14 December 2006

Wearing other people's shoes

My granddad is a big believer in the Pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps School of Life Management. Besides the obvious fact that pulling on your bootstraps tends to get you nowhere fast (try it next time you have boots and straps at the same time), I have always questioned whether the people who advocate this argument the most strongly are able to understand the obstacles that others face, having the capacity to understand that the playing field truly looks different to everyone.

"Et tu, Brutus?"

How many twenty-year-olds today could say where that came from, not to mention say what the question meant when it was uttered? Do younger learners have a lack of emphasis on what has come before, on learning myths, classics, Bible stories, Arabian nights tales, upanishads? (And does this rant mark me as a fogey? Yes. I know.) I wonder whether we, by not learning these stories and myths, lose some of our ability to empathize and have compassion for others. If all we get is TV sitcoms and movie thrillers with lots of explosions, how can we really believe in each other?

But when we learn of the travails of Odysseus (and the way they were kept alive by Homer), there's something to hope for in that effort having been made to communicate those travails alone. And the writer had the hope to write the story down and include lessons about our time and people and place in the scheme of things, and in seeing the poetic renditions of his journeys you feel for the man who has been separated from his wife and life and wonders whether she will remember him when he comes home. By the same token you must stop and wonder what it is like for Helen every day to fend for herself in the new post-Trojan War climate with no husband to stick up for her.

The instigator of this chain of thoughts was a big story in yesterday morning's paper about more than a thousand arrests in a U.S. Immigration Service raid on a large meatpacking business in Greeley. Today's paper had a follow-up story about how all of the service providers for the people affected are seeing a spike in requests for help, and the story featured the police department's pledge to have at all times a dedicated Hispanic advocate in place. Anxiety in the community is running high.

And there are an awful lot of people whose great-grandparents and even grandparents immigrated here but they can't see how this isn't different. They say, "If they're illegal, round 'em up and send 'em home."

I tend to stand on Mr. Laudisio's side when he says it is embarrassing for us to pretend we don't all depend on the services these people provide. I think he's right: if you rounded up everyone with faked papers and sent them home, who would mow your yards and change your oil and clean your Sears store and wash your restaurant dishes? Who would launder and press the clothes at your dry cleaner? And this is an embarrassment. I can't tell you the number of people I have met from other countries who were not able to use their skills here, like the fellow who had a motel just off the beach in Fort Lauderdale, who was a professor in Argentina. But to get people here to see him as an intellectual was impossible.

I cannot help remembering what it was like to arrive in Germany completely unable to recognize street signs and speak at all. Having no one get my jokes for six months. It was difficult -- and that was in a country where everyone speaks English, too, because English really has become the lingua franca. (Does anyone growing up now know what lingua franca means? Does anybody really care?)

But you might not know when you got to the U.S. whether to call it "the seven-eleven" as people here describe the chain of convenience stores, or whether you'd say "the seven-to-eleven." (Incidentally, since I seem to be in history mode, because most of the stores remain open around the clock the source of the name is no longer clear, but it was revolutionary, when convenience stores came along, for one to be open from seven a.m. until eleven p.m. (giving its proprietor barely enough time to sleep -- think about that life).

Somehow we must always preserve our ability to envision life in someone else's shoes, without coveting their life or the trappings thereof. (Sure, I envy the guys in Gomez for always getting to hang out and play music, but they've put in the thousands of hours to earn that for themselves. And that's just a message to me to do what I need to do in my life, right?)

I don't envy many people, having what feels like a very good life, but I always need to remember that not everyone makes their decisions from this comfy a perch in the world, and I could stand to put myself out there on others' behalf a little more than I do to level the playing field.

Seems like a lot of little people aren't getting what they need. I want to help in the best way I know how, and maybe that's writing something that can reach a little farther than I can one-on-one. Because I do have empathy for the cleaners and the immigrants and the people who aren't getting enough of the picture. The girls of the world.

And I must address this in a way I care about, and remember that is worthwhile, and I must make sure it is worthwhile, not let it slide into entertainment without any other reason for existence. That's what literary fiction is to me: fiction with meaning.

11 December 2006

My main blog, My Mac Daddy Blog

This is the one I tell people about. I'm surprised how few people find my little corner of the universe; it's hard to get people to go look or read, but I have received sincere notes of praise for my blogs when people did look at them. So that's nice.

And it's my tour, this blog is, of the planet and the neighborhoods on it. As many as I can visit in my lifetime.

Somehow (in the darkness of winter) we've been talking over dinner about obituaries, and how thinking about what you would want your obituary to say is a powerful way to get yourself focused on what you want to be remembered for. Do you want to leave a legacy? "Loved her family well." Would you be content with what you've done if the proverbial bus knocked you down tomorrow, or was there some big thing you'd always assumed you'd get to?

Me, I have started this novel but not finished it, so now there's a sense of urgency that it get done, that what I mean to say will come across in the end. That the themes are themes all the way through; all of the commas are where they belong. And [this is the chore] all the bracketed text must be replaced with actual content! It's a big job but I want to get it done. I want people to see it. And a lot of people seem to be curious about it. I think that was my turning point: seeing that guy giving away Wild Animus after a Gomez show in Denver at the Fillmore one night, I thought: I want to write a novel for those people specifically. One I'd be proud to hand out after a show.

So that's what I'm trying to do. A novel for literate rockers like me and my friends.

03 December 2006

Literary complex carbohydrates? Parallels between NaNoWriMo and Weight Watchers

I'm now taking a breather from my novel, Mix Tapes for Boys and Girls, after completing my November sprint to write 50,000 words, the arbitrary goal assigned by the folks at the Office of Letters and Light, aka National Novel Writing Month. It was such an odd but productive experience; I've had deadlines before but never the daily requirement to write a certain quantity.

In its absolute focus on word counts, the whole novel-writing experience reminded me a little of the Weight Watchers program (which I did for about three months a few years ago but probably would never do again). In the few months I did participate, I learned a lot about the caloric values of foods and about how much I really needed to eat. They talked about portion control, which is a good thing to be aware of; the best part was learning to change my focus to stopping when I'd had enough food instead of eating as much as I could get away with eating. I found that the quantity of food that satisfied me was, of course, quite a bit less than I had thought previously. It was a revelation that going to bed somewhat hungry wasn't such a bad thing after all; some of my fear of scarcity fell away when I realized nothing bad would happen if I went to bed with a rumbly tummy. (I read one account by someone who said that when dieting, she stopped eating early in the evening and then went to bed earlier than usual so she wouldn't be bothered by her hunger pangs. But skipping part of one's life in order to lose weight seemed extreme to me. Foregoing food is one thing; foregoing evenings is something else entirely.)

What I did not like upon reflection was Weight Watchers' narrow focus on the absolute number of calories consumed daily without any regard to the quality of the food being eaten. This oversimplified approach to dieting meant that things like nuts, olive oil, and avocadoes, all of which I love and consider "good fats," were as "expensive" as chocolate bars or cheesecake. I never bought into the notion that all fats were bad, nor did I buy into the "cholesterol is evil" ethos adopted wholesale by the medical establishment despite the studies on cholesterol having been conducted exclusively on high-risk males. I heard stories about people who tried to save many of their daily caloric allocations for alcoholic drinks or tried to avoid all fats entirely and found that the appearance of their skin, hair, and fingernails quickly deteriorated, probably reflecting their deteriorating underlying health. So on one hand it was useful to find out how many calories a day I needed to stop eating if I wanted to lose or maintain my weight, but on the other hand it seemed to discourage a healthful perspective on the relative nutritional values of foods. I found little discussion of how eating complex carbohydrates and some fat could also help you feel sated longer than eating simple carbs and lots of vegetables with icky nonfat dips or nonfat desserts with low-calorie "whipped topping."

So my disgust with Weight Watchers' absolutist approach to calorie counting led me to expect more inner resistance to having to write a certain number of words per day to meet this arbitrary goal of writing 50,000 words. I wondered, what if I wasn't inspired that day? What if I wrote 1,000 words and they were good, and everything after that for the day was drivel?

It didn't really happen that way (okay, it may have; I'm too close to the 53,500 words I wrote last month to be a good judge of their quality at this point). But not only was the 1,667-words-per-day deadline nowhere near as onerous a chore as I thought it would be, there was something good about being encouraged to "throw words willy-nilly at my novel," as I described the process to my mother earlier today. Instead of writing nonsense or unrelated stuff, I found myself getting deeper into my characters' thoughts and motivations. I found myself putting more from my own life and what was happening around me into the story. The word-count goal made me dispense with my usual poring over individual sentences and instead push on, which made me take more risks than I usually do in my writing. I had to "leave my inner editor behind" (as Chris Baty, NaNoWriMo founder recommends in his book No Plot, No Problem!) to succeed at the task, which turned out to be a very good thing indeed. (She's stirring and uncurling from her deep slumber, though; I'm looking for cover.)

I had thought this might be a sort of silly, wasteful way to write a novel; I suspected half or more of what I produced would be garbage and have to be cut out later. The jury's still out on that, but it was a fabulous exercise in getting stuff out of my head and onto the page. And I am relieved to believe there's more "good fat" in my story and far less dreck to be excised than I had predicted.

Now I just have to figure out how I am going to finish the thing!

30 November 2006

The biggest surprise of Nanowrimo

Now that it's 11 a.m. on the 30th of November, and I'm 52,300 or so words into my novel, I'm pleased to report that I am a winner! And in more good news: I didn't fall apart along the way. In fact, the entire experience of writing 50,000 words in a month has been astonishingly pain-free. I've been able to sit down at the computer and write just about every day, and every day I've come up with something worth exploring. I may have to do some heavy lifting and chopping and reorganizing later, but there's a lot to work with and it wasn't so hard to generate it, which is a completely thrilling discovery.

