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?

Saturday, September 13, 2003

404 Madness

Mouse not found.
The ancestors you are looking for are currently unavailable.
Cannot find reality files.
The rage you are looking for is currently unavailable. The Web site might be experiencing humorous difficulties, or some knucklehead in Indiana might be messing with your head.
The country might be experiencing technical difficulties, or you may need to adjust your weapons inspectors mandate.

Cannot find servant

Cannot find server or DNS Error. I need a break. Internet Explorer will now freeze up causing your PC to explode.

And some R-rated errors:

The porn cannot be displayed.

The page you are looking for is currently unavailable. The Web site might be experiencing technical difficulties, or you may need to adjust your browser settings, but most likely you're a complete [expletive deleted].

The pornography you are looking for is currently unavailable. The Web site might be experiencing titillation difficulties, or you may need to adjust your trouser settings.

I know, you may have seen some of these in this blog already. But what better way to spend a Saturday morning than to click obsessively through pages of links?

Umm, well. I can actually think of a number of better ways. I'm off to go do some of them.
Looking for True Love?

"Handsome, mysterious gentleman seen roaming the streets." This gorgeous guy and plenty of others like him are looking for your love and affection. If you prefer female companonship, there are some spectacular beauties, too, just waiting for you to give them a call. They're all cool cats.

These are delightful personal ads, but they break my heart, because I want to go adopt all these cats. There are dogs, too, plus rabbits, newts, a duck, many parrots, tortoises, and even iguanas. The Peninsula Humane Society has a wonderful copywriter putting together personal ads for the pets that are waiting to be adopted.

We can't manage another cat right now -- we have four, and Porter is only just settling in to the feline pecking order here. But I still want to gather all these furry little babies into my lap.
JOB HUNT: Much Rejoicing

It never rains but it pours.

Today, while I was at a job interview, Michele was interviewing on the phone for a contract. (One month for sure, but it may stretch to May.) I called her on the way home to tell her they want me back for a second interview, and while we were on the cell phone, she got a call on the house line. She starts Monday. And her new contract is very close to where I would be working, assuming I get the job I just interviewed for. We could commute together, saving time and money.

Sonja has had three recent job interviews, too, but we’re hoping I get a permanent offer before she gets an offer letter. We would all be happier if she stayed in college; a job in retail management (for which she is eminently qualified) would be exhausting, stressful, and low-paying. For the past 18 months she’s been looking for work in project management, which was her most recent position, but out here you must have a college degree and probably a certificate in project management for anyone even to look at your resume.

I’m not giving details until I know anything for sure, but I really liked the woman I interviewed with. She's obviously very intelligent, and we seemed to click. The work would be interesting and meaningful, I would learn a new industry (I have some understanding of the technical aspects, but I would get to learn a lot), and I would have a chance to help build the department and put together policy.

No word from Stanford on the editing position I recently interviewed for. I have a couple of other real possibilities, too, but again, I don’t want to go into details or get all excited until I have something nailed down. Other than my foot.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

The Towers Still Fall in My Dreams

What I was writing a year ago.

What I was writing the week before.

And a poem:

A photograph from Sept. 11
They jumped from the burning stories, down
-- one, two, a few more
higher, lower.
A photograph captured them while they were alive and now preserves them
above ground, toward the ground.
Each still whole
with their own face
and blood well hidden.
There is still time,
for their hair to be tossed,
and for keys and small change
to fall from their pockets. They are still in the realm of the air,
within the places
which have just opened.
There are only two things I can do for them
-- to describe this flight
and not to add a final word.
--Wislawa Szymborska

Monday, September 08, 2003

Do Androids Dream of Electric Mayors?

San Francisco elections have always been colorful. Monica Lewinsky wouldn't get a second glance in a city where the mayor once owned all the most prestigious and profitable bawdy houses.

So nobody blinked an eye when a local semi-alternative newspaper has asked the toughest question of the mayoral candidates:

Rather than confuse you with endorsements, position papers and other outmoded means of political influence, we’ve decided to get to the bottom of the only question that matters: Is a particular candidate human or an insidious replicant, possessed of physical strength and computational abilities far exceeding our own, but lacking empathy and possibly even bent on our destruction as a species?

