time, he was a professional DJ and a technical expert for several high-school theatre programs. Several times a year our usual ride-home routine would change for a week or so, as he put the finishing touches on the light and sound systems for a school play. When Pioneer High School started its own small radio station, Ed set up the playlists and the computer system.

So I thought of him first when I heard that the million-dollar Performing Arts Center had burned Thanksgiving weekend in a five-alarm blaze that brought out more than a hundred firefighters.

It was arson, but accidental arson. Kids being stupid, basically. Unfortunately, the consequences are serious.

The San Jose School District is already facing a $10 million budget deficit. The district supports a magnet school for performing arts, so Pioneer’s drama program is mainly supported by the work and contributions of parents and friends. The parents even get into the act by performing in benefit shows. They call themselves the Glue Factory.

Some words from Steve Dini, the veteran drama director at Pioneer High School:
After the devastating fire at the performing arts complex last Sunday, I thought I had literally been burned alive. Sets were destroyed. Lights and microphones melted with memories of past shows. A decade's worth of work went up in flame.

And, then it started. A trickle at first, with an e-mail here, a phone message there. Now, a torrent. Dozens of calls. Hundreds of e-mails. Several personal visits. Each from a person wanting to help Pioneer with money, time, love and prayers. . . .

There is a sadness and a sense of loss, yes. But, at the same time, there is an overwhelming feeling of gratitude that we live in a such a giving, caring selfless community. My heart rejoices in your generosity, love and almost fanatical desire to see this department rise again. It will. That is a promise.

Some of my most cherished high school memories are of doing theatre. I was a geeky kid, but I found a place in the excitement and hard work of stagecraft. The pleasure went on through college, where I had several good roles as well as doing almost every other backstage job. I learned practical skills, made lifelong friends, and had a wonderful time in a safe atmosphere—exactly what teenagers need.

So you can see why the volunteers—not to mention the students—are deeply invested in this program.

And you can be, too. Donations may be sent to the San Jose Unified Educational Foundation, 855 Lenzen Ave., San Jose 95126. Write Pioneer Fund on the memo line.
Some Lines from a Poem by Robert Hass

An extraordinarily beautiful poem. Please go forth and buy his book.

Faint Music

Maybe you need to write a poem about grace.

When everything broken is broken,

and everything dead is dead,

and the hero has looked into the mirror with complete contempt,

and the heroine has studied her face and its defects

remorselessly, and the pain they thought might,

as a token of their earnestness, release them from themselves

has lost its novelty and not released them,

and they have begun to think, kindly and distantly,

watching the others go about their days--

likes and dislikes, reasons, habits, fears--

that self-love is the one weedy stalk

of every human blossoming, and understood,

therefore, why they had been, all their lives,

in such a fury to defend it, and that no one--

except some almost inconceivable saint in his pool

of poverty and silence--can escape this violent, automatic

life's companion ever, maybe then, ordinary light,

faint music under things, a hovering like grace appears.


It's not the story though, not the friend

leaning toward you, saying "And then I realized--,"

which is the part of stories one never quite believes.

I had the idea that the world's so full of pain

it must sometimes make a kind of singing.

And that the sequence helps, as much as order helps--

First an ego, and then pain, and then the singing.

--Robert Hass

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Three Wonderful Writers

Today is the birthday of three writers who created children's classics (along with a lot of other favorites).

1832: Louisa May Alcott
1898: CS Lewis
1918: Madeleine L'Engle

Tomorrow is Mark Twain's birthday; he was three years younger than Alcott. Hmm. They must have met. He lived in Hartford, after all, though that may have been after her death. She knew every literary figure in New England, plus plenty of visiting writers. Imagine going to a party to meet, say, Oscar Wilde and the author of Jo's Boys. She grew up knowing all the Concord writers -- Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne. But what she did was extraordinary.

Alcott was one of the first people to write honestly about children's lives -- both the rages and the love. There are nasty siblings and good siblings in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, but no indication that the ideal Rivers family ever descended to the nastiness of the Reed children. Anyone who has had siblings knows that rivalry and even soricidal violence do happen. Some of us are lucky enough to know that the bond of sisterhood also entails great love and loyalty.

Yes, Little Women is preachy. That's fine by me, since it's one of the books that raised me. CS Lewis was another of my literary parents. Not the Narnia books, which I didn't read until I was 14. But I had the first two books of the SF trilogy from the day I turned 7. It took me another seven years to find the third book. I read and reread Screwtape from the time I was 12 or so, and I'd read all his major works by the time I was 16. Not only did Lewis give me a kind of morality, he taught me ways of thinking -- and that thinking, reading, writing could be godly. A welcome antidote to the attitude of my home church, which was that there's only one Book that matters.

[My God, how the books of those years *marked* me. The essays in WH Auden's The Dyer's Hand, which I found in seventh grade, helped shape the way I think. I read and reread in those days, ravenous for new ideas. The memory of reading Dylan Thomas for the first time is physical, three-dimensional -- the spring sunlight in the seventh-grade classroom, my seat by the wall switch, myself reading transfixed until I had swallowed them all. Like drinking honey, I thought then.

I still remember finding my copy of Again, Dangerous Visions in a used bookstore in Scranton. I was 14 and fresh from an appointment with my orthodontist. The book was on the bottom shelf; I sat on the floor and thumbed through it until "When It Changed" caught my eye. I read the story right there, on the floor, and cried unashamed. I bought it for a quarter, and the book traveled with me to college, all the apartments, all the houses, and came with me here to California. The bookstore, which also sold guns, is long gone; the building now houses the real estate office where I signed the papers selling the last house my ex-husband and I owned together.]

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time I read in fifth or sixth grade, and I still remember the electric thrill of its ending. But, though Meg is a strong heroine, it did not speak to my condition. (Reading about one more goddamned happy family wasn't going to be any help to me then. ) Later, though, I read her adult novels and her nonfiction, and these I have found extraordinarily beautiful and moving. Through her I discovered Soror Mariana Alcoforado, who (possibly) wrote The Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun. And she is the author of one of my favorite quotations: There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of deepest messages of the incarnation. Her combination of deep faith, awareness of the world, and unflinching honesty have made her work important to me. But in an adult way -- that's different.

Louisa May Alcott and CS Lewis freed me to be a writer. In some sense, they are my literary parents. Happy birthday, then, to a loving mother and father. I hope my work touches even one life as yours has touched mine.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

JOB UPDATE: Better Late than Never

After ten or eleven days of working without being officially hired, I've finally become an legally recognized contractor with the Very Large Software Company where Michele is also a contractor. I'm settling into my new cubicle, and I might even have a telephone tomorrow. I've submitted my first time sheet, and tomorrow I should get an official badge and propeller beanie.

Huh? Job? Contract? Cubicle?

After all the long waits, the many resumes sent, the frustration -- getting a job happened very fast. And I've been so swamped with work ever since that I haven't had time to update here.

I started a four- to six-month contract on November 13. The company was desperate for help with several hundred Visio workflows, plus all the tech writing tasks for next year's software release. So I got my resume in Tuesday, interviewed Wednesday, started Thursday, and worked an 11-hour day Friday. And I worked last weekend as well as this weekend.

Of course they looked at my resume faster because I knew someone, but even so, the whole thing happened at lightning speed. After the hiring decision is made, it usually takes them two to three weeks to get someone started. But they needed very specific skills that I have, and they needed someone who would be willing to leap right in and pump out a lot of work very rapidly.

An admin had to sacrifice her laptop so I would have a computer to work on. We're working at rolling tables in a conference room with six other contractors. Five more contractors arrived last week, and fifteen more are coming in next week. The management is looking for places to stash us all.

