Saturday, May 31, 2003

Califamily News

It's been a thrilling week here in Silicon Valley.

Sonja is being inducted tomorrow into the national honor society for college students. That's because she's maintaining a 4.0 average. And you should see the mask she carved for her Art and the Spirit course. She earned an A-plus for the mask and the paper she wrote explaining the process of creating it.

Michele, AKA Lady Marmalade, is on a preserving kick and has made several dozen jars of jams and jellies.

I have challah sticky buns in the oven and a beautiful challah braid fiilled with cream cheese. I started working at home as of Wednesday, and I'm very pleased. Sonja pointed out today that I'm no longer coming home so exhausted that I can't think, speak, or do anything in the evenings. I'm not sleeping through the weekend, either. Plus I am getting more actual work done during the days. I don't see a downside to this.

Paul watches us, bemused, while plotting his next evil D&D campaign. A few weeks ago, the monsters killed everyone in their party, so he has to make up a new story line.

Last night we all watched Brigadoon -- first time I'd seen it since I was a kid. I have some thoughts about its appeal, which I'll save for another post.

Tonight some of us are off to a party, and tomorrow we go en famille to Sonja's induction ceremony.
Laugh Until the Tears Come

From the Best of Craigslist

Hemorrhoid, hemorrhoid, hemorrhoid…

This is to the woman who passed by while my niece was chanting “Hemorrhoid, hemorrhoid, hemorrhoid…” over and over. You looked as embarrassed as I felt. I wanted to explain but I needed to get my niece back to the restaurant to finish her dinner.

See, my sister, her daughter and I were camping up in the Sierras when we decided to have dinner at that restaurant. My niece, being only 9 years old, has to go to the bathroom, like, every 20 minutes. As you know the bathrooms at that restaurant are about 100 feet away and the path is dark at night. After my sister’s third trip to the bathrooms with her daughter I offered to take my niece on her forth trip.

I used to men’s room and then waited outside the ladies room. It was taking my niece so long that I thought maybe she had already gone back to the restaurant without me.

“Allie? You still in there?”


“Are you okay?”

“Uh-huh. I’m going number two.”

“Oh. Okay.” More information than I needed but she’s a little girl.

I waited a little longer.

“Allie? Everything okay?”

“Ye-es!” She shouts, sounding a bit miffed.

“You’re taking a long time. We need to get back to our dinner.”

“I can’t go. It won’t come out.” I scan around to see if anybody is listening to this.

“Well. Try pushing or something.” I don’t have children so I don’t really know how to talk to kids.

“I don’t want to get a hormone.”

“Uh. Oh. Wha…uh.” Like I said, I don’t have children so I don’t know what kids are saying half the time. “Well. We should get back. Your mother is going to worry and our dinner is getting cold.” Finally she comes out.

On the walk back she says to me “I was afraid I would get a hormone.” I didn’t say anything back because I have no idea what she is talking about. But then she adds “Granny Rogers told me that if I push too hard I’ll get a hormone.”

Click. Now I get it.

“Oh, hon. You don’t mean hormone. You mean hemorrhoid.” She looks up at me and says “Hermer… hermer…” And I enunciate for her “HEM-ER-ROID” and thinking to myself that I could never handle kids fulltime.

She stops in her tracks and repeats the word correctly “Hem-er-roid.”

“Yes, that’s it. Hemorrhoid.” She smiles proudly and we continue down the path back to the restaurant. That’s when you passed by. My niece was only practicing the new word she had just learned.


PS And to all the good folks at the Foster's Freeze the next day: I'm sorry Allie vomited 3 steps in the door instead of outside. She was carsick.

it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
this is in or around Mono Hot Springs

Friday, May 30, 2003

The Friday Five

What do you most want to be remembered for?

Being a writer who, in life and work, saw clearly and spoke honestly.

What quotation best fits your outlook on life?

One I recently quoted here, so I'll give a few extra to make up for the repetition. (The extras come first.)

Run mad as often as you chuse, but do not faint. -- Jane Austen

The only way out is the way through. -- Howard Nemerov

In dreams begin responsibilities. -- Delmore Schwartz

Almost everything conspicuously great is great in defiance, has come into being in defiance of affliction and pain, poverty, destitution, bodily weakness, vice, passion, and a thousand other obstructions. Forbearance in the fact of fate, beauty constant under torture, are not merely passive. They are a positive achievement, an explicit triumph.
-- Thomas Mann, Death in Venice

What single achievement are you most proud of in the past year?