One of the great local political sites, The Usual Suspects, calls this "the best article on the 2003 mayoral race."

Thursday, September 04, 2003


This is a story I have never written down. I find that hard to believe, since it happened six and a half years ago, but it makes sense, really. At first I was too stunned, and anyway, the only people I could bear to talk to knew already. When it happened, I disappeared from my online groups for six months or more. I just couldn’t talk about it, and I couldn’t think of anything else.

So. Here is Diane’s story.

She was born when her parents were still children -- Lisa 16, Mike 18. They managed to stay married for seven years, which was some kind of miracle, and they were both good loving parents to Diane and her younger sister Christy, born two years later.

It was obvious from the beginning that both girls were going to be gorgeous. They inherited their father’s height and build -- tall, slender, athletic. Like Lisa and Mike, they were blue-eyed blondes. And smart, independent, funny, talented -- oh God, so much going for them both.

I was only 14 when Diane was born, and she was like another sister. We were always close, and as she and Christine grew up I provided them with books, friendship, auntly advice. And occasional adventures. My husband and I took Diane to New York City once, and she was enthralled at the Museum of Natural History. She could be just as excited by little things -- like the ten-cent green-haired troll doll she got at a yard sale that weekend.

Imagine this girl with blonde hair flying, long coltish legs, wildly enthusiastic and energetic. She read all the time. She wrote reams. She drew hilarious cartoons. She played killer basketball. She thought Brooks Robinson was the greatest third baseman who ever lived. (I still think it was Mike Schmidt.) Serious Orioles fan. Devout Christian, with a wicked sense of humor and a passion for social justice. Very intense feminist. Vigorous, argumentative, prepared to debate you right down the line on anything she cared passionately about -- and she either cared passionately or not at all. She also sang extraordinarily well; she made it from county chorus to local, regional, even state. Dreamy, impractical, sloppy, loving, and very very bright.

She had severe, almost uncontrollable asthma from the time she was small. Over and over we thought we would lose her -- trips to the ER happened all too often. Like the rest of the family, she had violent allergies.

All through high school, she didn’t really care to date. When she finally settled down to college, though, she met someone wonderful: Chris. Not to be confused with her sister Christy, this was a male Chris: dark, burly, bearded. He was a musician in a rock band and a student at seminary, studying to be a Methodist minister. They got engaged at Thanksgiving of 1996.

Our last pictures of her were taken when she was getting her wedding dress fitted.

I don’t want to bring all the other factors in here, but late January and early February of 1997 were a difficult and chaotic time. On Saturday morning, February 8, my husband went out to go to Home Depot. I stayed home. When Lisa called, I knew someone had to be dead. I’ve never heard her sound that way -- like a terrified child, barely able to speak the words.

"Is Daddy dead?" He had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was a reasonable thought.

"No -- Diane."

She was killed driving in to work on a Saturday morning. The rescue squad was called right away, but they took an hour and a half to cut her out of the car. By then she couldn’t even be an organ donor -- except her corneas. One of the EMTs stole her engagement ring, a family heirloom.

It was icy, and she was a truly lousy driver, but that wasn’t the problem, apparently. Later I walked the accident site, tracing the deep ruts in the wet grass where her car had left the road, gone down the bank, and stopped at a telephone pole. They were absolutely straight. The investigators said she had never swerved nor touched the brakes. In all probability she had fainted or died at the wheel before she hit the phone pole. An aneurysm, maybe; they run in the family. Also, she had fainted a couple of days before, changed some asthma medications. . . . who knows? But still. But still.

She was 22, almost 23. She was buried in what would have been her wedding dress. Her fiancé preached the funeral sermon. Her uncles and a few friends carried her pine coffin out of the church and up the hill to the grave under the oak tree.

Time passes. My father did die of his cancer, after nearly two years of slow, agonized, clawing-at-the-edge struggle for life. Diane’s fiancé met and married someone else; they have a child now. Her sister refused to have a formal wedding, but she got married and had a baby. I divorced my husband and moved to California. Diane’s death was one factor in that. He did not, could not respond to my grief. I needed him desperately and he could not give me support.