At the table two nights ago, after I had posted my winning total word count and went to the movies, my sweetie asked, what are you thinking? And I said I have this little chant going through my head at all times saying, "You did it! You did it!"

The other one that runs through my mind often is "If I had known it was as easy as setting a goal and then trying to achieve that goal, I would have done it years ago." But I keep trying to cut myself some slack and tell myself that I would not have been ready then. Or maybe I would have but I didn't do it then and I am ready and able now. That's the real point. Being here, now, and not worrying about what might have happened.

So here I am with the first 50,000-and-some words of a novel. I'm just going to keep writing the kind of stuff I want to read and hoping that there are other readers like me out there.

28 November 2006

Stretching the writing mind

And this quote came in too late to make the jacket copy deadline:

"Has broad ass-market appeal."

And this time you get to guess who said it.

That typo was in my excerpt for I don't know how long.

I'm cracking myself up again. This has to be good exercise, all this writing and cracking myself up. Good psychic exercise.

27 November 2006

When I Paint My Masterpiece

I'm hurtling toward the so-called "end" of my story (lately lots of things are appearing in quotation marks), or at least the 50K-word hurdle.

And speaking of quotations, to celebrate closing in with ease on the "final" stretch, I sent out a few excerpts and received some "quotes" for my book jacket:

“A penetrating collection of wit-sharp insights permeated with the soulful exploration of the inner workings of the minds of two richly entangled young women in the high-flying world of fine dining.”
Susan Sontag

Gael Greene

“I eagerly await the sequel. And the prequel. And the two before that, and the four after it.”
George Lucas

“I laughed. I cried.”
Rex Reed

“Finally, she made that goddamned masterpiece she’s been going on about all this time.”
Gore Vidal

46,875 words
so far....

26 November 2006

Day 26: With mere days and a few more words to go

What would MacGyver do, anyway? Here are some things I did instinctively that have helped me feel like I have no doubt I will win Nanowrimo on this, my first try:

* Took my friend Kathy's advice to heart and never let myself get more than a few thousand words behind. And I stayed caught up after that.

* Participated in the occasional cafe session and write-in, including one all-nighter of dubious value (well, okay, I only wrote until 2 a.m. But I was too wired to sleep until about 3:30 a.m.).

* Allowed myself as much caffeine as I felt like consuming.

* Started yet another blog.

* Didn't deny myself cafe treats: coffees and teas and the occasional pastry.

* Listened to my body and adjusted my intake when I overdid it. (The day after the two martinis with dinner was a little disappointing, energy-level-wise. So I didn't do that again this month.) And I'm still taking my vitamins and drinking plenty of liquids.

* In a related move, I made a conscious decision not to take Chris Baty's advice about tricking myself into productivity through increased doses of junk food. I decided this month I would rather develop a writing habit than a junk-food habit.

* Revised my total word count online frequently and watched my little heap of words build up almost daily.

* Posted on the forums when I had something to say or needed a little support.

* Sat down and trusted myself to hear the characters speaking to me. (And it worked! Who knew that's all it takes to get them to come out and play?!)

* Didn't get stuck on any specific rituals or advice -- just sat down and gave myself lots of chances to write. (And when I asked for advice, I got it and it was good.)

* Kept reading and watching movies, which helped me think about why I want to tell my story.

* Not gotten hung up on trying to bring everything in my novel to an end by 50,000 words. I'm just getting going and 50,000 seems like more of a big milestone than the end of the road.

* Spent almost no time editing what I've done. For this lifelong editor, that feels like a real achievement!

44,434 words; only 5566 to go in the next four days!

25 November 2006

Day 25: Arrival at Something, a Milestone

I keep driving deeper into novel territory, and something named Mix Tapes for Boys and Girls is taking shape and crawling out of the murky depths at last. It's all uphill from here, evolutionarily speaking. But it's evolving, darn it! It keeps going places I'm interested in going, and it's turning out to be this sort of vibrant parallel universe endlessly full of friendships and family stuff and crafts to do all the time. Heaven. On wheels. Those wheels that pop down from your shoes when you want them to.

23 November 2006

That thing they always talk about? It's happening.

I am starting to be able to sit down at the keyboard and listen to my characters talk. They're kinda wacky. Like me, but not like me. And they get less like me the closer I listen.

Day 23 of Nanowrimo: 38,446 words, 132 pages of double-spaced text!

And then it's time to finish the darn thing. Perhaps the new motto is 80 K by December 21st.

Oh, yeah!

Soundtrack: Spoon: "My Mathematical Mind"

21 November 2006

If I can dream it, must I do it?

I’ve decided the bravest things I see are the ones I must attempt. If I so admire people on the stage, for example. I need to find a way to do that myself. Now I’m writing a novel. I have 120 pages of a book -- 35,000 words -- I hadn't put together three weeks ago.

Now I can see how I regularly set myself these challenges. To paraphrase the Goethe quote: if you can dream it, do it. My own variation is if I can dream it up I have an obligation to do it. If I think of going to England to interview my favorite band, I should do it. (And I did! And until now, that was one of the best moments of my life!) If I want my character to be good at doing a five-minute stand-up comedy act, I need to try it out for myself. Get in those shoes and stand in front of the crowd. But I would think that, lately, wouldn’t I? I’ve been all about standing up and being heard for a while. A bit ineffectually to date, perhaps, but now a bunch of people are rooting for me, which I am enjoying. I feel I have been getting ready for this along. Alongalong.

08 November 2006

Day 8: Surprises galore

I'm up to 12,000 words so far today, and my Word document is up to 42 pages. It's starting to look like something, even if I don't have much of an inkling about the plot yet. I thought I knew what it was when I started, but I'm still not sure this story is going where I had planned. My character doesn't yet seem quite ruthless enough to pull off the dirty deed I had planned for her, but then again I haven't put her under much pressure yet.

One thing that has surprised me about all of this is that I've been staying on track in terms of writing enough words per day and have still had time to read and watch movies. This is good, because I've been picking up all sorts of inspiring stuff, from Julia Cameron's autobiography, Floor Sample (too bad about the title, but it's an interesting read for anyone creative) to Steve Martin's comedy on Saturday Night Live and in The Jerk, to There Will Never Be Another You by Carolyn See and the Claire Messud novel The Emperor's Children (which I am in the middle of and am finding reassuringly heavy on character and light on plot).

The title of Messud's novel reminds me that ever since reading Ann Patchett's The Magician's Assistant, I still believe that a potential ticket to success is in a title in that same form: The Blank's Blank. Another example: Minette Walters' The Scold's Bridle. Maybe I'll change my current title (Making Mix Tapes for Boys and Girls), since I can't figure out what it has to do with the story and it makes it sound so much like a Nick Hornby book. How about The Foodie's Daughters?

04 November 2006

Travels in my own mind: A fictional adventure

It's day 4 of National Novel Writing Month and this novelista has written 6,300 words so far (22 pages of 12-pt. double-spaced text). I posted a teensy and raw excerpt on the Nanowrimo site. I'm a little shy of where I'd like to be by now but I'm feeling like I'm making progress. Suddenly 44,000 words not only doesn't seem like so much more to write at this pace, but it also doesn't seem like much room to work in some of the themes and scenes I've been jotting down over the last little while.

29 October 2006

Fiction: Magical thinking

Leah needs some attention. She thinks she knows where to find the right kind for her right now. She's feeling lucky today and wants to see whether she can prove it's for real and not just all in her mind.

A six on the table and an ace in her hand, she ponders her knowledge of the situation. Ol' Texan over here in the big hat has already doubled down on his pair of queens when he sees the dealer's five showing. Leah thinks about that dealer's five and knows he'll have to hit it once. At least. She knows she should simply stand, but she could no more stand than sprout wings and fly up above the table. So she asked for the Dealer's next card, which turned out to be a three. She stood pat then.

With an inner sigh, she thinks that nineteen will probably get her back on track this time. Only it isn't. The dealer turns up a six, against all odds with her six right there, but then adds on a 10 and takes all the money at the table. Which amounts to the tenth time in a row this has happened -- or a variant of it that has ended in her losing another bet backed on promises of money to people just a little too glad to have that hold on her.

Stubbornly, as when she'd drawn that three to her sixteen, she tosses her cards into the slush pile at the same time she tosses another handful of chips into the betting circle. She will have to keep looking for victory until she gets a lot richer or all the money's gone. Then she will have gotten rid of it once and for all, or she'll know she's destined to have it.

17 October 2006

Finding Flaubert

I went to the Trident Booksellers the other day looking for a copy of Madame Bovary. I was drawing a blank when I tried to remember the author's name, so I went up to the counter and asked about it. I almost burst out laughing when he said, "It's Flaubert," rhyming the name with "Robert."

13 October 2006

What's So Great About Good Food? Part II

Here's something I'll have to post about on chowhound:

I have a theory about Chef Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson at Frasca Food and Wine. It goes like this:

With his uses of cured and pickled foods, Lachlan is tapping into people's wartime and depression-era memories of having to put things up for the winter, having to use everything you produce (especially when you can't eat all you harvest), and having to introduce variety in winter months with foods preserved from the summer months.

Sure, the folks at Frasca have cryovac machines and good freezers. You know they could probably find a way to serve you watermelon in January if they wanted to, but Lachlan works at this preservation aspect honestly, perhaps like his grandmother before him, and hers before her, in the new country and in the old.