I'm very much enjoying the sense of being a vital part of a big software project. Over the summer, I missed the adrenaline rush of meeting insane deadlines. I also like the people very much, and the campus is gorgeous. Waterfalls, picnic areas, and lovely little balconies with comfy patio furniture off many of the conference rooms.

Also, since Michele and I can commute together, we get to use the car-pool lane, which speeds the commute considerably. There's a real Schadenfreude in watching lone drivers sitting in traffic while we zip merrily along beside them. It's almost as good as going to the grocery store and sneering at 50-cent lemons. We walk into the backyard and get ours for free.
Severe Weather Alert--California Style

The National Weather Service's warning of record cold for the weekend was the lead story in yesterday's San Jose Mercury-News.

Here's a bit from today's paper, explaining just how terrible the chill was:

Overnight Friday, downtown San Jose hit 37, San Francisco, 43, -- their lowest so far this fall. Saturday night, San Jose was expected to hit 33, with surrounding areas reaching similar temperatures before climbing to the upper 30s and lower 40s the rest of the week.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Prisoners of War, Prisoners of Race

The case of Jessica Lynch already exemplifies the differing value placed on the lives of young men and young women. Yes, though women are paid less, their actual existence is worth more: they are future Mothers of the Race, and as such must be protected. Males, on the other hand, are considerably more expendable, so their deaths in battle are not given the same emotional weight. Nobody is offering book and movie deals to any of the male POWs from this war. Men are supposed to suck it up.

Now we see the value of blonde hair and blue eyes. For the record: My mother, two of my sisters, and several of my nieces and nephews are blue-eyed blonds. I love them all, but not because of their coloring.

The Army apparently doesn't share my indifference to mere pigmentation. This came today from an Episcopalian mailing list.

Army Spec. Shoshana Johnson, the African American woman who was held prisoner of war in the U.S. invasion of Iraq, was looking forward to a quiet discharge from the Army in a few days. Battle scarred and weary, she has said not a word as her fellow POW comrade in arms Jessica Lynch cashes in with book and movie deals and a celebrity status in the media.

But it is the Army that is forcing Johnson to break her peace. A few days ago, military brass informed her that she would receive a 30 percent disability benefit for her injuries. Lynch, who is White, was discharged in August and will receive an 80 percent disability benefit.

The difference amounts to $600 or $700 a month in payments, and that is causing Johnson and her family to speak out. They are so troubled by what they see as a "double standard," that they have enlisted Rev. Jesse Jackson to help make their case to the news media.

Jackson, who plans to plead Johnson's cause with the White House, the Pentagon and members of Congress, says the payment smacks of a double standard and racism.

"Here's a case of two women, same [unit], same war; everything about their service commitment and their risk is equal. . . . Yet there's an enormous contrast between how the military has handled these two cases," Jackson told The Washington Post.

Johnson's father, Claude Johnson, himself an Army veteran, says that while neither he nor his family begrudge Lynch her celebrity or disability payments, he believes that his daughter should get her due, and it is more than a 30 percent disability benefit.

For its part, the Army, in denying charges of double standard, said
Friday that claims are awarded to soldiers according to their injuries.

Johnson, 30, the mother of a 3-year-old daughter, was held captive for 22 days, when her unit stumbled into an ambush in southern Iraq last March.

Eleven soldiers were killed, and six, including Lynch and Johnson, were taken prisoners. Johnson was shot in both legs and is still
traumatized by her war experience. In addition to walking with a limp, she suffers from bouts of depression.

Now, I'm naturally suspicious of such claims. I checked various newspapers and, the best place to debunk urban legends. Snopes says it's true. The newspapers say it's true.

I am bitterly ashamed of my country.

Friday, November 07, 2003


After a somewhat frustrating week, with work on the book frequently interrupted, I've checked my progress. The manuscript right now exists in multiple files on two computers. I finally added the word counts together and updated my total. Almost 10,000!

I'm glad I'm not nearly so far behind as I've been thinking. And I'm even gladder that I'm off tomorrow to a writing retreat with six friends from last year's NaNo. We rented a place up in Sonoma for the weekend. No internet access. No cell phone signal. Nothing to do but write. (And hang out and talk. These are, after all, some of my favorite people.)

I'm leaving Friday (today now) and won't be home until Monday afternoon, by which time I hope to have written a solid 10,000 or 15,000 additional words. Maybe more. Maybe even 20,000.
More on Maher Arar: Tom Ridge Says, in effect, "We're Not Sorry. We Did It On Purpose"

A timeline of the case, with links to news stories.

A good many people have been shocked and sickened by this case. David, an Australian friend of mine living in New York City and married to an American woman, asked me, "Where is the abject groveling apology from the USA?"

Here it is. It's on the same web page, from an October 3, 2003, interview:

Tom Ridge: First of all, I think we need to dispel the notion that this was an arbitrary decision on the part of our government. There was sufficient information within the international intelligence community about this individual that we felt warranted his deportation back to one of – he had dual citizenship – of one of two countries. The decision was made, based on that information available through the global international intelligence community to effect that outcome.

Translation: "We did it. We did it on purpose. We'll do it again. Go fuck yourselves. Or just wait a while -- the Feds will be at your door, and we'll do it for you."

Ridge's response puts to shame the answer I wrote to David, but I'll repeat it here anyway.

We don't apologize. We're good guys. That means anything we do, up to and including torture (direct or subcontracted) and assassination, is good, because we're doing it. So we don't ever *need* to apologize. Because we're the good guys. John Wayne doesn't say he's sorry. Neither does anyone in Love Story.

Anyone who judges us by our behavior is automatically not a good guy. So we can do anything to them we want.

Anyone who looks like someone who threatened us is not a good guy. Ditto.

We're just trying to bring our vision of peace, prosperity, and freedom to everyone in the world. If they don't appreciate that, we'll ram it down their throats, burn their villages, and send their enemies to Torturers Camp to learn how to make leather wallets from the backsides of people who did once have faces before the rubber hoses landed.

Sending someone to Torturers Camp doesn't mean we'll go on supporting your efforts to fight for freedom, either. We fucking trained half the people we're fighting now. But it always puzzles us that they feel betrayed. Haven't they made their contribution to the American Way of Life? Many of them laid down their lives for the American Dream: cheap gas for big SUVs.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Ah, So This Is Why Everyone Has Been Tense Today

It's been a strained, edgy day. So when the quake hit a few minutes ago, the theory of earthquake prediction was given another data point.

That was a good one. I could hear the house cracking as it stretched.

Here's the map.

I sent in a report to the USGS:

Deep, moderately loud noise as the ground shuddered sharply, followed by creaking. I could hear the house stretching. Then there was a low muttery sound, like thunder tailing off. It seemed to move from northeast to south.
And This One Has a Happy Ending

I am an American. I am ashamed.

This is too important to trust to the vagaries of the Internet. I'm posting the whole horrible thing. And if reading it is too painful, imagine living it for more than a year -- not to mention reliving it in nightmares and flashbacks and agonizing memories for the rest of his life. Imagine his wife's terror, anger, and suffering. The scars on his little girl, who learned that Daddy can disappear when the American government wants him to.

Maher Arar: statement
CBC News Online | November 4, 2003

The following statement was read by Maher Arar in Ottawa on November 4, 2003, less than one month after being released from prison in Syria:

Maher Arar
I am here today to tell the people of Canada what has happened to me.

There have been many allegations made about me in the media, all of them by people who refuse to be named or come forward. So before I tell you who I am and what happened to me, I will tell you who I am not.

I am not a terrorist. I am not a member of al-Qaeda and I do not know any one who belongs to this group. All I know about al-Qaeda is what I have seen in the media. I have never been to Afghanistan. I have never been anywhere near Afghanistan and I do not have any desire to ever go to Afghanistan.

Now, let me tell you who I am.

