Sunday, August 31, 2003


I’ve always been an unabashed Anglophile. My one trip to England was on my honeymoon, 18 years ago, but I started dreaming of that kingdom decades before. On my first visit to the ocean, when I was four, I looked across the blue-grey swells of the Atlantic and thought: England is on the other side.

The small countries of the British Isles—Scotland and England, Wales and Ireland and Cornwall—were the land where stories happened. I never made the mistake of thinking they were the Fortunate Isles, where nothing bad could befall, but they represented history, literature, continuity, a world where I might conceivably belong. British writers seemed to share my powerful sense of place, and both learning and nature were valued there.

These days I’m less of a rank sentimentalist, but I still have a weakness for things British, from scones to accents. I’d love to go back and spend more time there. And this makes all the more disturbing my instinctive reaction when I saw Pirates of the Caribbean. It didn’t matter that I’m a lifelong Anglophile. When I spotted the redcoats, all my insurgent Minuteman tendencies rose up and cried "Enemy!"

Does it matter? I’m not about to go out and beat up a wandering Brit for the sins of mad King George, who didn’t even have a British accent. (His native tongue was German.) But it does matter when I think about the ancient rivalries everywhere else. If a well-educated pacifist Anglophile can still respond that way, what hope do we have to heal any of the thousand feuds and conflicts in the world?

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Oh, All Right, I Will Talk about the Governor's Race

Or, rather, I will quote other people being witty about Ahnold. This is from

Rise of the political machines

There's no truth to the rumor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Warren Buffett will be starring in "Twins II: the Sequel." But Hollywood's "Terminator" and the "Oracle of Omaha" are now partners in politics. Buffett is a financial and economic adviser to the action movie king's campaign for governor of California. The two have things in common, including both having screen credits (what, you forgot Buffett's cameos on the soap "All My Children"?), as well as sharp differences. Here's a guide to Hollywood's hottest new couple.

Arnold and Warren: the new odd couple

Arnold: Has great pecs.
Warren: Picks great stocks.

Arnold: Legions of fans flock to his movies.
Warren: Legions of fans flock to his annual meetings.

Arnold: Promotes physical fitness.
Warren: Promotes fiscal fitness.

Arnold: Bodybuilder.
Warren: Empire builder.

Arnold: Eats power bars.
Warren: Eats Dilly Bars.

Arnold: Causes catastrophic damage.
Warren: Insures against catastrophic damage.

Arnold: Rocked summer filmgoers in "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines."
Warren: Rocked California homeowners with views on Proposition 13.

Arnold: Million-dollar body.
Warren: 50-cent haircut.

Arnold: Was paid $30 million to make "Terminator 3."
Warren: Is paid $100,000 to run Berkshire.

Arnold: Once Mr. Universe.
Warren: Owns the universe.

Arnold: Married into American royalty.
Warren: Owns a part of the Omaha Royals.

Arnold: Played an unpredictable cyborg.
Warren: Stayed away from unpredictable techie stocks.

Warren: Sees the future.
Arnold: From the future.

Arnold: Likes the Golden Gate Bridge.
Warren: Likes to play bridge with Gates (Bill, that is).
Warren: Golden Midas
Arnold: Bronze Adonis

Warren: Owns General Re
Arnold: Thinks General Re is a movie villain

Arnold: Conan the Barbarian.
Warren: Buffett the Septuagenarian.

Arnold: It's the reel thing!
Warren: It's the real thing!

Arnold: Starred with Jim Belushi in "Red Heat."
Warren: Goes to Gorat's for red meat.

Arnold: Is beefcake.
Warren: Eats beef steak.

Arnold: Sweats a lot in workouts.
Warren: Wears a lot of old sweaters.


Arnold's wisdom: "Hasta la vista, baby."" ("Terminator 2").

Warren's wisdom: "When acquisition costs are similar, we would much prefer to purchase $2 of earnings that is not reportable by us under standard accounting principles than to purchase $1 of earnings that is reportable."