The NaNoNovel -- 50,000 words, many incoherent, in thirty days. I'm planning to rewrite and finish it this summer.

What about the past ten years?

Surviving and growing.

It's been an eventful decade. Wrote three books (published), two book-length mss. (not yet published), various articles, a couple of chapbooks, and got a solid start on the current novel and the current book of essays; started and ran a successful small press, then let it die of neglect when my life collapsed; dealt with the deaths of my father-in-law, both grandfathers, father, and niece (not to mention the death of my marriage); did serious gut-level work in therapy; left my husband and started up my professional full-time career again; sold off my furniture and moved to California; built a solid family relationship out here. Pretty good.

If you were asked to give a child a single piece of advice to guide them through life, what would you say?

I would sing them "I Hope You Dance." I don't care if it's corny. It's good advice.
And Now, A Word from the Troops

From a former co-worker who was called up right before my company was bought. (Do I sense a pattern here? "Damn, won't have Kevin for a year. May as well sell the place.")

People are always asking me what they can do to help the troops, and usually I say we're ok here - since we're pretty far back and have pretty good ameneties.

But, the other day we had a fire in camp and 3 tents burned to the ground. 12 Marines and 29 soldiers lost all their stuff.

If you want more info, you can read about it here

and see pictures of the carnage here

Good news is noone was hurt. Bad news is they pretty much lost everything they weren't wearing.

If you feel like helping out with a cash donation, I've put a paypal button on the site.

Kevin's got what might *really* be called a warblog: he's blogging it from the POV of a soldier stationed in "Undisclosed Middle Eastern Country (TM)."

Thursday, May 29, 2003

California Signs

No Trespassing
Except on Business

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Total Photonic Reversal!

To swipe a pun from Paul, some interesting light reading.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Hello, I'm Lynn, and I'm a Bookaholic

Great article on the trials of the biblioholic. In fact, there is a whole book about it.
The Amazing Theory of Cat Gravity

You read it here first.

Monday, May 19, 2003

More Things I Never See in California

I was back home for a week, and with sharpened eyes I noticed even more defining differences between my Pennsylvania roots and my home in the Bay Area.

Some Flowers

I knew – oh, I knew I would see lilacs. (My favorite flower, and one of the best reasons to return home in May.) Still, the scent and abundance of them overwhelmed me. Individual lilacs growing in graceful urn shapes, like floral elm trees; home places sheltered by lilac hedges a hundred years old, solid with bloom and as high as the rooftree; double Persian lilacs still blooming next to wrecked farmhouses whose walls fell in during the terrible winter just past, or the bad one two years ago, or the epic snows of the mid-1970s.

I expected the tulips, too; they don’t grow here, though daffodils and redbuds are as lush here as in the East. (Less important, though, in the riot of other colors.) But I had forgotten the dogwoods, flowering pink or white. (Many of them dying now of dogwood anthracnose. New cultivars are being developed, thank God.) After the bad winter, this year’s blooms were astonishingly dense. So were the azaleas and rhododendrons I saw in southern Pennsylvania. The fruit trees were blooming, too: crab apple, apple, cherry, Not peach, not yet.

I had forgotten the black, twisted Royal Paulownia trees whose upright lavender flowers look like chestnut blooms. They grow wild in the hills, and their wood is sacred in some eastern cultures.

I hadn’t remembered that the paulownias, dogwoods, redbuds, fruit trees, tulips, lilacs would all be blossoming at once. I didn’t expect that assault of color and richness.

Further north, where the lilacs were just coming out, the maple trees were turning red on the hills. Most branches were bare, but emerging leaves dappled the trees with brilliant green.

And it’s all such bright, innocent green. None of the blackish, olive, rusty, greyed hues of desert trees.

Many Bugs

Blackflies, mosquitoes, and other stinging bugs: plentiful back East, nonexistent in this fortunate clime.

Some Weather

The week before I left California, everyone was lamenting the unusual weather. Rain starts here in November or so, continues off and on through March, and tapers off in April. This year, though, it rained every day of April (a month lavish with rainbows, stacks of slate-grey clouds, and watercolor skies breaking into sun), and it even rained the first three days of May – unheard-of weather for California. Naturally, it snowed back home, so nobody here has a right to complain. While I was back East, I saw rain every day, plus good thunderstorms a couple of times. "Good" = "severe" – heavy rains, winds over 55 mph, lots of lightning, possibly damaging hail, and tornado watches. Spring thunderstorms aren’t as much fun as the late-afternoon summer storms that sweep in, blacken the sky, bend the trees, and drench the earth. But they’re better than the anemic storms of Northern California, where a single flash of lightning may be the whole show.