And now some of Lachlan's grandma's peers are well-heeled folks who dine at Frasca, perhaps not only for the unforgettable combinations of ingredients (is it the clove in the shaved pork with cherries that makes it so memorable?) but also for a little history alongside an exploration of northern Italian cooking. And this history comes with a side of echoes of their own pasts through red pepper jelly and pickled green tomatoes from his family's repertoire. For the forward-looking, Lachlan takes ideas like this one and stretches them, pickling cauliflower and shallots for dressings, for example. It is the absence of gimmics or trickery and the deep respect for old ways that appeals to me here.

Lachlan may well be deliberately trying to attract the people who remember life during wartime or grew up in the long shadow of the depression, which adds up to a lot of people (although I suppose many of these are folks who wouldn't dream of spending $100-$150 on food and wine per person in an evening, if a perfectly adequate meal could be found for $20 or $30). Lachlan has something for everyone: He gives the people who are part of the Slow Food movement and who are nostalgic for another way of life (e.g., witness the hoops Bill Buford jumps in Heat) an opportunity to go back in time and yet be on the cutting edge of their own era all in one evening.

11 October 2006

All I Want Is My Duct Tape, Paper Clips, WD-40...

We've been e-mailing for years and all the time more people start sending emails, so those urban legends and jokes that people started sending to one another when e-mail became more ubiquitous never died. There are good ones about how to resist telephone scams, and there's the hoax one about the kidnapping scam in Wal-Mart. Some of them take me back to those terrifying tales my aunt and her pals used to tell each other and me when I was little about girls killed in dramatic scenarios ("...and 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' was her favorite song!"). Urban myths and legends, some cautionary and true, some not, always seem to surface in one medium or another.

That said, I'm not even sure if it fits the same category as an e-mail chestnut but I just opened the WD-40 e-mail, which calls out some of the cures and problems for which people have used it: removing old tape, stripping dried bugs off the front of your car, attracting fish (for some reason this was the paragraph called out in red in the e-mail that came to me). Removing tarnish from silver, keeping pigeons off the balcony ("they hate the smell"), and cleaning shower doors. It's amazing.

Someone sent me an e-mail a couple of weeks ago that listed a bunch of miracle uses for different products. My hackles went up, though, when the list spelled out specific brands for every product. I'm cynical enough to believe if you traced all the products up the conglomerate tree, you'd probably find one behemoth corporation at the root of it and some brilliant PR wiz kid who came up with the notion of writing and disseminating it. (It wouldn't take so much effort to come up with one unusual use each for several different products.) Yet there's something more organic about the WD-40 one, more mythical. It has the ring of a cliche we all know because it's true.

WD-40 is, after all, a very cool product. It was named for the formula created to displace water (its name stands for "Water Displacement perfected on the 40th try"). Its uses are myriad, tested, and widely accepted. People use it, however, for more than anyone ever intended. Even the WD-40 Web site acknowledges that this product has fans far beyond the expected mechanics and do-it-yourselfers everywhere.

There are enough promises in the WD-40 mythology to incite that tingly, snake-oil salespitch or gold-rush itch, enough to make you wonder: "What if it were really that easy? What if really could help me with all those things -- catching more fish, keeping my shower doors clean, eliminating my arthritis?" Like some magic lantern, we want to ask and ask again, "How much more can you do for me? What would that world look like if you could really do all that?"

The truly magical part about this: All you have to do to find out is go out to your garage or if you don't have one, go buy yourself a can of WD-40, available practically anywhere. Let me know whether you find any truth in the rumors.

04 October 2006

What's So Wonderful About Fancy Food?

I don't know when I started feeling this way, but I love to hear all the latest food news about restaurants in my town and even others farther away. When people go to interesting places, I'm as curious about what and how they ate as I am in the other things they did there. When I go on a trip, I remember it better if I keep a record of what we ate.

It is in part about scents anchoring memories: Dining of course involves the nose and tongue, the chief olfactory organs. Then there's the wonderful world of flavor, with its myriad combinations done and never before done (my happiest summer discovery was a salad of watermelon, feta, avocado, and vinaigrette, those basic notes of sweet and tart all balanced in entirely new proportions). In The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I've just begun reading, Michael Pollan says our desire for new foods has increased our brain size, which has in turn incited us to experiment with more foods and preparations. We have grown a big brain so we can not just eat but eat well.

In my world, food options are plentiful and rich. We happen to live comfortably enough to shop at Whole Foods once a week for our meats and fish. I have a long list of best places to find things by price and quality filed away in my head when I set about my weekly errands. (Vitamin Cottage for veggies, nuts, and flours - everything's fresh, organic, and there are just a few things too outrageously priced to buy there, like mushrooms. Lucky's for very good $5.99/pound coffee, and King Soopers for orange juice and some produce and pantry staples, cereals and canned things. We get our two weekly gallons of hormone-free local cows' milk delivered every Thursday morning, which makes shopping much easier -- and the milk is excellent. And the occasional trip to the farmer's market or India's Market or the Asian Deli for something new and different.)

One of the highlights of our life together has always been dining out. It was something we did when we became friends, hanging out with our pals in cafes after school and in the summer. We went out as students, and when we first got married, went on the big European trip, and came home and settled into life in San Francisco, for a while, anyway.

I was lucky in the places we happened to live, too. In Berkeley we lived around the corner from Chez Panisse and exactly one block from Peet's, on the Northside. It was lovely. Our roommate had gotten this lady to rent out her house five blocks from the campus and it was in a location that just got better and better while we lived there. We could see the Coop (pronounced Co-op) and the traffic on Shattuck but it was relatively quiet on our corner. I frequented Peet's and the little Juice Bar Collective for amazing lunches. Now the neighborhood is known as Berkeley's "gourmet ghetto."

While we lived there, I worked for a guy who had his psychoanalysis practice on a boat in the Berkeley Marina. (He had really low overhead and got to write off a lot of his boat expenses.) I was transcribing his autobiography and doing his accounts. That was the first time I realized that you could really get into wine; his weekly wine expenses were in the $75-100 range, not counting dining out. When it was time for me to move on, my employer took me to lunch upstairs at the Chez Panisse Cafe. I don't remember what I had, but I do remember it being wonderfully fresh and simple. We went across the Bay with our roommates for one memorable splurge at Stars, Jeremiah Tower's glitzy restaurant. There was a revelation of a dessert that included basil and black pepper.

In San Francisco, when the dot-com boom was just getting underway and no one had yet been paid cash for any of those stock options, we lived in a neighborhood at the edge of a foodie destination all its own: My father would bring me there as a child for the lengua and intestine burritos (the latter were very salty, which I loved then). When we moved there, established Peruvian seafood restaurants shared blocks with Chinese takeout joints and tacquerias and crepe cafes. A few blocks down from our apartment were Lucca Deli and then The Flying Saucer. New coffeehouses were springing up all over. The neighborhood was blossoming. Once we had both moved up a little from our beginning salaries, we could splurge on a dinner at Chez Panisse, downstairs this time. It was one of the best meals I've ever eaten.

We then moved to Germany and I learned a few cooking tricks from our lovely host family there; six months later we moved back to our hometown. We wanted to make pesto, one of the new tricks we'd picked up in California, so we searched for basil (it was May), but were repeatedly directed to the dried spices aisle. Now it's at every store throughout the year.

And our town has become a place where you can always get excellent food. I like many of the same things I always have: a good burrito, a good burger, a good pizza. I used to be a nut for breakfast: it was my favorite meal. Now, not so much. But I also enjoy the times my husband and I go out for a nice dinner; we've had peak moments and made some of our best decisions over meals. Our daughter knows that going out is a treat, too.

And when we go to fine restaurants, there's something wonderful about setting aside that time just to appreciate the subtle arts of eating, drinking, and conversation. When we went to Italy for a week, I kept that feeling of relaxing over meals with me for a long time after we returned home, like a shawl I could wrap around my shoulders. I can still summon that feeling if I try, and our nights on the town help me keep that in perspective. There's nothing like eating together, and eating something totally unique and unusual amplifies each occasion.

It also allows you to celebrate the basics: Instead of just eating a sandwich, chips, and a soda in front of the TV set, you can revel in being able to taste. You can experience the careful balancing of texture, aroma, and color that a great chef can bring to a meal. Is seeing a meal for being more than just fuel learned behavior, I wonder, like perceiving an abstract painting as an expression of something seen and felt rather than just a random collection of strokes on a canvas?

When I cook for my family, I love to make something that celebrates the goodness of food. Roasted and caramelized vegetables. Pan-toasted oatmeal with cranberries. It's busywork, sure, but it's always a pleasure to feed my people food I love.

The converse makes life tricky; it's getting harder for me to eat what I think of as bad food. It's a difficult line to walk with family and friends who don't share the same standards. I asked my mother-in-law once why she doesn't ever cook with organic produce or other products and she said, "I don't usually want to take the extra time." And she meant in the ingredient preparation: I think she thinks everything organic must be washed and trimmed and cut up. But the other factor she didn't say out loud was cost: It's more expensive. She both prizes frugality as a primary virtue and she has more faith in big business i this country. They buy their food at Wal-Mart.

But our bodies are our temples, and I do believe we have an opportunity to either drain resources or contribute to a sustainable culture with each food choice we make. And so I support and celebrate and set money aside to enjoy what can be done with great ingredients, especially when the chefs are working closely with local organic farmers and ranchers. It's not just what you put into your body that counts, but also what you put back into the community. That's why I try to buy things at Whole Foods that I can't find elsewhere. While Whole Foods does pretty well, they are still competing with major grocery chains and like them, shipping produce from all over the world; I'd rather invest more of our dollars in the local produce industry.

Enough for now. I've made myself hungry.