I am a Syrian-born Canadian. I moved here with my parents when I was 17 years old. I went to university and studied hard, and eventually obtained a Masters degree in telecommunications. I met my wife, Monia at McGill University. We fell in love and eventually married in 1994. I knew then that she was special, but I had no idea how special she would turn out to be.

If it were not for her I believe I would still be in prison.

We had our first child, a daughter named Barâa, in February, 1997. She is six years old now. In December, 1997, we moved to Ottawa from Montreal. I took a job with a high tech firm, called The MathWorks, in Boston in 1999, and my job involved a lot of travel within the U.S.

Then in 2001 I decided to come back to Ottawa to start my own consulting company. We had our second child, Houd, in February, 2002. He is 20 months old now.

So this is who I am. I am a father and a husband. I am a telecommunications engineer and entrepreneur. I have never had trouble with the police, and have always been a good citizen. So I still cannot believe what has happened to me, and how my life and career have been destroyed.

Maher Arar with his wife Monia Mazigh
In September 2002, I was with my wife and children, and her family, vacationing in Tunis. I got an e-mail from the MathWorks saying that they might need me soon to assess a potential consulting work for one of their customers. I said goodbye to my wife and family, and headed back home to prepare for work.

I was using my air miles to travel, and the best flight I could get went from Tunis, to Zurich, to New York, to Montreal. My flight arrived in New York at 2:00 p.m. on September 26th, 2002. I had a few hours to wait until my connecting flight to Montreal.

This is when my nightmare began. I was pulled aside at immigration and taken to another area. Two hours later some officials came and told me this was regular procedure. They took my fingerprints and photographs.

Then some police came and searched my bags and copied my Canadian passport. I was getting worried, and I asked what was going on, and they would not answer. I asked to make a phone call, and they would not let me.

Then a team of people came and told me they wanted to ask me some questions. One man was from the FBI, and another was from the New York Police Department. I was scared and did not know what was going on. I told them I wanted a lawyer. They told me I had no right to a lawyer, because I was not an American citizen.

They asked me where I worked and how much money I made. They swore at me, and insulted me. It was very humiliating. They wanted me to answer every question quickly. They were consulting a report while they were questioning me, and the information they had was so private I thought this must be from Canada.

I told them everything I knew. They asked me about my travel in the United States. I told them about my work permits, and my business there. They asked about information on my computer and whether I was willing to share it. I welcomed the idea, but I don't know if they did.

They asked me about different people, some I know, and most I do not. They asked me about Abdullah Almalki, and I told them I worked with his brother at high-tech firms in Ottawa, and that the Almalki family had come from Syria about the same time as mine. I told them I did not know Abdullah well, but had seen him a few times and I described the times I could remember. I told them I had a casual relationship with him.

They were so rude with me, yelling at me that I had a selective memory. Then they pulled out a copy of my rental lease from 1997. I could not believe they had this. I was completely shocked. They pointed out that Abdullah had signed the lease as a witness. I had completely forgotten that he had signed it for me when we moved to Ottawa in 1997, we needed someone to witness our lease, and I phoned Abdullah's brother, and he could not come, so he sent Abdullah.

But they thought I was hiding this. I told them the truth. I had nothing to hide. I had never had problems in the United States before, and I could not believe what was happening to me. This interrogation continued until midnight. I was very, very worried, and asked for a lawyer again and again. They just ignored me. Then they put me in chains, on my wrists and ankles, and took me in a van to a place where many people were being held in another building by the airport. They would not tell me what was happening. At 1:00 in the morning they put me in a room with metal benches in it. I could not sleep. I was very, very scared and disoriented. The next morning they started questioning me again. They asked me about what I think about bin Laden, Palestine, Iraq. They also asked me about the mosques I pray in, my bank accounts, my e-mail addresses, my relatives, about everything.

This continued on and off for eight hours. Then a man from the INS came in and told me they wanted me to volunteer to go to Syria. I said no way. I said I wanted to go home to Canada or sent back to Switzerland. He said to me “you are a special interest.” They asked me to sign a form. They would not let me read it, but I just signed it. I was exhausted and confused and disoriented. I had not slept or eaten since I was in the plane. At about 6:00 in the evening they brought me some cold McDonalds meal to eat. This was the first food I had eaten since the last meal I had on the plane.

At about 8:00 they put all the shackles and chains back on, and put me in a van, and drove me to a prison. I later learned this was the Metropolitan Detention Center. They would not tell me what was happening, or where I was going. They strip searched me. It was humiliating. They put me in an orange suit, and took me to a doctor, where they made me sign forms, and gave me a vaccination. I asked what it was, and they would not tell me. My arm was red for almost two weeks from that.

They took me to a cell. I had never seen a prison before in my life, and I was terrified. I asked again for a phone call, and a lawyer. They just ignored me. They treated me differently than the other prisoners. They would not give me a toothbrush or toothpaste, or reading material. I did get a copy of the Qur’an about two days later.

After five days, they let me make a phone call. I called Monia's mother, who was here in Ottawa, and told her I was scared they might send me to Syria, and asked her to help find me a lawyer. They would only let me talk for two minutes.

On the seventh or eighth day they brought me a document, saying they had decided to deport me, and I had a choice of where to be deported. I wrote that I wanted to go to Canada. It asked if I had concerns about going to Canada. I wrote no, and signed it. The Canadian consul came on October 4, and I told her I was scared of being deported to Syria. She told me that would not happen. She told me that a lawyer was being arranged. I was very upset, and scared. I could barely talk.

The next day, a lawyer came. She told me not to sign any document unless she was present. We could only talk for 30 minutes. She said she would try to help me. That was a Saturday. On Sunday night at about 9:00 p.m., the guards came to my cell and told me my lawyer was there to see me. I thought it was a strange time, and they took me into a room with seven or eight people in it. I asked where my lawyer was. They told me he had refused to come and started questioning me again. They said they wanted to know why I did not want to go back to Syria. I told them I would be tortured there. I told them I had not done my military service; I am a Sunni Muslim; my mother's cousin had been accused of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and was put in prison for nine years.

They asked me to sign a document and I refused. I told them they could not send me to Syria or I would be tortured. I asked again for a lawyer. At three in the morning they took me back to my cell. At 3:00 in the morning on Tuesday, October 8th, a prison guard woke me up and told me I was leaving. They took me to another room and stripped and searched me again. Then they again chained and shackled me. Then two officials took me inside a room and read me what they said was a decision by the INS Director.

They told me that based on classified information that they could not reveal to me, I would be deported to Syria. I said again that I would be tortured there. Then they read part of the document where it explained that INS was not the body that deals with Geneva Conventions regarding torture.

Then they took me outside into a car and drove me to an airport in New Jersey. Then they put me on a small private jet. I was the only person on the plane with them. I was still chained and shackled. We flew first to Washington. A new team of people got on the plane and the others left. I overheard them talking on the phone, saying that Syria was refusing to take me directly, but Jordan would take me.

Then we flew to Portland, to Rome, and then to Amman, Jordan. All the time I was on the plane I was thinking how to avoid being tortured. I was very scared. We landed in Amman at 3:00 in the morning local time on October 9th.

They took me out of plane and there were six or seven Jordanian men waiting for us. They blindfolded and chained me, and put me in a van. They made me bend my head down in the back seat. Then, these men started beating me. Every time I tried to talk they beat me. For the first few minutes it was very intense.

Thirty minutes later we arrived at a building where they took off my blindfold and asked routine questions, before taking me to a cell. It was around 4:30 in the morning on October 9. Later that day, they took my fingerprints, and blindfolded me and put me in a van. I asked where I was going, and they told me I was going back to Montreal.

About 45 minutes later, I was put into a different car. These men started beating me again. They made me keep my head down, and it was very uncomfortable, but every time I moved, they beat me again. Over an hour later we arrived at what I think was the border with Syria. I was put in another car and we drove for another three hours. I was taken into a building, where some guards went through my bags and took some chocolates I bought in Zurich.