Monday, August 25, 2003

Profane Cartoony 404

Here's another great Page Not Found.
Feline Update

The cats have already worked out ways to benefit from the rearrangement of furniture in the library. Little Bit has claimed the back of the new couch as her own space: she curls up on top of it to nap or simply gaze out into the world. By glancing through the window, she gets a superb view of the top of the eight-foot wooden fence that serves as a feline freeway. At the same time she can garner petting from anyone sitting on the couch, plus keep an eye on the kitchen doorway. (Someone might be opening a can of tuna.) She also leaps onto my chair the moment I leave it. What am I but a bedwarmer for her?

Gabriel, however, being an outdoor cat, is spending little time on the new couch or chair. Nevertheless her habits have had to change. She used to summon one of us to the door by standing on the wooden fence outside the window, staring intensely at whoever was working on the library computer (which used to stand where the couch is now). This unnerving stare, coupled with her silent telepathic commands, induced us to get up and let her in. (Usually so she could use the litterbox instead of messing up the nice clean outside dirt.) Now, unfortunately, the computer faces away from the porch window, and she has to get on the outside windowsill and softly strum the screen with her little claws to get attention.

Ivan has been incredibly cranky, probably because Porter is here. (Gabriel has, too, but she expresses her annoyance the way a teenager does: by sulking and only coming in for meals, with an occasional Gabezilla swipe at one's ankles.) Ivan hisses, swats, and gets into fights with Porter, who keeps approaching him, trying to make friends. But Porter is persistent, or maybe a little slow on the uptake. He keeps wanting to play.

Porter himself is filling out; he's still long and skinny, but he's eating his weight in food every day. Mostly he burns it off wrestling with catnip mice and shredding bits of rope. Then he finds someone's foot to go to sleep on, though he has been spotted sleeping with his head pillowed on Little Bit's tummy.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Want Ad of the Day

From my beloved Craigslist:

Wanted mechanics shop and general helper with heart and passion

I have the heart and passion, I can drive, and I like their approach ("We are people with a mission: To provide a flawless transportation experience for our clients"). But I don't have enough automotive interest or experience to make it in this job. On the other hand, I will indeed remember Bauer Limo.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

A Great 404 Page

Creative and fun.

Swiped from Neil Gaiman's blog, so don't be surprised if the 404 page is inaccessible for a few days. He has a great many readers, and we all click all the links.
A Hell of One's Own

People whose roses bloom in winter
Circle I Limbo

People who play their car stereos at earthquake levels
Circle II Whirling in a Dark & Stormy Wind

People who insist on driving badly in rain or snow; Price-gouging landlords
Circle III Mud, Rain, Cold, Hail & Snow

People who write alluring copy for bad products
Circle IV Rolling Weights

People who are rude to waiters, secretaries, and other people who can't fight back
Circle V Stuck in Mud, Mangled

River Styx

People whose "family values" are hatred, intolerance, oppression, and exclusion
Circle VI Buried for Eternity

River Phlegyas

People who were just following orders
Circle VII Burning Sands

Totalitarian governments and their functionaries, including Censors, Book-burners, and Torturers; Child molesters and abusers; Exploiters of every kind
Circle IIX Immersed in Excrement

People who gave the orders
Circle IX Frozen in Ice

Design your own hell

Please note: I made up all my own sinners. And I am sorry to say that I belong in one or two of those circles, notably the people whose roses bloom in winter. That's right, Joe Barron: almost everyone in the Bay Area is going to Hell, just because we live in a soft climate.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

California to New York

I won't talk about your blackout if you won't talk about my recall.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Some Kind of Furniture Stampede?

No, I am not still wandering the streets. My birthday surprise was ready. So I came home. The whole library had been rearranged to accommodate the new couch we picked up last week. Literally picked up; an elderly lady at a local trailer park was giving it away. It’s a deep jade green dual-recliner sofa, the kind whose center cushion can be flipped down to provide a surface for snacks and popcorn. It’s got cupholders, even—and better yet, dual massage action. It’s scarcely worn, and it matches the blue/green/tan plaid pillows we already had, which match the blue bookcases and the tan love seat. Amazing. But the presents were still hidden behind a screen in the corner.

