10 December 2010

Beautifully different

What is the first thing I think of when I ask what makes me "beautifully different?" Dressing for beauty and fun! I love the way I find interesting combinations of things to wear. Other people say nice things about that, too. I was wearing my shiny-threaded overcoat that has such a great drape over a long sweater and a wacky top and got some really nice compliments. It's so much fun to cheer people up just the way I like to be cheered up by seeing someone dress inspiringly. And it's a continuing positive feedback loop. I'm going to go put on something fun right now!

The kinder, gentler approach

I am revisiting a project that is terribly difficult and unpleasant on many levels, and reminds me all too much of where I was and not where I want to be. In working on that project again, I find I have to do more research to find more specifics: my organizational scheme of my book is based on a list of characteristics, for example, which I didn't actually have a copy of in my book yet. I am searching for the characteristics I remembered seeing in my earlier research but one mysteriously is not turning up on the lists in this round of discoveries. It's a puzzle. I love that part of being able to find things you need on the internet. Compared to doing research in school, Google makes it cake-eatingly easy. You just have to be creative and persistent to get the best results. But that's true for everything, isn't it?

One thing I am look for more now is other voices of people like me, people who have survived something threatening and want to set the record straight at last so it doesn't eat them from the inside out (many of us lugging household skeletons into closets suspect this is the true root of cancer, when it's not something obvious like poisoning from chemicals).

Everyone says it when they have an unpopular opinion about something (a corporation, say -- I've just read the book A Civil Action so that is weighing heavily on my mind) or someone (the sociopath in your midst) -- "I thought maybe I was going crazy."

It's a terrible feeling, thinking you are over the edge because you believe something no one around you ever wants to see or admit is that close to them, that threatening. Darkness looks you in the eye, and when you tell others, they draw back from you like you've been bitten by the vampire. And it does make you feel crazy, different, vampiric, creepy, and dark to witness it, tell the tale. But you have to or you'll suffer, like living through an earthquake and needing to talk about it for such a long time after.

I saw a documentary about Lariam, an antimalarial drug, that terrified me, saying it can cause brain lesions -- permanent brain damage! -- that induced psychosis in people. In the film, Taken as Directed, these people were devastated, their optimism gone. One said it was like seeing the devil. And we wonder when we hear about someone going crazy and shooting a bunch of people to bits, but do we ever hear whether they had recently had a course of Lariam administered, or whether they had been exposed to other extreme protocols that fundamentally changed the way their brains worked? I'm feeling that neither my daughter nor I should take it. Too dangerous. And we need less of things in our lives that make us feel like we are going crazy, not more. We can't afford to go toward darkness, even if it is an unintended side-effect of another action.

It's good to keep in mind, as I burrow back into this project again, that it's not a preoccupation with the dark and the past, which is what the quick-judging pragmatist might say. No, instead I am going toward the light, illuminating things, making things easier for the next person who knows someone like this to figure out how to spot the tell-tale traits and avoid the devastating effect someone like that can have on anyone in their vicinity.

So I'm advocating a kinder, gentler approach to things lately. I just wrote to the makers of Off and asked for a case of their clip-on mosquito repellents to give to orphanages to put by windows or anywhere they are needed. Nets are probably a good gift, too. I'll ask around.

I am being kind and gentle with myself about the reverb10 prompts, too. It's a busy time, and I'm working hard, and haven't been up to the daily prompting and blogging rhythm. That's okay, I know. But to get on the path toward catching up, the best community thing I did this year was probably continuing to help with the Garden-to-Table project at my school. Surprised I didn't say speaking at Ignite Boulder 12? Or the Thriller flash mob downtown? Those fall close on the garden's heels, I admit, but so does helping the kids in my daughter's classroom learn more about conflict resolution. It's all good.

06 December 2010

Wanna make something of it? Do it!

Today's writing prompt: The last thing I made.