I asked one of the people where I was and he told me I was in the Palestine branch of the Syrian military intelligence. It was now about 6:00 in the evening on October 9. Three men came and took me into a room. I was very, very scared. They put me on a chair, and one of the men started asking me questions. I later learned this man was a colonel. He asked me about my brothers, and why we had left Syria. I answered all the questions.

If I did not answer quickly enough, he would point to a metal chair in the corner and ask “Do you want me to use this?” I did not know then what that chair was for. I learned later it was used to torture people. I asked him what he wanted to hear. I was terrified, and I did not want to be tortured. I would say anything to avoid torture. This lasted for four hours. There was no violence, only threats this day. At about 1:00 in the morning, the guards came to take me to my cell downstairs.

We went into the basement, and they opened a door, and I looked in. I could not believe what I saw. I asked how long I would be kept in this place. He did not answer, but put me in and closed the door. It was like a grave. It had no light. It was three feet wide. It was six feet deep.

It was seven feet high. It had a metal door, with a small opening in the door, which did not let in light because there was a piece of metal on the outside for sliding things into the cell.

There was a small opening in the ceiling, about one foot by two feet with iron bars. Over that was another ceiling, so only a little light came through this. There were cats and rats up there, and from time to time the cats peed through the opening into the cell. There were two blankets, two dishes and two bottles. One bottle was for water and the other one was used for urinating during the night. Nothing else. No light.

I spent 10 months, and 10 days inside that grave.

The next day I was taken upstairs again. The beating started that day and was very intense for a week, and then less intense for another week. That second and the third days were the worst. I could hear other prisoners being tortured, and screaming and screaming.

Interrogations are carried out in different rooms. One tactic they use is to question prisoners for two hours, and then put them in a waiting room, so they can hear the others screaming, and then bring them back to continue the interrogation.

The cable is a black electrical cable, about two inches thick. They hit me with it everywhere on my body. They mostly aimed for my palms, but sometimes missed and hit my wrists. They were sore and red for three weeks. They also struck me on my hips, and lower back. Interrogators constantly threatened me with the metal chair, tire and electric shocks.

The tire is used to restrain prisoners while they torture them with beating on the sole of their feet. I guess I was lucky, because they put me in the tire, but only as a threat. I was not beaten while in tire. They used the cable on the second and third day, and after that mostly beat me with their hands, hitting me in the stomach and on the back of my neck, and slapping me on the face. Where they hit me with the cables, my skin turned blue for two or three weeks, but there was no bleeding. At the end of the day they told me tomorrow would be worse. So I could not sleep.

Then on the third day, the interrogation lasted about 18 hours. They beat me from time to time and make me wait in the waiting room for one to two hours before resuming the interrogation. While in the waiting room I heard a lot of people screaming. They wanted me to say I went to Afghanistan. This was a surprise to me. They had not asked about this in the United States.

They kept beating me so I had to falsely confess and told them I did go to Afghanistan. I was ready to confess to anything if it would stop the torture. They wanted me to say I went to a training camp. I was so scared I urinated on myself twice. The beating was less severe each of the following days.

At the end of each day, they would always say, “Tomorrow will be harder for you.” So each night, I could not sleep. I did not sleep for the first four days, and slept no more than two hours a day for about two months. Most of time I was not taken back to my cell, but to the waiting room where I could hear all the prisoners being tortured and screaming.

One time, I heard them banging a man's head repeatedly on a desk really hard. Around October 17th, the beatings subsided. Their next tactic was to take me in a room, blindfolded, and people would talk about me. I could hear them saying, “He knows lots of people who are terrorists; we will get their numbers; he is a liar; he has been out of the country for long.”

Then they would say, “let’s be frank, let’s be friends, tell us the truth,” and come around the desk, and slap me on the face. They played lots of mind games. The interrogation and beating ended three days before I had my first consular visit, on October 23.

I was taken from my cell and my beard was shaved. I was taken to another building, and there was the colonel in the hallway with some other men and they all seemed very nervous and agitated.

I did not know what was happening and they would not tell me. They never say what is happening. You never know what will happen next. I was told not to tell anything about the beating, then I was taken into a room for a ten minute meeting with the consul. The colonel was there, and three other Syrian officials including an interpreter. I cried a lot at that meeting. I could not say anything about the torture. I thought if I did, I would not get any more visits, or I might be beaten again.

After that visit, about a month after I arrived, they called me up to sign and place my thumb print on a document about seven pages long. They would not let me read it, but I had to put my thumb print and signature on the bottom of each page. It was handwritten.

Another document was about three pages long, with questions: Who are your friends? How long have you been out of the country? Last question was empty lines. They answered the questions with their own handwriting except for the last one where I was forced to write that I had been to Afghanistan.

The consular visits were my lifeline, but I also found them very frustrating. There were seven consular visits, and one visit from members of parliament. After the visits I would bang my head and my fist on the wall in frustration. I needed the visits, but I could not say anything there.

I got new clothes after the December 10th consular visit. Until then, I had been wearing the same clothes since being on the jet from the United States.

On three different occasions in December I had a very hard time. Memories crowded my mind and I thought I was going to lose control, and I just screamed and screamed. I could not breathe well after, and felt very dizzy.

I was not exposed to sunlight for six months. The only times I left the grave was for interrogation, and for the visits. Daily life in that place was hell. When I was detained in New York I weighed about 180 pounds. I think I lost about 40 pounds while I was at the Palestine Branch.

On August 19 I was taken upstairs to see the investigator, and I was given a paper and asked to write what he dictated. If I protested, he kicked me. I was forced to write that I went to a training camp in Afghanistan. They made me sign and put my thumbprint on the last page.

The same day I was transferred to a different place, which I learnt later was the Investigation Branch. I was placed there in a 12 feet by 20 feet collective cell. We were about 50 people in that place. The next day I was taken to the Sednaya prison. I was very lucky that I was not tortured when I arrived there. All the other prisoners were tortured when they arrived.

Sednaya prison was like heaven for me. I could move around, and talk with other prisoners. I could buy food to eat and I gained a lot of weight there. I was only beaten once there.

On around September 19 or 20, I heard the other prisoners saying that another Canadian had arrived there. I looked up, and saw a man, but I did not recognize him. His head was shaved, and he was very, very thin and pale. He was very weak. When I looked closer, I recognized him. It was Abdullah Almalki. He told me he had also been at the Palestine Branch, and that he had also been in a grave like I had been except he had been in it longer.

He told me he had been severely tortured with the tire, and the cable. He was also hanged upside down. He was tortured much worse than me. He had also been tortured when he was brought to Sednaya, so that was only two weeks before.

I do not know why they have Abdullah there. What I can say for sure is that no human deserves to be treated the way he was, and I hope that Canada does all they can to help him.

On September 28 I was taken out and blindfolded and put in what felt like a bus and taken back to the Palestine Branch. They would not tell me what was happening, and I was scared I was going back to the grave. Instead, I was put in one of the waiting rooms where they torture people. I could hear the prisoners being tortured, and screaming, again.

The same day I was called in to an office to answer more questions, about what I would say if I came back to Canada. They did not tell me I would be released.

I was put back in the waiting room, and I was kept there for one week, listening to all the prisoners screaming. It was awful.

On Sunday, October 5th I was taken out and into a car and driven to a court. I was put in a room with a prosecutor. I asked for a lawyer and he said I did not need one. I asked what was going on and he read from my confession. I tried to argue I was beaten and did not go to Afghanistan, but he did not listen. He did not tell me what I was charged with, but told me to stamp my fingerprint and sign on a document he would not let me see.

Then he said I would be released.