27 September 2006

Early Stones and Gimme Shelter

Fortunately, the new DVD The Rolling Stones: A Critical Review is not as dreary as its title might suggest. The first film in the series brought me up to date on how they gained their toehold into the music scene in England and in the U.S. in their first years playing together. The film looks at the Stones by way of the first dozen or so hit singles that launched the group into becoming the superstars they are today.

This "critical retrospective" features early TV appearance and dubbed videos alternated with talking heads, who are by turns the friendly, astute, cool, and even a bit doddering British journos, staff, or friends (and sometimes both) of the Rolling Stones. I'd love to chat up these guys at a party; in an hour and a half they do give plenty of good dish on the group and their special place in history. It’s all in good nerdy fun; if you’re a true trivia hound, you can even test your mettle on the tough quiz in the extras.

Yet the songs themselves rarely get a chance to take off with the constant interspersion of interviews peppered with facts about the band: That the "mass hysteria" atmosphere was so thick at the Stones' early U.S. appearances that the first four rows of seats in any given theater could be predicted to be drenched with teen pee. That Brian Jones felt he brought the Stones together but was feeling marginalized toward the end of his life. “He was a lonely man,” says one of his cohorts, solemnly. Yet before he died in his swimming pool it was Brian Jones who first introduced lots of the unusual instruments into their arrangements (don’t we tend to only think of Lennon and Harrison that way?).

It’s fun to watch the early videos because the band are unschooled enough to show something of themselves and clearly on to something good –- you can just tell that it’s better than anything else they could be doing by a long way. (And the chicks dig it, hey?)

But there’s something eerie about it, too: Jagger’s always watching. He’s watching you watch him. Maybe that’s why he is irresistible. Maybe that’s what makes a stripper good at what she does. Maybe that’s the secret Madonna and Barbra Streisand know that the rest of us don’t. Watching him watch us watch him I wonder whether holding people, holding their attention so that you know they’re watching you, becomes more and more compelling if you do it all the time. He's evidence for it. It can be a form of control, even aggression. From the beginning, those hips, those lips, and that Package have always been all about the danger, the aggressive male in the sex pyramid.

Here's where I digress...

And I love getting in bed every night with with my sweetie and know I'm happier than I would be with that prancing drama queen of a husband, I'm sure. (When I was about 9 or 10 I really felt I should marry Mick Jagger and I was terribly jealous when he married Bianca. She had everything I would want as far as I could see.)

As a kid, I chafed not only at being told I was unlikely to ever marry Mick Jagger (I'm too flat-chested, from what I hear) but also at being told I was too young to go to a Rolling Stones concert. But my parents knew what happened at the Altamont Speedway show, it turned out. (That was one thing I was protected from. I saw Easy Rider at 7 but didn’t until recently watch Gimme Shelter in all its terrible tragedy when rage- and alcohol-fueled Hell’s Angels knifed a man who shot another. It’s awful to watch Gimme Shelter, especially when you put yourself in the band’s shoes as they see for the first time the film of what happened during their concert. The crowd were hot, crowded, and drunk or high on a staggering variety of substances and getting twitchy. The band kept after “The show must go on” tactic to defuse the situation but it was clearly the wrong thing to do in retrospect.

Yet even in Gimme Shelter when they watch that film, Mick’s watching, knowing he's on camera, reacting to what he's just heard about. )

OK, time to rein myself back in, edit this, and send it off.

p.s. Added later: Here's the published version.

21 September 2006

HP's "Slimming" Bug -- or is that Feature?

I have just learned from a friend that HP has a “Slimming” feature in its new camera software. HP misguidedly has chosen healthy, fit women models for all the before pictures in their sample images, and shows each of these women shrunken down to Teri Hatcher proportions in the after images.

Is this all for the purpose of looking good in our match.com profiles? Or are we trying to experience seeing what our reflections would look like after losing more weight (or gaining it, in some cases) to motivate ourselves to try to do that? And it all begs the question: Do all of us healthy women really need to look like Twiggy or Kate Moss?

We've been coming up with all the other options you’d have to offer as well to legitimize adding just a the Slimming option. You’d really need a way to choose any body type, different proportions (maybe even with a fancy algorithm for adapting the shape and clothing and hair to different ages), add curving and straightening and "funhouse mirror," (where the mirror would let you adjust the shape of the curves however you like), or "weakening," as a software designer friend suggested, in which you make Arnold Schwartzenegger look like the 90-pound weakling at the beach who gets sand kicked in his face.

You’d also need to be able to reshape hair and even clothing style by decade. Hippie and Hawk, Jackie O, Joni Mitchell, Joan Jett, Joan Armatrading, Norah Jones, and so on.

Here's the letter my friend wrote to HP and copied to her friends. Forward it along if you are inspired!


Today I found out about a new feature of HP cameras: "Slimming". I am so appalled I am speechless. But never wordless! (thank goodness for keyboards) I hope you will forgive my mass email, but I'm making good on my promise to HP :-)

You can see for yourself here: http://www.hp.com/united-states/consumer/digital_photography/tours/slimming/index_f.html

I have written the CEO of HP ( http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/execteam/email/hurd/index.html) as well as provided feedback to the product team (I think, http://wwemail.support.hp.com/fd2/EmailForm?countrycode=us&langcode=en&sni=fd2-webfeedback2-ho

Here is what I said:

"Our culture has created enough body image issues for women without this offensive, sexist "feature". Perhaps you should review the Eating Disorder statistics to understand the far-reaching consequences of your "improvement": http://www.state.sc.us/dmh/anorexia/statistics.htm

As if the notion that photo subjects should "trim off pounds" wasn't bad enough, you seemed to have used only young, attractive, healthy women who have no need to be "slimmed". How many subjects of your software will become statistics (anorexia and bulimia are life-threatening diseases!)?

I have been a long-time customer of HP: virtually every printer I have ever owned was from HP; I never bother to shop - I always picked HP.

However, based on this product, I resolve to never purchase anything from HP ever again. Further, I plan to share this perspective with every person I know, so they can also make an informed decision about HP's ethics, exploitation of women, and blatant disregard for women's health."

I encourage you to let HP know how you feel about this new technology.


13 September 2006

Sudoku puzzler

It was seeing a book entitled Snakes on a Sudoku at the grocery store last week that got me thinking about this.

About a month ago, I finally started doing sudoku puzzles. My best friend had said she found them relaxing and thought they might help keep her brain sharp, my husband and in-laws do them, and I know I'm smart enough to tackle them even though I tended to be the person who would come up with the most convoluted path to the solutions in algebra class.

So I do a couple or three puzzles a week now, the easy ones (and I have botched several). True to form, I started doing them the hard way: by writing every possible number at the edge of every square and then going through and eliminating all of the wrong guesses. Eventually I realized that there were more clues than I saw at the beginning of my sudoku odyssey. Now I'm much faster at solving them and no longer have to write all the little numbers in the squares the way I once did. I have goofed up on a few but solved lots of them.

My friend is right when she says they are relaxing in a certain way. Like any math or logic problem, they all have a correct answer. She was also right when she said, "You never have to guess," meaning that the layout of the numbers always gives you the clues you need to solve the puzzle without any guesswork. I still don't know how that works with the really difficult ones, but when I've solved puzzles I have indeed not needed to guess.

Yet I remain puzzled about the sudoku craze because people are spending so much time doing them, yet they still don't take vacations. Just google "americans vacation time" and you'll find many, many stories about the fact that not only do people get less vacation time in the U.S. than in other countries but that people are not even using all of their allotted time.

Does that mean that sudoku puzzles have come to serve as our mini-vacations? I think web surfing serves that purpose for some folks, but perhaps because of the mind-sharpening qualities of working out a logic problem, we see sudoku puzzles as a more profitable activity.

I've always felt that the goal of my work is to bring me to the dinner table with the ones I love at the end of the day. I also believe in the power of art and music to restore and refresh the soul. As much as I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment after I've solved a puzzle, I believe that all our time spent on sudoku puzzles might be better invested in having dinner with our friends and family, going out to hear live music for an hour or two, or planning our next vacation. Sounds good, but first I'm going to finish that puzzle.

The real Hollaback women (no, not girls)

The web has not only given the average person new outlets for self-expression but also has provided people with an opportunity to do more than kvetch over the daily gripes and slights life dishes out in bitch sessions with friends. A fantastic example of this is http://www.hollabacknyc.blogspot.com/, where women can document the guys who harass or verbally abuse them.

I love http://bitterwaitress.com/, too, for the same reason. Real people venting about real grievances. I'm sure there are many sites in cyberspace for road rage, date rapes, and more. While I'd caution that we should make ourselves aware of slander and libel laws, I also believe this is what the web is all about.

28 August 2006

I'm just trying to be the person my cat thinks I am

Our daughter, now that we have a cat she can carry around (just as Olivia does in the book) now wants to adopt fish. I think that might just drive our young and playful burly cat Jack wild, but the daughter is very interested in taking care of her pets. She loved our big black kitty, the gregarious one of two cats we have had since they were kittens, the one who let her haul her all over the place. A few months after she died we adopted a kitten, who was charming, fun, and sweet, and sadly was lost on one of her first times out of doors to a larger animal looking for lunch.

So we waited a few months and adopted another kitty from the pound named Charlie the first time we had met him and Jack the second time. It turned out we checked out a new kitty twice and we liked him the second time. He's sweet, and has some odd things about him but is a good kitty.

When we visited our familial friends in California recently, we met their dog, who was trained as a guide dog and is now a breeder dog instead of a working dog. We liked going for walks there -- it's beautiful and it's nice to get the dog outside. It's fun to see what people are like with their pets, how they interact with them and turn to them for comfort or companionship. And sometimes it's astounding or appalling to see how seriously they take their pets.