I still dream of her. Sometimes she says wise things to me in my sleep. Once she gave me a turtle as a new totem animal. It was very useful -- helped me get through the end of my marriage and the move out here.

The nights when Lisa dreams Diane is alive are the only times she feels like life is normal. Then she wakes up and grieves afresh. She lives a happy life, works hard, enjoys herself, but the grief is always running in the background. You never get over it. None of us will ever get over it.

I can’t go into all the Diane stories, the things she said or did, her irrepressible humor, her occasional outrageousness. I loved her like my own daughter. I miss her always.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Question from a Friend

But how do you keep on going? I just feel so damaged.

You go on because you still have joys in your life. You go on by finding people who love and value you -- good friends, a loving pet. By finding things that sustain you -- music, books, trees, whatever gives you strength. You go on by building yourself a story in which you get to survive and thrive. That gives you something positive to draw from.

You go on by looking yourself in the mirror and saying, “I love you, you’re beautiful and worthwhile,” every day until you believe it, even on the days you don’t believe it. You find ways to take care of yourself, which includes finding people who will take care of you when you can’t manage it yourself. You go on by working your ass off in therapy. You’re allowed to complain bitterly that you have to suffer through this stuff over and over, not just when you were a kid but now, as an adult. You go on with the help of a good antidepressant.

You go on because you’ve learned to handle pain -- though you might need to learn how not to handle pain, how to respond to the signal that something is wrong. You figure out the difference between what hurts and what harms you, and you learn to suffer through some pain to get to a new level of understanding and healing instead of escaping into the things that bring temporary forgetfulness but do long-range damage.

You go on by doing your best, though it isn’t perfect, because nothing is perfect. You learn to forgive yourself, because you don’t have to be perfect to be worth loving. You go on by praying or meditating or writing it down in a journal or doing all three. You go on by screaming your rage at God and your abuser. You go on by crying. By listening to the people who will comfort you. It was not your fault. This shame is not your shame.

You go on by learning to recognize the signals that mean you’re starting to slide into trouble and figuring out ways to short-circuit them. On the days you can’t, you go on by never ever having a gun in the house. You go on by making a promise not to kill yourself and by keeping that promise.

You go on by having a purpose in life -- something too important to abandon. By building bridges to this world that will keep your islanded self in touch with others and keep you from floating further into that misty grey sea.

You go on by living as well and as lovingly as you can. By listening to music, by doing art. You go on by loving people and animals and nature and the city and your home. And yourself. You’ve done what you had to do to survive. Now do what you can to live well.

You deserve it.
Orphaned Aunty

I've been an aunt since I was 14. I saw Diane within ten minutes of her birth: a tiny, red-faced baby, a whole separate person who had come out of my sister's body. (At 44, I should be used to the idea that little tiny people grow inside of women's bodies, but it still amazes me every time.) My newest nibling is actually a great-niece, the lovely Jessica, who is two years old now.

Most of my life I've performed the classic auntly services of hugging, telling stories, watching kid videos endlessly, playing silly games, taking walks, and teaching useful skills from the alphabet to cooking. I also know how to change diapers, wipe up spilled milk without anybody's crying, and offer older niblings exactly the advice they would get from their parents if they asked, which they won't.

But I'm living 3000 miles from my nearest nibling. I don't have a baby in my life, or a toddler, or even an active nine-year-old like my nephew Nicholas. I don't have teenagers like Sara and Daniel hanging out, eating cookies, and telling me about their lives, or adult nieces like Christy and Rachel discussing the ups and downs of young marriage. I'm an orphaned aunty.

Some friends of ours have a beautiful five-year-old. Last time we were there, Ruth got in my lap and then led me around the house, showing me things. I felt honored -- and auntly. I'm hoping to ease some of my nibling-need by spending more time with Ruth and with the handsome new grandson of my friend Joanie. But I do miss my own wonderful niblings -- as much as I miss my mother and sisters, and I miss them a lot.