Then I was taken back to the Palestine Branch where I met the head of the Syrian Military Intelligence and officials from the Canadian embassy. And then I was released. I want to conclude by thanking all of the people who worked for my release, especially my wife Monia, and human rights groups, and all the people who wrote letters, and all the members of parliament who stood up for justice.

Of course I thank all of the journalists for covering my story.

The past year has been a nightmare, and I have spent the past few weeks at home trying to learn how to live with what happened to me. I know that the only way I will ever be able to move on in my life and have a future is if I can find out why this happened to me.

I want to know why this happened to me. I believe the only way I can ever know why this happened is to have all the truth come out in a public inquiry.

My priority right now is to clear my name, get to the bottom of the case and make sure this does not happen to any other Canadian citizens in the future. I believe the best way to go about achieving this goal is to put pressure on the government to call for a public inquiry.

What is at stake here is the future of our country, the interests of Canadian citizens, and most importantly Canada's international reputation for being a leader in human rights where citizens from different ethnic groups are treated no different than other Canadians.

Thank you for your patience.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

NANOWRIMO: Starting the Month Off Write

Warning: I did not make that pun.

Last night more than 20 of us met at Denny's in Santa Clara. We started arriving around 11PM and took over the back room. We did a countdown to midnight and then started the marathon: typing madly on laptops, scribbling in spiral notebooks, and occasionally pausing to gulp coffee, make puns, or announce our word count.

I wrote nearly 1500 words before I had to break off to discuss next weekend's writers' retreat. Looks like I'll probably be going up with a friend, which will give us a chance to talk.

I got another 1600 words written today. Wheeeee!

Friday, October 31, 2003

An Update on St. Maria Goretti: Virgin. Martyr. Rape Victim

Girls pummel man who exposed himself

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (Reuters) --A man described by authorities as a known sexual predator was chased through the streets of South Philadelphia by an angry crowd of Catholic high school girls, who kicked and punched him after he was tackled by neighbors, police said Friday.

Rudy Susanto, 25, who had exposed himself to teen-age girls on as many as seven occasions outside St. Maria Goretti School, struck again on Thursday just as students were being dismissed, police said.

But this time, a group of girls in school uniforms angrily confronted Susanto with help from some neighbors, police said.

When Susanto tried to run, more than 20 girls chased him down the block. Two men from the neighborhood caught him and the girls took their revenge.

"The girls came and started kicking him and punching him, so I wasn't going to stop them," neighbor Robert Lemons told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Susanto was later treated for injuries at a local hospital. Police said he would be charged with 14 criminal counts including harassment, disorderly conduct, open lewdness and corrupting the morals of a minor.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved.

Additional irony: St. Maria Goretti, virgin and martyr, was a little girl who died from an attempted rape.

From her website: Official Prayer to St. Maria Goretti

Oh Saint Maria Goretti who, strengthened by God's grace, did not hesitate even at the age of twelve to shed your blood and sacrifice life itself to defend your virginal purity, look graciously on the unhappy human race which has strayed far from the path of eternal salvation. Teach us all, and especially youth,with what courage and promptitude we should flee for the love of Jesus anything that could offend Him or stain our souls with sin. Obtain for us from our Lord victory in temptation, comfort in the sorrows of life, and the grace which we earnestly beg of thee (here insert intention), and may we one day enjoy with thee the imperishable glory of Heaven. Amen.

And from her bio:

Lured by the passions of his day and nurturing the dark side of his soul with impious reading and thoughts, Alessandro Serenelli had been a thorn in lovely Maria's side. He propositioned her on several occasions and harassed her with impure suggestions. On July 5, 1902, he would be denied no longer. As she once again rebuffed his sexual advance, shouting, "No! It is a sin! God does not want it!", Alexander lunged to the deed, stabbing Maria 14 times.

You know, I really prefer the modern version.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

For My Friends in the North

Go outside. Look at the sky. The solar flares are sending you northern lights.

You can skip this if it's raining.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

YES: I Am Writing

After the writing exercise, I'd found my pace and flow. Ideas and words poured forth -- the natural result of all my preparation and effort, but still feeling miraculous. I've got a clear set of ideas to work with, and I know the structure I'm going to use now. It's exhilarating, but it's also the outgrowth of work, discipline, and persistence. Let's not forget that; it's all too easy to treat writing as a gift of the muse, as opposed to something I build with my hands and heart and guts.

Tonight I took my laptop to the pre-NaNoWrite-in at Dana Street Coffee Shop in Mountain View. There were at least 8 of us there -- a couple of new writers, plus five or six who were with us last year. And NaNovember hasn't even started yet.

Now, I'm disposed to like Dana St. Coffee Shop. I bought my laptop there (and in fact saw the seller tonight and thanked him again for such a wonderful machine). I also snagged a wide-lapped wooden chair to sit in.

However, we are not going back -- ever. They have free wireless Internet access, but no working electrical outlets. They turned them off, if you please, to chase people away; apparently some folks were staying too long and not buying anything. Have they never heard of just talking to the deadbeats?

There was also no food, no air-conditioning, and they closed early. I told the counter guy that they'd lost a stack of customers who would have been there weekly, buying coffee and food and tipping generously. Idiots.

I still got a lot of work done, but I came home relatively early.

Then Michele called. Our rector has just announced that she is retiring. Michele knows how I love Margaret. I was sad enough to cry at the news. I'll have to show her somehow what she has meant to me.

But I'm OK. And I'm still writing. That's what matters, after all.
NO: I Am Not Writing

Spent the morning doing a small proofreading job, so I'm not feeling writerly. Under the ferocious proofreading/editorial gaze, ideas shrivel like banana slugs in a salt mine. (It took me five minutes to write that, and I'm not satisfied with it.) (And now I'm thinking it would be funnier if I showed the changes with strikethroughs. Ah hell. And a gaze isn't comparable to a mine. Fuck it.)

Think of this as a writing exercise.

Nature colors. Purple loosestrife (yes, I know what damage it does). The watercolor skies, cloud melting into air, of March. Fall in Pennsylvania. The softened, bleached tones of November before the snow falls. The fading of green to blue to slate of mountain ranges on a grey day. The molten, almost hallucinatory green under basswood trees on a sunny day. Old stone, old brick. Blue shadows on snow, rusty iron, smoke, slate, lichen, moss, turned earth. The palomino hills of California. The bone-colored moon rising in daylight, the golden moon rising just past sunset.

smells: And you thought I was overwriting about color. You poor sucker, you.

Lilacs in the rain. The iron tang of snow in the air. (Yes, you can really smell it coming.) Burning leaves, burning wood. (Not a romantic smell to me so much as a homey one.) Fresh ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, basil in the sun, and all the spices I'm not allergic to. Tomato vines. California's thousand fragrances, from rosemary to redwood to eucalyptus. Miso soup – it smells like Grandma's house, though it shouldn't. The flesh and sweat of my lover. Hot tea. My own hands after I've been peeling lemons, limes, oranges. Plowed fields. Barns. Yes, I like the smell of cow manure, especially when it's been spread on the fields on a March day – when it's starting to warm up, but there's still snow in the sheltered places. Vetiver, oakmoss, sandalwood, petitgrain, all the essential oils I use in making soap. The first whiff of salt in the air when you get near the ocean. Rising bread, baking bread. Dusty old stores, the kind with wooden floors. Especially if they're selling hardware or used books.

sounds: "Hi, honey, you're home" from any of my housemates. Gabriel's purr of recognition. Most church music. Lots of other kinds of music. The wind. That sweet thunk when a bat connects perfectly with a ball. Someone I love reading aloud. Someone with a good voice reading aloud. Thunder – I love thunderstorms, and I miss them. A friend or family member's voice on the phone.

art: "It's a stunning exploration of negative space. Do you know why it's a stunning exploration of negative space?"
"No, why?"
"Because Jesus wants it that way."
(Five extra points to anyone who can identify the film.)

interests: (Alphabetized for your reading pleasure; not exhaustive by any means) Arthurian legends, baseball, brain/mind link, bread baking, California, cats, cross-stitch, depth psychology, dream landscapes, edges, fat, feminism, gender, geology, ghost stories, God, grief, herbs, history of war, home, intentional communities, labyrinths, landscape, mythology, nanotechnology, nanowrimo, occasionally getting enough sleep, old houses, overdyed silk, psychology, PTSD, publishing, reading, rebellion, religion, ritual, rocks, sacramental theology, sacred places, semiotics, soapmaking, textiles, theology, trees, true crime, used book stores, vampires, Victorian era, writing, writing the disaster.

stuff: Books. Things with sentimental value. I never threw anything away until I moved out here, and I'm still wading through boxes.

lit: Almost any genre – but it must be well-written.

dislikes/allergies: Not the same thing at all. (That wasn't what I meant at all.)