Michele made supper—homemade pasta with a lovely mushroom sauce—and I contributed a tomato-cream sauce for the nonfungivores among us. Broccoli, too, and good sourdough bread.

Only then did I get to open my presents. They took the screen away from the corner of the library, and voila! A stack of beautifully wrapped gifts atop a fine beige recliner that sure as hell wasn’t there in the morning.

Besides working on the chair, Sonja got me exciting things to wear: several pairs of socks in cool colors (I am a socks fiend), a sexy green lace-up top, new black jeans, and a comfy loungy sundress. Michele ordered me the new Neil Gaiman story CD, which I’m awaiting with great eagerness. (Mmmm, gimme.) And Paul got me an amazing magnifying visor, which will let me wear my glasses while it magnifies everything to double its normal size—a real help when working on fine cross-stitch projects. I haven’t been able to work on fine counts of fabric for a couple of years, since my eyes are aging. Now I’ll be able to use them again.

My mother sent me an embroidered top, a lot of family pictures, some goodies from Orchard House (she knows I love Louisa May Alcott), and a package of "Votes for Women" napkins. Lisa sent me a lovely picture of Jessica. And my very dear Gwen and Adrian sent me a book of California natural history and an Annie Hall DVD.

The recliner is the big present. I don’t know where they got the chair, but it is perfect—a nice comfy size, set beneath my good three-way lamp so I can have proper light for reading or writing or cross-stitching. A small table next to it is just right for holding stacks of current reading and a cup of tea. It’s close to an outlet for my laptop, and it’s a good spot for being sociable: near the couch and love seat and Michele’s desk, so I can be online or reading and still be near my people. The chair is next to the library shelves that hold some of my favorite books, too, and it’s in a corner, so I never have to worry about jumping when someone comes up behind me.

If they had spent a thousand dollars, they couldn’t have given me a better birthday present than that chair—but it’s more than just a recliner. It’s my own spot here in the public areas of the house. Of course I have a bedroom, and I can always go work in my office when I want to be alone. But I missed having a space of my own downstairs. The house is ours, but I’m territorial: I needed a place that was mine. A place where I would have my stitching or my book at hand, where I can be in my own space and yet invite conversation with my Califamily. And though none of them really comprehend this strange territoriality of mine, these conflation of autonomy and belonging and space, they were kind enough and loving enough to make it for me.

Then we had lemon cake and lived happily ever after.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Anecdotage: Birthday Revels

Started off the morning with a kindly call from my local EDD office (AKA Unemployment). They're all a-twitter because I am taking a class, which might invalidate my unemployment claim. (Really. They owe me several weeks worth of unemployment.) Despite the fact that the class wouldn't have interfered with my taking a job, didn't slow down my job search, and was chosen specifically so I could figure out new job options, they still might yank my benefits for the weeks I spent in the course. Can you believe it?

I finished my career analysis paper -- it ended up taking more than 20 hours of work, more than I put into most papers in grad school. Why? I dunno, I just wanted it to be right. Or I'm getting slower as I age. Or something.

I emailed that off, then spent much of the afternoon hanging out here at my local cafe, sipping my favorite custom drink creation, a White Chocolate Chai Latte Freeze. Mmmm, like sex. Then checked my email, only to find that the mailer daemon hadn't cared for it the first time around, so I re-sent. It arrived, which is really helpful. That's done. Gives me a warm sense of completion, like a warmfluffy blob of marshmallow creme atop the hellbrew of panic/incompetence/anxiety I always feel when I've submitted a manuscript. I'm acing the course anyway. I cannot imagine that this is going to be any kind of problem, but still.

The reason I'm not doing all this at home in my own cozy office is that my family threw me out into the street. I swear. Apparently they're doing something for my birthday that kept me banned from the garage for weeks and now requires me to be out of the house for hours.

Now I need to amble off to DeAnza to return a stack of library books, maybe get an Extreme Peach Tea Freeze at Coffee Society, and await the call that will let me come home.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Unnatural Weather

Shocking news from Silicon Valley: It rained here Saturday morning. We’ve had partly cloudy skies for the past four or five days.