Some Food

Pierogies are always on the menu in PA, and I got to drink some birch beer. Didn’t manage any hot pretzels, and I saw but passed up Tastykakes. The price of restaurant food (and houses) in upstate PA is just painfully low. It’s like translating francs or lira into dollars to go from California prices to PA. Of course, salaries are also relatively low back East. They’re higher here, for those who have jobs.

Some Houses

There may be abandoned houses here in Silicon Valley. (Certainly there are abandoned industrial parks.) Nowhere in California, however, have I seen the bleached, ghostly hulks of houses abandoned for years. I haven’t seen old houses sinking into the ground, windows blown out and roofs collapsing. Two reasons: real estate is too valuable here, and the climate lacks the punishing edge that gnaws at the paint of cars and houses. It’s the weight of accumulated snows, the freeze and thaw of water in the joists, that brings houses down.

The sad thing isn’t just that I saw a house or two sagging unpainted toward doom, but that I drove through whole towns that way: such as Center Lisle, New York, on the way to Ithaca. I didn’t drive through Jackson – I am not ready to go back there – but that’s another dying town on a road of dying towns.

On the other hand, the little towns, the villages, the remote farmhouses of Luzerne and Columbia counties mostly looked good. (Except the abandoned ones.) Every yard trimmed, every porch swept, paint and flowers and curtains all proclaiming the excellence of the housekeeping within.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

Road signs, mostly, not signs and wonders.

Pennsylvania has a new program for warning people about dangerous stretches of road. Big rectangular signs the color of fluorescent Tang proclaim such tidbits as "Buckle Up Next Million Miles" (which at least has a sense of humor), "Targeted Enforcement Area" (watch out for Smoky), and "High Accident Area, Aggressive Drivers" (which is where I’d put a speed trap, myself). I was puzzled by the signs warning people that it was a high DUI area. Surely the best idea is to arrest the drunks, not just scare people about them.

I loved having numbered exits again, as well as the mile markers I never see on California freeways. Signs on PA interstates also list what services are available at each exit and who provides them, lest people like me be lured off the road by the promise of something to eat and find out it’s not food, it’s MacDonald’s.

Then there are the signs in people’s yards asking where you’ll spend eternity, or the vast mural on the end of a barn showing Jesus carrying his cross. "He suffered for you." Especially on remote country roads, signs in front yards declare the presence of hidden services. Beauty parlors are the most popular, followed by taxidermists, but a few "tax preparation" signs were still up. Didn’t see any signs selling night crawlers this trip. My favorite: "Notary. Firewood."

I haven’t seen this at all in California, but the local sign ordinances are probably a lot tougher here.

The signs in the airports were bizarre as well. Denver had signs for a tornado shelter – now that’s reassuring. In BWI: Terminal Enhancements Underway, which sounds like someone’s being fitted for concrete overshoes.

Some Bridges

I doubt there’s a single covered bridge in all of California. I saw three in a one- or two-mile stretch of road. That’s in Columbia County, a place noted for its covered bridges. I learned to swim under Twin Bridges and down the road at Zaner’s Bridge. Zaner’s Bridge is an open iron grid laid across Fishing Creek. I love the high humming sound a car makes going over it. I saw a few of the old arched iron bridges as well.

Bridges mean rivers, creeks, ravines. Though California is well-stocked with gullies and other dramatic changes in ground surface, the bridges crossing them seem to be modern. And though I have seen the bay and the ocean here, I don’t see much surface water: not lakes, not ponds, not swamps. Occasionally, in winter, I see the flowing waters of an intermittent stream, but I haven’t yet seen any of the area’s great rivers.

Some Animals

Roadkill, mostly. Springtime is dead skunk time; they get run over when they’re out looking for love. But I also spotted flattened cats, dogs, woodchucks, deer, and raccoons. Saw a whole herd of deer grazing in daylight. I heard crickets and spring peepers, too, but those I can hear in California. Tonight I went up to a wild place I know, not a mile from our suburban neighborhood, and heard the peepers. Saw a mule deer, too, crossing the road.

Some People

I can’t yet begin to talk about seeing my family, both blood kin and heart-family. The trip was almost perfect, though I missed seeing Joe. Why can’t I just step from my front door to the east coast, so I can see my sisters, my mother, my much-loved Gwen and Adrian?
Dreams of Neil

The other night I dreamed about Neil Gaiman. (Not the first dream I've had of him; he's clearly entered my unconscious as a Symbol, poor guy, and is trapped there along with all the houses and landscapes, stones and monsters, that clutter my mind.)