Dislikes: Sloppy craftsmanship. The refusal to see, grow, think, or feel. Emotional manipulation and nonconsensual power games.

Allergies: Damn near everything.

OK, now I'm writing.
From a Poem by Mary Oliver

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.


Thursday, October 23, 2003

Best T-Shirt Ever

Do you qualify to be an adult?

DISAPPEARING ACTS: A Loaf of Bread, a Jug of Diet Dr. Pepper, and Two Cats Beside Me in the Wilderness

I haven't been around much lately, and I may be around even less next week.

I'm going cat-sitting for a bit more than a week. In return for feeding, petting, and playing with a couple of utterly gorgeous felines, I get to stay at a friend's apartment while he's away. Just me, my laptop, and the voices in my head.

I am going to write.

NaNoWriMo starts at the end of my time alone, but I hope by then I'll be deeply immersed in the big nonfiction project that's been hanging fire the last year or so. I plan to do my 50,000 words of fiction, of course, but word count really isn't what matters this year.

What matters is finding my way into the new book. What matters is patiently working to achieve the focus and concentration that once were among my greatest gifts. What matters is making the writing the first priority.

Instead of starting the day with email and the endless round of resume submissions, I'll start the day with writing. Later on, in the afternoon hours that are least productive for me, I can read, nap, and deal with email and job submissions. In the evenings I will take walks around the apartment complex, maybe watch a movie, maybe write some more. Always I'll have lovely kitties to play with.

A few times during the week I'll emerge and see friends -- Sunday afternoon, for example, when I'll be in San Francisco for the NaNoWriMo kickoff party. And I may need to put myself together to see someone about a writing contract. Mostly, though, I'll luxuriate in solitude and beautiful words.

When I come home, I want to bring the new work habits with me. I won't be able to immerse myself so deeply; I'll have family responsibilities, and I'll have all the distractions and pleasures of home life. But I can and will make writing my first deed of the day. That is a promise.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Famous Last Words

  • I'll never get a PDA. I can barely decipher my own handwriting. No little box is going to be able to read it.

  • Anyway, I refuse to learn a new alphabet just to please some overpriced piece of technology.

  • Anyway, I would drop it, or lose it.

  • Anyway, I love paper and pens.

  • Anyway, I don't need one. My Daytimer may be big and bulky, but it contains everything I need. Pretty much. Usually. If I carry a notebook, too, and a couple of paperbacks to read.

  • Anyway, I can remember everything I need to do.

  • Anyway, I have the laptop.

Then Doreen told me I could download books to a PDA. There are a lot of wonderful books now out of copyright, and I could keep Saki's Chronicles of Clovis in my pocket. Hmmmm.

Then I started using the Palm software on my laptop as an organizing tool, and I loved it. I could remember to return library books on time! I could track what I was doing! Maybe an organizer was a good idea.

Then I discovered that I could get a keyboard and just type stuff into it. So I started keeping an eye on eBay and Craigslist. Eventually I found what I wanted: a Palm m500 with all the extras, going really cheap. (Partly because it's black-and-white, and everyone seems to want color on their PDA.) It came complete with two cradles, a synching cable, a metal case, a thumb keyboard, a near-full-size keyboard that folds into its own leather case, several other unopened gadgets, and the m500 its ownself: tiny yet powerful. I named her Alyx, after the short but kick-ass Joanna Russ character.

Then I noticed it didn't have any styli. I went out to Staples and, for a moderate percentage of what I got the whole thing for, I bought some styli.

What kind of seller was this, I asked myself. Clearly someone who buys all the latest high-tech toys with all the gadgets, but doesn't necessarily use it. Plenty of this stuff was still in its virginal blisterpak.

Is he too cheap or simply too distracted to include the styli? Or maybe passive-aggressive. "She's getting all this stuff for so little money. Let her buy her own damn stylus. She can have everything but my rod."

Now I had the Palm. I wanted to synch it to the laptop. I had not even plugged in the cradle yet. I tried to start Palm Desktop to find out what I needed to do. No dice. I'm getting a #-50 error message.

I messed with extensions and a dozen other issues. Nada.

I deleted and reinstalled. Still nothing.

I downloaded an older version. Nope.

I cursed with vigor and imagination. I'd already set up everything on the laptop the way I like it. Now it was all gone.

Ah, hell. I decided I should just run it off Michele's PC. The interface on the PC is not nearly as good as on the Mac, but I can live with that.

Since then I've been stuffing goodies into it. The contents of my Yahoo address book. The software to run the two keyboards. Endless lists. Birthdays for most of my family. Social engagements for the next few weeks. Ebooks and reader software. The morning and evening prayers for this month from the Book of Common Prayer.

I am also considering ways to decorate the aluminum case. Stickers, model paint, decoupage. . . . I want to create something unique.
The End of Baseball

From the day pitchers and catchers report to training camp, my cell phone plays "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." It has now been set to play the "Ode to Joy."

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

The Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request

Do they still play the blues in Chicago?
By the shores of old Lake Michigan
Where the "hawk wind" blows so cold
An old Cub fan lay dying
In his midnight hour that tolled
Round his bed, his friends had all gathered
They knew his time was short
And on his head they put this bright blue cap
From his all-time favorite sport
He told them, It's late and it's getting dark in here
And I know its time to go
But before I leave the line-up
Boys, there's just one thing I'd like to know

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy covered burial ground
When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League

Told his friends "You know the law of averages says:
Anything will happen that can."
That's what it says.
"But the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant
Was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan"
The Cubs made me a criminal
Sent me down a wayward path
They stole my youth from me
(that's the truth)
I'd forsake my teachers
To go sit in the bleachers
In flagrant truancy

and then one thing led to another
and soon I'd discovered alcohol, gambling, dope
football, hockey, lacrosse, tennis
But what do you expect,
When you raise up a young boy's hopes
And then just crush 'em like so many paper beer cups.