Have I puzzled my readers from damper areas of the world? In Northeast Pennsylvania, clouds and rain are the normal state of affairs six days out of seven. I live in a near-desert now, though, and we go six months at a time with literally cloudless skies. Our annual rainfall is about 14 inches; my hometown of Jackson, PA, gets 48 inches or so of precipitation, much of it in solid form. Some years you can’t see bare ground between November and April. Out here, between April and November we may never see a cloud or a raindrop.

I miss drifting clouds sailing before the wind, casting grand shadows on the hills. I miss soft overcast skies, too, and sweeping thunderstorms. The rain Saturday made me suddenly, passionately homesick.

Still, there are subtle meteorological joys in this part of the country. The microclimates of San Francisco are famous, but it's easier to see the effects of a little more shade in the afternoons, a little more fog in the mornings, on the wild hills. In a few miles you may see half a dozen ecologies: grasslands, grass dotted with oaks, scrub, Douglas fir, redwoods hung with moss, redwoods without moss. (The moss offers condensation points; it collects the fog and brings just enough added moisture to keep the redwoods alive.) Even the bare brown hills are vigorously, fragrantly alive. The grass isn’t dead. The hills are like palomino horses, muscular and strong, their blonde flanks gleaming.
Dateline--Fall River, Massachusetts

Today is the eleventy-first anniversary of the Borden murders. How do you plan to celebrate?

For the record: I am opposed to chopping up even the most obnoxious living family members. It's tacky at best. So don't celebrate Lizzie Borden Day by hacking apart your miserly father and agoraphobic stepmother.

In the light of Lizzie Borden Day, the commonest tasks are fraught with risks. Don't think of making a bed today. Don't lie down on the couch for a nap. You never know if a family member is creeping through the hot, still house with murder in her mind and a hatchet in her hand. Of course, you're probably not at risk--unless you personally took a hatchet to all your daughter's pet doves, or demanded that the slaughtered birds be cleaned and plucked for your dinner. Bridget protested when her mistress ordered that; Bridget survived. Is there a link?

You'll be sorry for different reasons if your breakfast features elderly, probably spoiled mutton broth. (On a 90-degree morning! Many people consider the breakfast menu justification for the double homicide.) Looking for lead sinkers in a boiling-hot barn loft is also a bad idea. And I personally would never eat the pears from under the pear tree, not because I have anything against windfall pears, but because the maid just emptied the slop buckets there, and God only knows what's on them. No wonder the whole family had been sick and vomiting the past few days.

The house at 92 Second Street was small, inconvenient, and uncomfortable, but its physical disadvantages were magnified by the repressed emotional turmoil within: greed, lies, secrets, silent rages, possessive love, jealous hatred, and unspoken terror.

There's a theme of breakage connected with the murders: a broken lock, a broken hatchet, two heads broken open in the most dreadful way. And, of course, the breaking of the law. Someone in that house--probably Lizzie, possibly Bridget, maybe both together--snapped the tension violently. Someone struck Mrs. Borden nineteen times with a hatchet, chopping a five-inch hole in her skull. Ninety minutes later, someone slammed a similar hatchet ten times into Mr. Borden's head and face.

Lizzie was acquitted. There are still plenty of questions about timetables, motives, notes, weapons, blue dresses, and almost everything else about the case. But Lizzie lives in our dreams, the embodiment of daughterly rage. The Borden story is a classic family drama, almost Greek in its simplicity, inevitability, and violence. No wonder it goes on fascinating people.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

The Interpretation of Dreams

Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.
—Rainer Maria Rilke

Friday, August 01, 2003

A Year and Two Days

That's how long ago I started this blog. Thousands of words later, I'm free of writer's block and in the midst of a couple of solid writing projects. I've got the time to work on them, though much of my energy is spent hunting for a job. I've attended a couple of writers' conferences, found a wonderful writers' group, and come up with a schedule that lets me focus on writing for three days a week without neglecting all my other responsibilities.

Next week I'm turning 44, and I've freshly affirmed my commitment to writing. Like any other marriage, the one between writer and work has its edgy moments. In the end I always go back. However estranged we may become, I'm better off with writing than without it.