And my mind keeps circling back to my daughter's parallels with these critters we bring onto our raft. (With no guarantees they won't get lost or get eaten by crocodiles, but we try to float them along with us.) Sometimes I see it through their eyes and wonder about the dogs and cats who end up in snarling, abusive families. Or neglectful families.

The same things happen to the kids of the world, too. Some kids end up in good environments where they can grow and thrive. Perhaps a higher number of adoptive families thrive because the families have been actively trying to become parents. Self-selected parents, I think the hoops you must jump through.

But plenty of people jump through the hoops and adopt kids and bear kids without a plan. That's what those nanny shows are talking about. These people have the kids and get the houses and cars, stock the pantry full of groceries, and figure the rest will sort itself out, especially once the kids are in school.

And these creatures, the ones we have borne into the world as well as the ones we have adopted into our hearts and hearths, deserve our plan. Deserve to be played with and exercised. I can be a better person to get some gloves so I can clip our kitty's claws. We have to be able to play with him, and we sure can't now (I have a five-minute-old angry red scratch across the back of my hand as I type).


On a brief cat tangent, life has been full of messages that we're all somewhere on the food chain. Yesterday F. told us that the mountain lion that had attacked a boy on a local mountain trail a few months ago has been determined to be a young male, about a year old, starving and mad because it was fighting for territory in an area where older mountain lions are already well established. Everyone's territory is also squeezed by the mountain development (limited growth is still growth, after all, and where do we have to sprawl now that the plains are covered with cookie-cutter houses? the mountains!). That lion attacked the kid while he was holding his father's hand, and he needed a week's stay in the hospital after that. And I imagine that little guy and his family will need some help processing that information over the next while. I send hopeful thoughts his way. And it's yet another reminder that we're not always at the top of the food chain and we always need to keep our eyes and instincts sharp.

26 August 2006

No religion no politics no soliciting no shoes

We're missing our charming do not knock sign (we don't really mean the "no shoes" thing in our house, if the truth be told). Now the door-to-door folks are upon us.

Tonight the knock came the minute we had finished our roast chicken dinner. My daughter and I opened the door to a woman who could probably earn a small fortune in Japan as a Venus Williams lookalike, asking if I could help people including herself get themselves up off the streets and go after some goals instead of all that loser stuff they were doing before, in her case in the inner city of Baltimore, Maryland. (This, though I don't always know how much of these raps to believe, is what makes me want to open the door. I find people's stories irresistible.)

When I offered her a glass of water, knowing what it's like to go door-to-door, she asked for chips instead, which I produced. We then proceeded down the road of her magazine sales pitch. She did that thing where she handed me the clipboard with the list of "people I've been talking with in your neighborhood -- here's one over on N_____ Street." So I had to take her clipboard and I had to look at the list, even though I pretty much knew what would be on it. (Maxim, Sports Illustrated, and Elle are the norm, so I found the Notre Dame sports magazine an odd inclusion.) I found as she spoke, though, that I didn't like the smell on this girl (cigarettes, alcohol), and the things she said sounded like excuses the way she put them.

I asked how much it would be to buy a couple magazine subscriptions for poor kids, because they offered this new option. It sounded good: I would never get any bills or renewal requests. She scribbled and calculated and showed me an outrageous figure. Well, I've been around the block and felt I'd be a fool to pay for subscriptions at those rates. To boot, she could not produce a shred of information about the money going to the kids vs. the money spent on administration or overhead (the expenses of teaching kids scripts and driving them all over urban areas).

When I declared, "I'm sorry, but I couldn't possibly do that," Venusene's wide nostrils flared further with rage. It was 8 at night on Saturday and she was no doubt dashed, thinking she finally had that last sale. She lost it when I announced it was the principle: "I would rather give your organization the money and not go through the whole rigamarole of ordering overpriced magazines."

"You'd rather give my organization the money," she repeated back to me slowly. "That's like stealing from me! That doesn't put dinner on my kids' table. I got a 4-year-old, and an 11-year-old, and that doesn't give me any commission.

"Here." Venusene thrust the chips I'd given her into my daughter's hand and stalked off.

When we'd gone back inside, my daughter asked, "What did she mean by that, when she said, 'That's like stealing from me'?"

I said, "I do not see it that way. That's too extreme a view of it. For her it just means she doesn't make the money she wants to make, but that was an unfair way to put it. Mean, even."

"She was probably tired and hungry. It's Saturday night and she's probably been out walking around for hours," added my husband.

I could see the gears turning in my daughter's head -- it's news to her that people don't always mean what they say, or that people might disagree about whether others speak the truth. She's just recently grasped the abstract concept of sarcasm: saying one thing and meaning another. So I see her grappling with what it means when what someone says doesn't reckon with what she knows.

But I do know what it feels like to lose a sale when you really need one: I've been on the same side of the door as our Venus lookalike. I actually did it a couple of times. The first was selling encyclopedias (New Standard brand - not even very good ones) and another time I canvassed for CalPIRG, the public interest research group in California (in that day Colorado's was COPIRG but is now Environment Colorado).

I remember the encyclopedia sales team leader on our excursions into Denver calling the houses that looked like good sales prospects "mooches." A Volvo in the driveway: mooches. Toys and tricycles on the lawn: mooches. The signs were the houses just up from poverty, people who knew what it was like to be poor but were trying to make it better for their kids.

I would knock at these doors and ask to schedule an appointment to come back later. If they said yes it was a slightly more formal arrangement and they would be inviting me in, which gave me a big boost. Sometimes the family simply wasn't home at the appointed time, and I quickly learned not to be surprised by this.

Once inside, we were supposed to read from our copied-down scripts. (To get our scripts, we listened to someone recite it and copied the words, pretty much as fast as we could write, until we got a break for sodas and snacks (and socializing, no small part of the cultural immersion process), and repeated the cycle several times until we had the whole thing in our spiral-bound notebooks.)

We had been advised to not to worry about feeling embarrassed or awkward when reciting the script because that was "normal." We were instructed to ask our prospects for water, and to compliment them on their "nice home." (That became a permanent habit, actually. Except I usually say "house" -- "home" always seems pretentious, like saying "wealthy" instead of just "rich.")

But I found that when I started learning the script too well, after two or three weeks, it wasn't as effective; that fumbling newbie thing really did tug at the heartstrings of the young families. (I still have that notebook, and I remember how our team leaders instructed us to always read from the script we had written down, even if we'd memorized it. I found that surprisingly difficult. I wanted to recite the parts I knew.)

I remember getting dropped off in neighborhoods all around Denver. I never forgot one great couple in central Denver who were very apologetic when they cancelled their order. We liked each other so much that I actually felt much better about the whole thing when I heard that they'd cancelled. By the end of my four weeks of selling encyclopedias I would have pitied them had they actually gone through with the purchase; they would have ended up paying $2,400 for a $700 set of books. I came to feel terrible about saddling those few poor hopeful families with all that debt. It became a little stain on my conscience.

Canvassing felt different, though, because I got a place to put some of my self-righteousness (before getting taken down a peg or two by people's stunning indifference or resistance to talking to someone at their door who says, "Hi, I'm so-and-so and I am wondering whether you care about your water. I'm here for the California Public Interest Research Group and... yadda yadda yadda."). I found I was very unwelcome in the high-security Defense-contractors' backyards, around what had recently become Silicone Valley; in some Sunnyvale neighborhoods I started guessing in advance how many doors would be slammed in my face on a given evening. I was far more welcome in Palo Alto and Burlingame and the liberal enclaves where earnest good-doing people like the ones I grew up around answered the door with their babes at their ankles saying, "Why yes, I do care about my water!" as if they'd just been waiting for me to knock. Sometimes they surprised me and subscribed at $100 or even $75 instead of the basic $35 level and I felt charmed and had great days without even trying.

In my six-week stint canvassing in California, I came to love the days I got to go to the Peninsula's safe, comfortable neighborhoods, where I'd find a school playground and a niche where I could sit and write. I'd go door to door for a while and as a reward tuck myself into a at a park or into a booth at a diner for a piece of pie and a couple of cups of coffee and would just write like crazy. I don't remember what I wrote about, but I had to write.

Today I choose my interactions more carefully, and those doorstep transactions seldom seem like a good way to work with people, from either side of the door. (Although I do delight in opportunities to deploy my "Thank you, but I already believe" line on the Jehovah's Witnesses.) Yet I still question whether I should post a do not disturb sign on my door. One friend surprised me with his strong reaction against doing so. "No politics!?" he exclaimed, incredulous.

I read a good Miss Manners (aka the disarmingly clever Judith Martin) once in which she suggested that the best response when you wanted to say no without explaining yourself was to say, "Oh, I couldn't possibly." I felt the same way, sincerely, with Venusene's magazine pitch tonight. Is that a total cop-out? I don't think so. As an adult, I now have the privilege of choosing the people I work with, the business I transact, the political discussions I engage in. And we certainly extend ourselves in many ways in both our immediate community and in our larger one, too. It's nothing so simple as not wanting to help people, or wanting to "steal" someone's commission for selling magazines. I just don't like doing it in on those terms, on my doorstep on a Saturday night, during dinner. Been there, done that.

24 August 2006

Things I loved about our trip to San Francisco, Part 2: Dinner at the Most Pretentious Restaurant Ever

It turns out we have a slender thread of a connection to a touristy-trendy dinner spot at the Ferry Building, which is that the person who started it used to work with a group of mutual friends and catered the wedding of two of them. But I didn't know this when we went to dinner, and I'm afraid that it would have only made me perceive the cool and distance of it all more acutely. But the connection does bear out my theory that there are only two, maybe three degrees of separation between you and anyone you would really want to meet or know or work with. (And yes, I do believe in ending sentences with prepositions.)