Well, let's see. I made coffee just now. But you meant something lasting, right? I made a cookbook (out of a collection of two women's recipes and nutrition tips) just last week. I think it turned out well. I learned and re-learned a lot in the process. I also made crustless pumpkin pie when I went over to my in-laws' for dinner. I noticed that when I was frustrated with my progress on the cookbook project, my thoughts immediately turned to cooking. I've had a recipe out for a flourless carrot cake that looks amazing, but I refused to let myself do something that would take a lot of time when I was in the middle of my cookbook project. (Which answers the question: Did you have to clear space for the project? Why, yes, I did. It felt like the project took up space. But I let that happen. And it worked! I finished it on time for a deadline but then that fell through -- the folks who wrote it wanted to have the cookbook available at an event last Friday but the event's organizer nixed the idea, so I don't know what's happening with the printing. It is out of my hands. But I do like the way the cookbook turned out. It's a nifty little book with some good stuff in it, and I will let you know when it is available to all.)

Other things I've made recently: Matching winter scarves for my in-laws, and dinners. I've been wanting to make up songs but don't quite know how to go about it. I made soup for a soup swap recently, and want to do that again. But it is true that lately, cooking is my go-to activity when I want to create something -- and my novel is calling me to work on it more and more, too, which I am doing.

I am casting about for something to make for my writers' group. I was trying to think of something everyone might like (little carrot cakes?) and then thought: our web site. If I could have a site ready by the time we meet next week, the group would be thrilled. I just don't know if I can pull that off. But it's a good goal.

05 December 2010

Reflections: We may never have this knowledge again

That's another reason I write, to continue to respond to the prompt of my most recent post. I know I will never see things this way again. I am groping my way forward in the tule fog, the dark, the blurry view of naivete. And I'd better call it like I see it now because I will never see it this way again. I know things will change, times will change, perspectives will change with experience and exposure to new ideas and people.

So does that leave me with nothing? We have a trope: When my husband and I ask one another, "Can I bring you anything?" the other occasionally responds, "I have nothing left to hope for." Which is from a sign in Asia's failed attempt at saying: "We leave you nothing else to be desired. All your needs will be fulfilled here." But truly, I am so filled with love and gratitude for this fragile state of joy and peace at those moments that I feel I lack nothing, I have nothing to hope for beyond this. So love is the wonder and the light in my life, which happens to be the response to the reverb10 prompt and a nice seed for thought.

And while we're on the topic of wonders, I have to give a big shout-out to music! I still think the lyric is a little cheesy but I agree with Michael Franti that everyone deserves music. And with Johnny Cash, when he sang, "Get rhythm when you get the blues. A jumpy rhythm makes you feel so fine, It'll shake all the trouble from your worried mind. Get rhythm when you get the blues." For me there is truth in that. A few years ago I wondered whether I was depressed, and I am wondering that lately. But I decided to exercise. I started going to the gym three times a week. I thought I would want to swim, but I have never bonded with swimming here in this pool. Maybe it was too cold for the first five years since our rec center was remodeled and I got turned off and I should try it again, but in the meantime I stumbled back into my dance class and discovered, in a room full of people who share my love and interest in movement and dance and joy and energy, what quickly became my primary source of balance.

Now I go four times a week to dance for 45-50 minutes and cool down for another few, and I find as long as I can dance every week I feel good. I stay sane and healthy. And my goodness, there's so much to learn about committing to a gesture or a movement or a pattern, to being ready to change direction on a dime, to moving together with a group and doing your own thing all at once, to learning to move within my own levels (my lesson for this week was anything at any time can take you back to level 1, and that is just fine).

As for things I've let go of this year, the final prompt for the moment: Being an editor for other people. I just keep getting rebuffed at a certain level. It works against human nature: People don't like to be told what to do. And I love editing but I suppose I'll just have to do it for myself for now. It's like painting my house: I care almost too much to do it for anyone but me, perhaps. But I think if I commit to myself, I can go far with it! So I know what is really at the top of my wish list: A package of 10 ISBN numbers. Woohoo!

02 December 2010

Prompt of the day: What keeps me from writing?

I listen to Talk of the Nation on NPR a lot and today's, if you didn't already hear it, was about bullying. Lots of different people reported different things, one that someone had found him on facebook and apologized for long ago bullying, another who was on facebook and a bully got in touch and started bullying her all over again (horrors). One woman said she realized that she was so angry and scared all the time about being bullied that she had become a bully toward other people, always ready to go off if they didn't do what she expected. That resonated with me. And then the host read from someone's email, I think, and it described a person's path to better living after having survived the hell of bullying and the author was very apologetic for having taken all that anger and fear out on others for so long. I really felt a jolt of recognition then about things I've both struggled with and their costs, the tolls those misplaced emotions have taken in my life, on my friendships.