Year after year after year
after year, after year, after year, after year, after year
'Til those hopes are just so much popcorn
for the pigeons beneath the 'EL' tracks to eat
He said "You know I'll never see Wrigley Field, anymore
before my eternal rest
So if you have your pencils and your score cards ready,
and I'll read you my last request
He said, "Give me a double header funeral in Wrigley Field
On some sunny weekend day (no lights)
Have the organ play the National Anthem
and then a little "na, na, na, na, hey hey, hey, Goodbye"
Make six bullpen pitchers, carry my coffin
and six ground keepers clear my path
Have the umpires bark me out at every base
In all their holy wrath
Its a beautiful day for a funeral, Hey Ernie lets play two!
Somebody go get Jack Brickhouse to come back,
and conduct just one more interview
Have the Cubbies run right out into the middle of the field,
Have Keith Moreland drop a routine fly
Give everybody two bags of peanuts and a frosty malt
And I'll be ready to die

Build a big fire on home plate out of your Louisville Sluggers baseball bats,
And toss my coffin in
Let my ashes blow in a beautiful snow
From the prevailing 30-mile-an-hour southwest wind
When my last remains go flying over the left field wall
Will bid the bleacher bums adieu
And I will come to my final resting place, out on Waveland Avenue

The dying man's friends told him to cut it out
They said stop it that's an awful shame
He whispered, "Don't cry, we'll meet by and by near the Heavenly Hall of Fame."
He said, "I've got season's tickets to watch the Angels now,
So it's just what I'm going to do
He said, "but you the living, you're stuck here with the Cubs,
So its me that feels sorry for you!"
And he said, "Ahh play, play that lonesome losers' tune,
That's the one I like the best
And he closed his eyes, and slipped away
What we got is the Dying Cub Fan's Last Request
And here it is

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy covered burial ground
When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League.

- Steve Goodman

I love Steve Goodman -- a brilliant musician who was in Hillary Rodham Clinton's graduating class. He wrote "City of New Orleans" (one of the greatest train songs ever) as well as many other wonderful, funny, and touching songs. And God help him, he was a Cubs fan.

He died young of leukemia. He is missed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Bless Us, Babe, For We Have Sinned

I'm not sure putting an 85-year curse on one's former team counts as a miracle in canon law, but it's clear that the Bambino is a baseball saint.

Baseball Fans Turn to Babe Ruth for Intervention

By Aleksandrs Rozens

HAWTHORNE, N.Y., (Reuters) - When all else fails, try prayer.

Fans of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox -- fierce rivals locked in a tense playoff series that turned violent in Game 3 on Saturday -- are heading to the grave of baseball great Babe Ruth to seek divine intervention for "The Curse of the Bambino."

Boston has not won a World Series (news - web sites) since selling Ruth -- "the Bambino" -- to the Yankees. The team, which won its last championship in 1918, sold Ruth two years later.

The Yankees have since dominated the sport, and their stadium is known as "the House That Ruth Built."

Yankees fan Vincent Serratore of the Bronx went over the weekend to leave a cigar at the stogie-loving Ruth's grave at the Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven about 30 miles north of New York.

"The curse lives," Serratore said, expressing the deep superstition that is a characteristic of many baseball fans. "I don't care what anybody says."

Piled on the gravesite were flowers, candy, an apple, baseballs, Yankee caps, American flags, rosary beads, baseball ticket stubs and a framed poster of the baseball great, who held the career home run-hitting record for much of the 20th century.

Cemetery staff says traffic to the site has been steady in recent days. From a Red Sox fan was a written note, pleading with Ruth to lift the curse.

"Go Sox. Just One, Thanks Babe," it read.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Some Thoughts on the Love of God

Real Live Preacher Man is a Texas minister who writes a blog on He's an extraordinary man, and his posts are always worth reading.

I think love is The Creator’s watermark, left imprinted on our hearts when we were still wet from the earth out of which we were made. . . .
The Creator says, “You might never call my name, or you might call me every name in the book. You may search for me all of your life, or you may never give me a second thought, but you WILL know how I felt on the day I made you.”
“You might deny my existence, but you will never be able to deny the mark of my palm on your soft hearts. Your hearts will rise up and call you blessed.”
“Your hearts will tell you who you are, and whose you are.”

You Can't Win If You Don't Vote

Californians, tomorrow is the big day. Get out and vote.

A friend of mine provided these nonpartisan links.

View your sample ballot, including polling place location, here.

Voting hours are from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Your employer must give you time off to vote if you don't have sufficient time outside of working hours. Learn more about voting here.

All of these links are non-partisan and present both proposing and opposing viewpoints. Please take a moment to educate yourself before you vote! That way you'll know you're doing the right thing.
Read about the recall election.

Read about the candidates for Governor. Remember that even if you vote "no recall," you still get to choose a candidate in case the recall does go through.

Read about Prop. 53.

Read about Prop. 54.

Exercise your rights. Don't let everyone else decide your future. Voting may well be the most important thing you do tomorrow.
The Phillies and the Cubs

Naturally, I’m rooting for the Cubs in the World Series. But there are serious differences between these classic hard-luck teams -- and their fans.

The Cubs play in one of the greatest ballparks ever: Wrigley Field. It’s an ivy-covered shrine to tradition. The Cubs were the last team to start having night games. (The first was scheduled on the euphonious 8/8/88; they must have rained out, because if I remember correctly they didn’t do so until the next day.) On occasion, a home run will leave the park and smash into one of the buildings across the street. I recall a French gentleman being considerably startled in the 1980s when this happened.

Since I was 12, the Phillies have been playing in the phenomenally ugly concrete-and-Astroturf Veterans Stadium. Yes, they won there, especially during the mid-1970s and the annus mirabilis 1980, but I for one won’t miss it. The plans for the new ballpark brought tears to my eyes. It’s going to have real grass and a lovely jewelbox geometry (very different from Veterans Stadium, which looked like a Stalinist monument to The People’s Toilet).

The Cubs’ record is one of early success followed by decades of doldrums. They did actually win the 1907 and 1908 World Series. They had legendary players, some of whom have entered the language: the brilliant double-play combination of Tinkers to Evers to Chance belonged to the Cubs. They went to the Series several more times in the teens, as well as in 1929 (they lost to the Philadelphia Athletics, who are now of course the Team from Oakland).

The Phillies . . . well, some experts consider my boys to constitute the most futile professional sports franchise ever. As one player said, “We’re not a Major League team, but we play a lot of them.” They were the last of the original teams to win the World Series -- 87 years after the club was formed. We still haven’t won our second. We’ve only gone to the Series five times in our long and mostly incredibly depressing history. We’re fabled for our collapse in September 1964 as well as for the 1950 Series in which the Yankees swept us. We once had an outfielder so clumsy he was known as Dr. Strangeglove.

The Cubs fans are loyal, knowledgeable, and perennially optimistic.

The Phillies fans are nicknamed the Boobirds and with good reason. Their despair and anger are expressed by booing anyone they don’t think is sweating to make the team win. That includes the spectacular Michael Jack Schmidt, one of the game’s greatest third basemen, whose elegant style didn’t suit the fans. Philadelphia, a town where sports matter, has been cursed with perennial losers in baseball, football, hockey, and basketball. Except in the magic year of 1980, when all the teams went to the championships -- a feat that has never been equaled by any other city. No wonder the fans are bitter, cynical, and outspoken.

So why do we stay? Why are we loyal to a bunch of losers? My husband asked me that once. (The ex is a lifetime Yankees fan -- that should have warned me.)

“You can’t expect me to cheer for a strange team just because they’re winning.”

They’re my boys. I have to follow them, curse at them, chew my nails over them, and cheer on their triumphs.

I’m rooting for the Cubs to win the Series this year, but only because my boys didn’t win the wild-card spot. (I’m really looking forward to seeing the Cubs trash the Marlins.) What I want, what I long for, is another winning season that ends in late October. A season that will see us as world champions again.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Less than a Month to Go!

Next month is call'd the NaNoWriMo.
He that outlives this month, and fills the page,
Will stand a tip-toe wherever writers meet,
And rouse to claim his fifty thousand words.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil bore his neighbours,
And say 'November is NaNoWriMo.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had from typing through the night.'
Old men forget; yet who can forget,
The NaNoGeezers? or young Gallifreyan
Who on the final day wrote 19,000 words.
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Lauren the Queen, Mortaine and Feralboy,
Recursive and Idunno, Karentoe, Junglemonkee,
Be in their coffee cups freshly remember'd,
This story shall the writer sell for cash,
And shall ne'er go by NaNovember
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be made fun of,
We few, we happy few, we band of writers;
For he to-day that swills caffeine with me
Shall be a writer; be he ne'er so vile,
This month shall fire his imagination:
And dilettantes who’d rather stay in bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their words cheap whiles any speaks
That wrote with us within Chris Baty's month.