I loved the decor, especially the bar backdrop, a curved wall of stacked glass that glowed a gentle pool turquoise, allowing light from the kitchen behind it to bleed through. I was equally wowed by some of the bronzed, Pilates-fit women in trendy jeans and strappy tops who were gathering for parties. (There were several groups.) Then I made myself look around at more of the people and saw them, too: the earthy Bay Area liberal, aging but gracefully -- nay, even forcefully at times, draped in solid colors of linen and hemp and cotton and wearing comfortable, durable shoes. I saw fellow tourists in ill-fitting khakis and Lands End polo shirts. I saw well-heeled people from all over, and watched people snap pictures of their plates (for their memories? for their food blogs?).

Our waiter had clearly decided we were just tourists: when he asked, "Have you been here before?" which I realize in retrospect is an irritating question that implies there's some kind of special code to dining there, Two of us said no and two said yes. He treated us with professional distance, which amounted to what felt like disdain at times. From behind his thick, squared dark frames ("aggressively trendy" was a phrase that popped into my head more than one time that night), our waiter (who never once overstepped a boundary by telling us anything so common as his name) peered at us, brought us intensely delicious and not oversweet cocktails, and when quizzed about the fish choices, leaned in toward our group making it clear he was making a special one-time-only effort to educate us, and said earnestly, "The caramelized prawns are the dish that epitomize the flavor intention of the restaurant." I almost burst out laughing then and there but was distracted by my kaffir-lime and ginger drink. I've never heard anything so pretentious in my life. (And not one of us ordered the dish.)

Our drinks were memorable (and at $9 a pop I was expecting nothing less). The ginger limeade was tart and not very sweet, the kaffir lime vodka adding a lovely twist. But I was wowed by my second drink, the Daiquiri No. 3 (Barbancourt 15 yr. rum, lime, maraschino liqueur [which is not the syrup that comes in the cherry jar], and fresh grapefruit juice, from the recipe from La Floridita, in Havana). Some would argue that using a sipping rum in a mixed drink is all wrong, but here it's fantastic. My husband and I discovered the North Beach restaurant Enrico's in the couple of years before we moved out of San Francisco and they made Hemingway daiquiris that were good but could only dream of being this good. My husband's mojito was good, strong and straightforward. My friend had two Phantasms, which are lemongrass-infused vodka with falernum, which she was assured was not sweetened with sugar. Indeed the drink was not sweet but it was smooth and luscious.

The food was very good but I wasn't quite as knocked out as I expected to be. As I studied the menu, I agonized over my choices more because these flavors and ingredients remind me of my own cooking at times and I wanted to find something I would not be able to do at home. So I had the jicama and grapefruit salad, which really should be billed as the cabbage, jicama, and grapefruit salad. Delicious and fresh in a way that was cleansing but not filling. In contrast, I had a rich Niman Ranch ribeye steak, cooked to perfectly medium rare and caramelized on the outside with a wonderful salty-sweet spiced marinade. Fortunately, everything comes out ready for sharing family-style, and everyone got to try the ribeye, the stir-fried Alaskan black cod, and the lovely cellophane noodles with Dungeness crab. We loved the "spicy Dirty Girl Farm haricot verts with honshimeji mushrooms," and I swooned over the dessert, the rice cake with coconut cream and mango.

I was pleased that the quality of the food eclipsed the too-cool waiter experience. It was a delicious evening, and our company was excellent, of course. But what I will never forget is the waiter telling me what dish best "epitomizes the flavor intention." There's another good foodie blog name: Flavor Intention. (And with that, we bid adieu to the former winner of this dubious honor, the Library at Chaminade Whitney, with its textbook-lined walls and cognac cart.)

Things I loved about our trip to San Francisco, Part 1: Getting there

It had been three years since our last visit, too long. So it was a pleasure to touch down on the narrow landing strip on the San Francisco Bay. It was clear and hot the day we arrived. My daughter and I came out early and went to Marin on BART/Ferry, which meant our day was getting up before six, my sweetie driving us to the airport, airport train, plane to L.A., lunch with one of the grandpas, and back to the aiport and another plane to San Francisco, the airport train, the BART train to the Ferry, and the Ferry to Larkspur, where our friends were there to meet us with their car. Phew! I must have thanked myself ten times for ditching some of my stuff and repacking into a small wheeled suitcase on which I could carry my daughter's booster seat. She was quite enthusiastic about the many modes of transportation and wheeled her suitcase everywhere. I had also found a Dora the Explorer's kid's-sized carry-on at a thrift store a few months back and had put it on the present shelf. This seemed like the perfect time to give it to the little one, and indeed it was nice to be able to check her suitcase and leave her with a hands' free case she liked and could easily manage. She likes to bring Maya the pink poodle these days; she is getting glimpses of many airports from her soft toy pet carrier.

The best part of the trip was certainly the ferry ride. It was hot and clear, amazingly so for summer in the Bay Area. We sat out on the back and got sprayed and splashed with the salty Bay water, having been amply warned by someone talking with his friend so that we could hear him and saying how it cracks him up to see the tourists getting wet. We didn't mind the water, though -- in fact, my daughter was quite surprised and fascinated by the saltiness. I thought at some point we'd get cold air streaming in from outside the Bay but a chill only lasted about three minutes before it was hot again.

The guy talking with his friend reminded me of someone I knew in college from working on the newspaper. He was funny and interesting, and I had the sensation that he was flirting with me without even talking to me. But he was just the kind of person I would have gravitated toward at a party, so I just basked in the sun and moist air while my daughter delighted in the wind and waves. I listened as he and his friend had beers from the ferry bar and bantered and groused about working with Google folks who paid stunningly little for their stock in the IPO (one tenth of one cent per share) and are ridiculously rich now. At one point he speculated that he'd understand about having kids soon enough (this made me look for a ring, which he did not wear). Then guy's phone rang at one point. "That sounds like a real phone," said his friend, surprised at the old-school ring tone. "It is," funny guy said. "I finally got rid of the toy one a few months ago."

At the end of our half-hour cruise, funny guy offered me a hand with our luggage, which I just couldn't bring myself to accept, given that I still had a hand free. But I had this funny feeling that I'd sort of met a sweet, gallant fellow and I wish him well in the world.

More highlights to come....

22 August 2006

Trip report: Denver Mint and Berry Patch Farms, all in one morning

We hopped in the car this morning at 9:08 and zipped down to Denver. I puzzled over how carrying a six-year-old can really be considered carpooling but apparently is, so we did all our puzzling in the hov lane, which was open all the way to where we had to go. We got off I-25 at Speer South and drove to Colfax, where we found the Denver Mint. We found a parking lot nearby, waited with our friends (who had fortunately printed out the tour reservation number they had obtained beforehand), and we went on the tour. One of our group had checked the U.S. Mint's website the day before and had sent an e-mail with all the security information about what you are not allowed to bring on the tour. This saved us considerable time and grief: We all knew we had to come with just a tiny wallet (the size of a man's billfold at most) and no backpacks or purses or water bottles or anything extra. I carried only my glasses, keys, and a coin-purse, and we didn't have to dash and return anything to the car. Incidentally, I noticed that the website says no tours will be given if the Homeland Security Level is at Orange, but it is now Orange and tours seem to be proceeding as usual.

Our friend had reserved our ten slots on the tour well in advance; she thought of it in early July and between the advance notice the Mint required and the conflicts among four families' schedules, the earliest slot we could find for the tour was today.

But it's always fascinating to see the making of money. You get to see blanks going into stamp-and-die machines and coming out as pennies. They did one of the best things at the very beginning and handed each participant on the tour, adults and children alike, an uncirculated state quarter. If left sealed, they are relatively rare and valuable. We learned a little more about why on the hour-long tour, which was just interesting enough to keep the adults going, if a little over the younger kids' heads.

My friend and I later confirmed each other's memories of seeing sheets of uncut paper money on the tour back when we visited the Denver Mint as kids, even though I think I remember learning that it wasn't printed in Denver (San Francisco, I believe, was the place for that). I remember seeing more of the building on that tour, too. Today we had armed police officers watching our every move.

The tour is only an hour long and it's free. I'd say don't take kids under six and expect them to be thoroughly diverted unless they have a particular fascination with money or machining (or counterfei-- oh, never mind). But with a family or out-of-town visitors who allow you time to plan in advance, it can be a fun little diversion. I think a family or smaller group might often be able to queue up just before the hour and see if there are last-minute no-shows or openings, but larger groups would do well to plan ahead.)

So instead of the gallery hopping in Denver I had envisioned, we switched gears in a big way and drove out to a berry patch after the tour. It's pretty far out northeast of Denver, about a 25-30 minute drive from Speer and Colfax. We went north on I-25, east on I-76, and north on 85. After a few miles (a little past the E-470 junction) we turned east on 136th and almost missed the left on Potomac, whose street sign is hidden neatly behind a tree.

We made a u-turn and went north on Potomac to Berry Patch Farms, which turned out to be a beautiful site with shade trees and picnic tables, with chickens and turkeys roaming free and fields of ripe organic produce and flowers, some of which you are invited to pick yourself. We joined our friends for lunch at a picnic table. As usual, my daughter evinced both fascination and horror at the animals just roaming around. "The chicken is going in the parking lot! Is that okay, Mama?" And "That dog is touching me!" And twenty minutes later, "I petted it! I petted the dog!"