Though in the dream we were friends, I still felt the nervous desire to impress a celebrity. He got angry, and we argued. (Me thinking: "Our first argument! We must really be friends!") He was annoyed because my admiration limited him. "I'm just an ordinary guy. I need to be a real person with you."

"I know. I'm sorry. I need to separate the writer and the work."

Nothing earth-shattering, really. I know that just meeting a Writer (nor befriending one, nor even being loved by one) doesn't endow anyone with magical validation. I've been preaching that particular gospel for a long time, and I've been embarrassed on the occasions when I met someone whose admiration for my work crossed the line into hero-worship. I *know* that meeting Writers can't give me anything I don't already have. They're just people — skilled with words, willing to keep writing and keep sending things out. That's it.

But when I woke from this dream, I saw the corollary for the first time.

Since Writers are just ordinary people, I can be one. I don't have to wait until my life is in order, until I have conquered all my demons. I don't have to cross that invisible line into magic. I just need to write, I just need to submit books, and I can get there.

Into my definition of success, that is. I've been using Writer with a capital W to signify a combination of skill, depth, popular acclaim, critical recognition, and financial success. I'm trying to avoid the word greatness, even though that's what I really mean. I feel presumptuous saying right out that that's what I want.

I want to be a great writer. I'm already more successful than most people who dream of writing: I have published a number of books, all but one of them are still in print, and my publisher owes me a lot of money. (It seems like a lot to me, anyway.) None of that's enough. I want *greatness*. I want to write novels that will be remembered. Hell, just novels I respect.

I don't worry about getting published. That's never been a problem with me. I know damned well that I am already a good writer. Somewhere in the past 15 years or so (since my first book was published in 1987), I grew confident of the writing. Not always of myself, but I have more of that than I used to.

So what has held me back? Fear of exposing myself, distraction by life events (the past few years have been full of incident), defiance, laziness, the sacrament of procrastination, the fear of success, the five-year writer's block that came close to killing me. More recently, too little time to write.

But I can do it. Or, rather, I can keep working on it, doing my best, writing. I can finish the book of essays and the current novel. I can send some chapters in to literary journals. I'll even have a bit of time soon, since I'll be unemployed within a couple of weeks.

So why Neil Gaiman as muse?

He's my age, more or less — a year and a few months younger. His blog makes him accessible; it's easy to see how human he is, since he so readily shows his delight in words, ideas, giant mutant pumpkins, and his family. He's been rewarded for his work (and he works incredibly hard) with great critical and popular acclaim. And I can see his work grow and change, as he explores his medium. He just keeps getting better.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

The Vultures Are Circling

And I’ve rarely seen a more beautiful sight.

After she had a stressful job interview, Michele picked me up today for lunch. On our way back, we noted four or five huge birds circling lazily in the sky near my office. As we approached, we saw they were hovering over the field across the street. It’s freshly plowed, a few acres of agriculture in the midst of the office complexes and developments of this East Bay community. We pulled over to watch the birds, parking in the dusty gravel lot where the farmer sells produce.

The birds were huge, at least five feet in wingspan. Reddish heads, dark brownish plumage, pale legs. The wings formed a broad, stylized M; their heads formed a third peak in the middle. Turkey vultures for sure — we checked the birdspotters’ guide Michele keeps in the car, much as I always travel with Roadside Geology of Northern California just in case I see an interesting rock formation.

The vultures were settling in the plowed field, but I couldn’t see a body. Four of them poking their beaks into the ground — could they be eating worms? Then an interruption came. Another vulture came flying in, low, almost buzzing one of the birds. I swear he grabbed with his talons at the other vulture’s head. Naturally the buzzed one was affronted, and they ruffled their feathers at each other, flew up in brief hopping flights, shook their wings, and generally presented the appearance of scuffling schoolboys.

Luckily, neither of them was armed with an AK-47, so the vultures soon settled down. The newest arrival bent his knobby scarlet head, almost as though he was saying grace. When he straightened, a dead rat was dangling by its tail from his beak. The vulture seemed to enjoy swinging the rat — I never saw him or his companions actually eating it.

A train came then, and all the vultures flew up. And I needed to get back to work, so I never did get to see if the vultures shared the rat, or whether the latest arrival was a lead vulture who was punishing an upstart crow. (Well, not crow literally, but nobody ever called Shakespeare an upstart vulture.)

I’ve see a lot of hawks out here, and once or twice an eagle, but turkey vultures recycling a dead rat is a new one for me.