Friday, September 26, 2003

I Read Banned Books

This is the American Library Association's Banned Books Week.

Read. Think. Decide for yourself. Teach your kids to look at books, TV, movies, fads, and politics with an assessing eye, not believing everything they hear, but probing to find out how deeds match up to words, how effects go with causes. Teaching them to think for themselves is the best protection you can give them in a dangerous world.
Maybe Next Year

It's over, friends. The Phillies are out of the running for the wild card spot.

They played well this year, if erratically. Back in March I would just have been glad for a winning season. (Last year we were one game under .500.) Now I'm sad to see my boys go home before a victorious Game Seven. But they're building, building.

And they seem to have had their team name legally changed from "the cellar-dwelling Phils." That has to be an improvement.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

And They're All Running for Governor

Governor Gray Davis recently confirmed that California has "people from every planet on the earth.''

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Pirates of the LC System

Recently Michele and I staged a library raid--a daring two-hour adventure in the stacks at the new Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in beautiful downtown San Jose.*

We began our library adventure by finding on-street parking, always a good sign. There’s a vast parking garage across the street from the library, but it costs $2 or more an hour until 6PM. The library is open most nights until 10PM.

The library building itself is airy and elegant, rising from the intersection of 4th Street and San Fernando. The recently completed building houses the old central library plus the San Jose State University collection--the first such collaboration, and a wonderfully sensible idea.

As we approached the broad terrace in front of the library, we spotted the café on the right. Espresso inside, tables and chairs outside. Next time we may bring a picnic and eat at those tables while we browse through our catch of the day.

Inside we found a cool, lofty hallway with rooms branching off it: a permanent book-sale room, a browsers’ library, a children’s library, a vast information center, self-checkout scanners, a branch of the city workers’ credit union, and a number of computers with the online catalog. Very impressive, though I dearly miss the old wooden library card files.

On one wall hung a large LED display showing a fluctuating number in the mid - nine hundred thousands. No, it isn’t the median home price in Silicon Valley, though God knows it’s close. My guess is that it’s the population of San Jose.**

We picked up floor plans showing the library’s layout. The first three floors contain the city library, organized by the Dewey Decimal System. The mezzanine between the ground and second floors hosts the Children’s Exploration Center and the Education Resource Center. Fourth floor is “a novel café” plus current periodicals (the older ones and the microfilms are in the lower level, AKA down cellar). Fifth floor is special collections, and oh did I yearn after them. Everything from music CDs and bound orchestral scores to the Steinbeck Center, the California History Room, the Multicultural Center, the Beethoven Collection, and a beautiful rooftop terrace suitable for weddings. The sixth, seventh, and eighth floors are full of the university’s books, cataloged by the LC System, plus dissertations, Internet hookups, and study carrels. There’s also a Martin Luther King historical exhibit somewhere.

Almost every floor has adaptive technology stations, copiers, and plenty of comfortable seating, plus good light. Scattered throughout the library are public PCs so that even the homeless can use a computer.

But before we could explore all these treasures, we had to know what titles we were looking for and where to find them. Michele and I each took a catalog terminal and jotted down the call numbers and floors (conveniently listed for every volume). It took a little extra time, because we were both called on to help people who had never used an electronic catalog before. (I guess we both look like librarians.) My list was dismayingly long, so I decided to start at the top of the library and move downward.

As I rode the escalator upstairs, I laughed aloud: facing the escalator was an electronic Rosetta Stone that scrolls a dozen different messages at once. The whole library is filled with touches like that--public art by Mel Chin.***

The escalators go only to the first four floors, so I found my way to the elevator bank and rode up to the eighth floor. There, I must admit, I got emotional. Because here was what I had come for.

Books. Shelves and ranks and miles of books. New books brave in their mylar dust covers, old books bearing the brands of long-forgotten checkout systems. Books set, printed, and bound by hand; books typeset on Linotype and Merganthaler machines like grand old pipe organs; books set on home computers with a few codes added by a high-tech type house. Books fragrant with the exciting fresh scent of printer’s ink and fine paper, books redolent of long summer afternoons in wooden-floored libraries. Books filled with words in a number of different languages, books filled with wisdom, folly, information. Books to make you think or feel or ponder or rejoice or change your life. Books that can carry you into imaginary worlds or help you see this one up close.

Tears came to my eyes as I wandered the stacks on the eighth floor. The joy and reverence and eagerness I feel in a library is like what I experience in a redwood forest or in certain landscapes: a feeling of coming home, being exactly where I belong, self and surroundings in harmony.

But I had work to do. I found a table and dumped my notebook and bottle of Diet Coke (yes, refreshments are allowed). Next time I’ll take my laptop; they have outlets for my power cord. Then I went into the stacks to gather the books I wanted. This was a research trip, and I was, for the first time in years, getting my hands on an academic library with more than a million volumes.

An hour of sorting books, checking indexes, flipping through prefaces, all in search of the background material for the current novel. Then my cell phone rang. Michele, on the seventh floor, was reminding me that we had to go soon.

I had sorted my books into three great piles: yes, no, maybe. Even after a ruthless culling, I had forty-odd books. Thank God for my Diet Coke habit. I had brought the soda in a double plastic bag--flimsy but helpful. I stuffed as many as I could into the bags, looped them over one wrist, and scooped the rest of the ungainly stack into my arms. I staggered toward the elevator, cursing as one of the bags ripped, sending a cascade of books on religious persecution to the floor.

Eventually I made my way down to the seventh floor, where Michele took some of my hoard to add to her dozen volumes on C.S. Lewis. Then we rode the elevator down to checkout.

The self-scan checkout station was familiar from our local branch library. Checkout time is three weeks, and patrons can have as many as 100 items checked out at a time. That’s an improvement over the old limit of 28. Unfortunately, the old overdue fine of a nickel a day has also been upgraded to a quarter a day. We will be very careful to return or renew on time from now on. The printed tape listing our books and their due date was more than a yard long.

We wrestled the hoard outside, passing the library book sale with only a few anguished glances. With the books finally tumbled into Michele’s car, we sped off, blissfully looking forward to the next visit.

My library resolutions:
Next time I’ll get to see more than a couple of shelves.
Next time I’ll see the other floors and maybe a special collection or two.
Next time I’ll stay for three or five or ten hours.
Next time I’ll bring a shopping cart.

*There’s no sarcasm in that. I love downtown San Jose, which has lovely parks, fine old commercial buildings, and some imaginative new architecture (the Children’s Discovery Museum is painted purple--how could I resist?). The downtown residential neighborhoods consist of tree-lined streets featuring Italianate, Queen Anne, Spanish-style, and Craftsman houses. Yes, there are some buildings that look like bad 1950s motels, but there are many more solid and gracious ones.

**Not so close: The median price of a single-family home in Santa Clara County in July 2002 was $564,000, according to this article, entitled “Stunner: Home prices decline in Silicon Valley.” This year, despite the current depression out here, “There were 1,714 homes sold in the Bay area in the second quarter for a million dollars or more, a 3.5 percent decline from the same period a year ago.” Think of it--in 91 days, 1,714 insanely expensive homes were sold. That’s almost 19 a day, including Sundays and holidays.

*** The King Library has a lot of small delights to offer, some on its shelves, some on its websites. Clearly someone is a trivia buff. Did you know that the library collections if laid in a row would reach from the Library at the corner of 4th and San Fernando to the San Francisco Airport, 36.3 miles away? Or that it houses books and materials in 50 languages? Or that it’s one of the reasons I want to stay in Silicon Valley?