We ate our lunch quickly (we were on a schedule & had to be back in town by 1) and then got cardboard pint baskets from someone in a little shed and headed out to pick raspberries, which are at their peak now. I coached my daughter on finding the darkest berries, the ones that just slip off the ends of the vines. The farmers say the raspberries are at their peak this week.

You can also pick strawberries, cut flowers, pull carrots, and harvest other vegetables. Check it out, especially if you have more time than we did to stay and enjoy the picnicking -- and the picking and eating. Berry Patch encourages people to munch as they pick, a real treat in the raspberry patch. One of the kids picking near us kept saying, "It's raspberry heaven! Come over here for more raspberry heaven!"

And we got back just in time for my daughter's 1 pm camp. Phew!

21 August 2006

The hawk incident

We had a frightening experience during our recent California vacation. In the car on the way to the open space park, I was mentally totting up how perfect it all was -- we were seeing friends, swimming, playing tennis, and now going blackberry picking in Marin County with some of our dearest people. I was beaming with joy at all of it, and at my beautiful goddaughter and her mother's idea that we go to pick fresh fruit.
After we parked, I stood in the warm sunshine with my six-year-old daughter and watched her clean hair shining in the sun.

A pair of hawks circling overhead caught my eye.

"Look! Hawks!"

And together we saw them circling the August-gold hilltops of Marin that are dotted with Live Oak and speckled no doubt in the raptors' view with songbirds and snakes and mice and the like. But then they circled nearer to us.

And I kept my eyes on them, because my daughter is my daughter and she weighs but 35 pounds, and because I am her mother. And they kept not going away, not continuing on their rounds, but staying near. Circling closer. They were big and powerful birds, hunting in a pair, which we'd seen at a park falconry demonstration in Arizona last winter. And suddenly I was deeply afraid of them. "Those birds are just little dinosaurs. Raptors are predators. That's their job. My kid is small. And this is all happening so fast." I caught a mental glimpse of a bird on my child and just said No. Terrified to the core at this point, sure they were zeroing in on us any second, with my tender-on-the-outside daughter just standing there shining in the sun, I told my little one, "We have to go to the car right now!" and snatched her up and dashed for the shelter of the car. We even rolled up the windows, because the hawks stayed around for a little while longer.

It was eerie; I felt as if the fear I felt and admitted had turned me into a bullseye for them and all my instinct told me was to get my child under cover as fast as I could. And I didn't think twice but just did it. Scared the bejeesus out of her, too, poor thing. But I keep talking about it with her as something good to remember. We live in a world with bears, mountain lions, dogs, birds, and all sorts of wild animals who are just doing their jobs and looking for food. We have to remember we're not always at the very top of the food chain. And when confronted with animals, we need to trust our instincts.

Our blackberry-picking friends who accompanied us on this outing had no idea what was going on, and maybe thought me paranoid. But I have no regrets. We're here, intact.


And twenty or so minutes later we felt safe enough to come out. But it was truly frightening

20 August 2006

Some instinctive feng shui

We need to give our pets our attention (petting and stroking), security, exercise, and light, as well as food and fresh water.

And if we can't handle that, we need to give them to someone who will. They are sweet if we are sweet with them.

I find our pets and our daughter actually have a lot in common. They weren't the ones who chose their families; they were chosen by the parents. And you look at some pets and you are glad they landed in a good family and others you wish you could bail out of their families.

03 August 2006

The answer: See Irish women sing like Barbie dolls, if Barbies could sing

I walked upstairs after posting on this blog a few nights ago and was astonished to find a message on my answering machine, as if in answer to my earlier post.

My uncle had called me to say he had an extra ticket to go see Celtic Woman and did I want to come? Of course I wanted to, and I did, the night before last. (Last night I ushered a performance of improv Shakesperean comedy. I haven't had much time to post.)

So we watched Disney-lite versions of Irishwomen come out and pose in gowns that would be bridal if not for their variety of hues and tones, as if to identify each woman with a specific element in the production and Irish scheme of things (one woman had a dress the color of seafoam, straight blonde locks flowing well past her shoulders, a voice like polished silver, and was clearly intended to represent the water element; another danced carefully to the rhythm within her shoulder-length, marcelled auburn hair and swath of pine-green silk. Two of the women had dark birthmarks on their faces, whether authentic I don't know). They did carefully choreographed moves that flicked their hair and showed off their bright smiles as their clear voices merged and harmonized into the night air. But the prevalence of long, dramatic gowns made the proceedings all quite static, with one exception: the high-stepping fiddler. She stepped and twirled all over, in turns electrifying and by the end of the show pesky as a bee at a picnic. And in part she was irritating because she was one of the only things that moved. Aside from a dance the women did with their song about having to choose between the rich man and the poor man at the village dance (which they did in silk dresses that trailed on the floor, an odd and unnecessary choice of fashion over function), the Irish lasses came out and posed, sang their designed-to-be-inspiring, reach-for-the-first-cliche songs, with a big boom from the drummers from time to time that served to automatically jolt the audience into applause. Very cute, awfully cheesy, with the occasional bit of traditional music worked in (including a couple of very pretty Italian arias sung by the seafoam soprano).

We didn't stay for the last song or two, but left the stars and stone of Red Rocks Amphitheater for the refuge of a Starbucks, where we dissected the show and talked about family stuff, which left me feeling in part that I know things are bad (zero cash flow is a recurring theme), but I could also see that my aunt's idea of chaos also could be a world away from my uncle's. And after spending time with him I can see that he is struggling, but aren't we all? And I came back again to the fact that he isn't asking me for anything, except to be there. And I am. So all is well in a way, despite his health falling apart and his life pushing him in that direction. Everybody's got sicknesses or catastrophic problems, but there's no one who can do anything about that except them on some level. And if he needs something from me, I have to trust that even though I'm his niece, he will ask for it.

So is it callous or simply realistic of me to say that it's enough for now to know he knows that I am here for him, and to let him call me and invite me to a concert once in a blue moon? I don't think that's a small thing. And if it's a generational point of pride, as my sweetie suggests, that's not to be trifled with either. Just giving a little of yourself seems like something big sometimes. Even if it doesn't solve the underlying problems, just being there seems like the right thing, the only thing to do.

31 July 2006

Ten things I love about L.A.

The Apple Pan. The freeways (except the 405). The garment district. Crunchy shrimp rolls at a strip mall sushi joint with my mom. Still knowing my way around even though I haven't lived there since 1982. Zucky's (ok, that's loved, past tense).

Sunset Boulevard. Still amazes me. Santa Monica Beach. I've even come to love the Santa Monica Pier. Chico's. The drive from Glendale to the Westside through Silver Lake.

30 July 2006

How to say OK

I always want more people to know how to do more things. In line at the grocery store, it's read. R-E-A-D. You know, when the sign says Express Lane, and the person parks their cart jammed with groceries right in front of you, daring you to burst into her iPod-modulated environment and challenge her right to be where she is for the trivial reason that she's exceeding the legal count of grocery items by a mere 18 or more.

It's a sort of misanthropic trait, this wanting other people to do more, know more. Why do I not just accept them as they are? For that matter, why am I always trying to convince myself that I am always trying to learn something new, always striving to better myself in some way? I have never believed in original sin, or so I have always thought. So why not just accept me and everyone else as we are?

And what the heck can I do to for my uncle? I had no idea things were so bad for him as my aunt described. And I don't know what happened this week, and she asked me not to say to him that I knew, so now there's drama and intrigue, where someone also desperately needs something, but no one is sure what. If I were Indian, Hindi, or Buddhist, I might accept that his karma and fate are different from my own, but I might also let my compassion be my guide to acting. I suppose "What would Buddha do?" is more my kind of question. But how do you walk up to someone who hasn't asked you for help to offer help? I've been wrestling with this a lot lately in my relationships.

So it turns out that my folks really did raise me to not be attached to a religion, and the nice thing about that is I find I can sift through and choose from a cafeteria of options. I find Buddha's acceptance and compassion very important to keep in view and deed, and I like Jesus for altruism and the power of doing good, and I love the Quakers' non-interventionist attitude toward communicating with the divine. I often think music is "god's" way of communicating with me. I believe everyone who is guided by some kind of faith, which I am, is guided by something unique to them. My own object of my own faith is just about impossible to describe or explain because it's so obvious to me, and so unquantifiable in anyone else's terms.

But I sure like having it, I must admit.

At my daughter's heritage camp a few weekends ago, I learned about some things kids with attachment issues may need to hear from their parents again and again before they will truly believe it:

I will always love you.
Tomorrow is a new day.
No problem is too great.

And perhaps that's all any religion gives its followers: that mother's voice saying, "It's going to be all right."

Because my faith has not told me how to reach out to my uncle.

29 June 2006

Going to see the dancers

A couple of weekends ago, I had planned a little outing downtown to see the Indian dance performance at the International Festival, held at Boulder's downtown pedestrian mall every summer. But one of our cats made it exceedingly clear that she wasn't happy about how quickly we'd tried to introduce a new cat into the house. So five minutes before two found me and my daughter Nani at the laundromat, stuffing a down comforter into an industrial-sized washer. I fretted about our cats as we got back into the car and lucked into a parking spot downtown a few minutes later; we slipped into the two empty seats right at the edge of the stage just as the Mudra Dance Studio started their performance. As we watched the women dance, my worries about my cat receded and again I felt fortunate to live in a place that honors not just its own people but people around the world as well.

This wasn't the first time we had seen the Mudra dancers. We had gone to their big fundraiser performance the fall after we'd brought our daughter home from the International Mission of Hope in Calcutta. We had been to three East Indian Heritage Camps, where the Mudra dancers teach the kids, camp counselors, and even adults from more than 80 mixed families, with the dancers giving a big performance at the Saturday night celebration. Nani had learned some dances and participated in these performances herself.

I sat at the edge of the stage feeling smug and virtuous for giving my daughter another opportunity to see something of India again. I watched my daughter quietly watching the dancers through her thick fringe of shiny black hair (growing out your bangs was all the rage in kindergarten this year). I noticed a handful of other families with kids from around the world in the audience, pleased that they could enjoy this celebration of Indian culture, too. And everyone noticed the little toddler boy who couldn't resist the twirling and the brightly colored costumes and kept toddling back onto the stage to join in the fun.

Then the director of Mudra Dance Studio came out and talked for a few minutes about how music unites people. That music is an universal language is so often said that it is almost a cliche; yet her impassioned insistence that music is one of the only things that can transcend linguistic, religious, and political boundaries somehow struck a chord with me.

As she and her dance partner gestured and twirled in their orange and red chiffon dresses, the dance and the expression of her sentiments took shape and form. As I sat alongside my daughter and felt the meaning of the words and sounds in my heart, I found tears flowing from my eyes. Suddenly it was clear to me that I was sitting there weeping because I needed to receive this message, a beautiful, healing bouquet of sound and color. I knew that I wasn't giving this to my daughter explicitly; whatever Nani would take away from this experience was up to her. But it gave me another opportunity to thank my child for opening my heart and helping me remember all that gives my life meaning and beauty.

06 June 2006

You can take the title of this blog literally...

...and float with me and my daughter on the creek that runs behind our house. today we walked up to the pocket park about four blocks away and put our innertube in and hopped in. brrr! my kid sat on my lap and enjoyed the ride. I used our pole to steer us away from branches and eddies. we floated downstream to the park a block from our house and did it again and again. what a gift not to have to pack up a car full of stuff and trek somewhere to get wet but just to be able to walk up the block and get in the water. it's only during the summer, but that's okay. otherwise the water would be too cold.

but I must say that the child who accompanied us on our last journey was rather, shall we say, manipulative. every advantage she saw, she pursued. she repeatedly tried to get us to slow down so she would be first (she was in the lead already the entire time on the water). she even set up some elaborate delaying system with some clothes and towels ahead of time. it was amazing to watch because you could see her setting it up so deliberately. I was glad I had set an expectation for one ride downstream together. I would have been carrying everything all the way if it had been up to her.

I'm such a tough mama. I got impatient with all this and raised my voice and then my daughter started talking to her the same way. when I heard her yelling I realized what I was doing and backed down quite a bit. I explained why I did not want child b to go get her other things and come back. and I insisted we go directly back to her house. I feel I must take a pretty firm stance with her, yet I expect she might even be one of those people who respects you if you do that, and if you expect a lot of her. at least I'd rather think so.

02 June 2006

it's almost summer; let the wild rumpus start

Last week of school and then it's summer vacation. Oh, how lucky I feel this year. I am about to get to spend the summer with my great kid! Yes! And we're going to learn stuff, like tubing and hiking and swimming and singing and playing games.... Yippee!

30 May 2006

Creative burst: accompanying myself on tambourine

Today my daughter and I had a lovely outing for a late (post-school) lunch after school. She fell asleep in the trailer on the way to the pool, so I went home and she slept for another hour in the back yard while I drank a coffee and read a magazine. And she got completely wound up tonight. As is our new kitty, Jack, who is burrowing into some blankets heaped on the TV-room couch.

But then I got all inspired and picked up my electric guitar. I even tried tapping the tambourine with my foot while I played guitar. I tried different styles of strumming, fingering patterns, and found a chord progression I really liked that isn't just another variation on the same old E-A-D progression. And I got some really nice ringing tones in the reverb a few times.

Then I wanted to write about it. Silly me!

29 May 2006

A brilliant piece of work

I finally found a copy of Untitled: The Bootleg Cut, the director's cut of Almost Famous. Cameron Crowe was roundly pilloried by the critics for his latest film, Elizabethtown, which I haven't yet seen. But anyone who can create Say Anything and Almost Famous is always going to be okay in my book, whatever he does or doesn't accomplish with the rest of his life. I could watch this film twenty times and notice different things each time.

This time watching the film I realized what a testament it is to the power of family. So many people just complain about their families, but here Crowe found a way to be critical and loving, even adoring, all at once. What a rare gift.

I also love how he shows how different people have different relationships to music. Lester Bangs exists as a critic in opposition to the music. Without something to criticize, he wouldn't have become himself. I heard the voice of Pamela des Barres in Penny Lane (played by the luminous Kate Hudson), and in Sapphire's (Fairuza Balk) speech about the "new" girls, who "don't know what it's like to love the music so much it hurts." For many of the people on that scene, music was the ticket out, a story we have all heard about. But then there's William Miller, the Cameron Crowe character, and he gets it both ways. The music is his ticket to coolness even while he gets to have his family behind him once he starts living his own life. I'm sure some people thought that was too idealized a portrait of his home life to be believed, but I like to see how people show their love of something or someone (see also films by Wim Wenders, Marcel Pagnol, and Peter Weir for some more examples).

(In an odd and almost not-worth-mentioning coincidence, Jason Lee, one of Almost Famous' stars, is the guest on Late Night with David Letterman tonight.)

18 May 2006

That restless frontier spirit

I am drawn to the topic of reinvention not only because it describes me but also it describes how I got here (well, except for the bits of Cree Indian and African, which add up to about 1/16th of me and have been subsumed into the mostly European whole so that I have fair skin and freckles and moles that the dermatologists like to look at every year or two now). If people weren't trying to break free of their circumstances, the United States would not exist as we know it.

If people didn't believe that something bigger and better was available if they would just change their immediate surroundings and circumstances, I would not be here. My family has certainly exemplified that. A late great-grandfather toured Alaska and became an expert who gave lectures about his adventures. My grandparents were all travelers: My father's parents as members of the upper class, my mother's parents as bohemian artists. Then my parents were travelers, rejecting what their parents were offering to search northern California for their own answers in the late 1960s. And I've gone to live in Europe and have a sense of what that dislocation is like and both how easy and how difficult it is to truly reinvent yourself.

Here's a concept described in 2005's "Year in Ideas" issue of the New York Times Magazine:

The Hypomanic American: For centuries, scholars have tried to explain the American character: is it the product of the frontier experience, or of the heritage of dissenting Protestantism, or of the absence of feudalism? This year, two professors of psychiatry each published books attributing American exceptionalism to a new and hitherto unsuspected source: American DNA. They argue that the United States is full of energetic risk-takers because it's full of immigrants, who as a group may carry a genetic marker that expresses itself as restless curiosity, exuberance and competitive self-promotion - a combination known as hypomania.

Peter C. Whybrow of U.C.L.A. and John D. Gartner of Johns Hopkins University Medical School make their cases for an immigrant-specific genotype in their respective books,
American Mania and The Hypomanic Edge. Even when times are hard, Whybrow points out, most people don't leave their homelands. The 2 percent or so who do are a self-selecting group. What distinguishes them, he suggests, might be the genetic makeup of their dopamine-receptor system - the pathway in the brain that figures centrally in boldness and novelty seeking."

So what do I mean by reinvention, after all? Did the frontierspeople, the pilgrims from Europe, decide to remake themselves in a new place, or did they just want to get rich? Are they the same thing? Did Diablo Cody reinvent herself, or just decide to be herself? Is she the perfect example of the hypomanic American? Did she do it for the money? (Can't go wrong with that.) Cody describes herself as a devout Catholic kid growing up, sheltered and on the predictable path of such a person as an adult. She was a cute kid and then a cute, literate geek with a fashionable job but not much more.

So she decided to crank her life up a notch when she walked into a strip club with the intention of getting a job there. And not only did she succeed, she also pushed herself far along the path, to some of the highs and lows of the oldest profession. But she is quite savvy and charming, and I get the feeling she knows exactly what she's doing, since now she's got her book published and three Hollywood deals going and is happily married with her sweet artist husband in Minneapolis. She didn't even have to move to L.A., like everyone insists! She may look like a cookie, but she's sharp! Has she been on Oprah yet?

My mom was somewhat alarmed that I was so enthusiastic about Cody. My mother, who can swear like the best of truck drivers, I think was a little horrified by the young woman's willingness to display her stuff in the way she did. Perhaps it's Cody's naivete, too. It often looks as if she's just doing it for the thrill because she spends appallingly little time acknowleding any larger context for her decisions to bare all for said thrill, fame, and fortune. She insists it's solely about her own desire to expose herself. That's Cody's weakness, if you ask me, but it's not that she's not aware of any other areas of inquiry. She just doesn't care. She's more interested in the most concrete answers to the questions "what is it like to expose yourself to others?" (and "what can I get for telling my stories?"). She's funny in the ways she objectifies herself. She posts seminude pictures of herself on her blog. She loves to say shocking things out loud (basically because no one else does, I think) and she enjoys describing in her books and interviews how her husband got to have a stripper for a girlfriend and how that elevated both of them in each other's eyes and among their peers. But I think she's cool because she's letting her quirks show (yet some might even argue she is letting herself be defined by her quirks). I just like her because she is funny, charming, smutty, and she seems like a fun person. And I admire the way she didn't follow any of the rules about getting a book or screenplay deal and now she has lots of them anyway. Ha!

So she fits right in with what I was writing about yesterday. It's all of a piece. And there are more pieces just lying there waiting to be picked up, like happening to watch The Tyra Banks Show yesterday, something I would never normally do.

Rock on. May you find your own pieces to pick up today.