Another thought: I had a conversation with my mother not so very long ago, that set off such a series of ripples for her. It seemed like a trivial thing. I said, "Not everyone likes creamy food," when my mom was making something or talking about some kind of food my daughter was less than enthused about. My mother could hardly believe it! Someone who doesn't like creamy food? What? The very idea was unthinkable at first. We talked about it for days! And that conversation went on to reverberate for a while and later morphed into one about mind-reading. I said to my mother at one point, "I can't read your mind. You have to tell me what you want." And she just looked at me. Really? As if she'd never quite realized we were that different from one another, different enough to have separate perspectives on the same thing. I feel like there's something in having been habitually underestimated or underprotected as kids that makes us all so defensive and sometimes angry about not being understood, as if we feel it is part of a grand conspiracy and this present communication breakdown is further proof of our being at the ground zero of misunderstanding.

So I hope it makes sense when I say that fear of being misunderstood is a cause of procrastination for me, and yet is also one of my biggest motivators for writing down what I am thinking.

01 December 2010


Today's #reverb10 prompt is to reflect on the past year, picking a single word to encapsulate it. I came up with shipbuilding, because it feels like I'm gearing up for the next phase.


28 November 2010

This just in: I didn't do Nanowrimo after all

But maybe there's a good reason I didn't leap into a new project just now.

After a couple of days, my high-concept story idea still felt like just a series of anecdotes and so I didn't push it but stuck it on the back burner to simmer (or leave the lid off the box and let the ants keep filing around -- choose your favorite metaphor). Not doing Nano this year was fine; this month I couldn't feel comfortable about making those 1,600 words a day a priority. I had other, more pressing issues: family business and starting to hunt for jobs again. So I let that idea sit, and there it is now, while my other book, the one I started last November and thought I'd finished in May but felt there was something missing, has started telling me more about its endings.

One of the things that caught my attention recently was listening to Marc Maron's WTF podcast. The title and podcast intro prepares you for the onslaught of F-bombs and some crude humor, but those aside, Maron is a discerning and thoughtful interviewer, who clearly prepares but lets things go off script (unlike, say, someone like one of my interviewing heroes, Ira Glass, who when interviewed by Marc Maron in a rare turn on the other side of the table said he writes everything he says on This American Life). Maron is a Los Angeles stand-up comedian who loves to talk with comics and humorists and other folks he knows or wants to understand. He is probably most famous at this point for his interviews with comedian Carlos Mencia, who trails behind him a long train of detractors who swear he steals other comedians' jokes. So in a two-part interview, Maron sits down in his studio (aka his garage) and confronts Mencia with his reputation as a joke thief. He manages to do this in a respectful and curious way, with great tact; he says he basically wants to know not only what Carlos Mencia's own take is on his reputation but also how the guy sleeps at night.

Now, it turns out Maron has had his own personal point of contention with Mencia. Years earlier, Maron had been headlining an L.A. comedy club one weeknight when Mencia came in. Mencia said, "Just let me go on before you. I'll do five minutes." Mencia performed for over an hour, as Maron tells it. Maron was so furious at being bumped off his headlining gig that he left the club before Mencia got off the stage. Maron reminds Mencia of this incident in the interview and pretty much gets blown off. "An hour? Really? I'm sure it wasn't a whole hour!" Mencia protests. But then Maron thinks about this interview with Mencia and feels unsatisfied. He decides he can't just put it up on his site like it's a normal one-hour interview, because he's been steamrolled to some extent, not given anything real. So Maron does a second segment, and leads it off by talking to some other stand-ups who have been bumped off their stages by Mencia, or saw him rip off jokes, either theirs or someone else's. Then Maron goes back to Mencia with all of this evidence that he really does steal material and act like a dick, as if to say "What the fuck?" one more time until he gets some from-the-gut answers.

At first Mencia tries to stave him off with the same old soft focus, but Maron presses him to explain himself. Mencia finally says he does it to get ahead in the business. And you can see it: his are acts of aggression that say, "Look, I am more famous than you so I can do whatever I want and you can't do anything about it." Maron is an appealing master of ceremonies because you can feel him: his ethics are like racehorses ready to bust out of the gates, all pent up with nowhere to go around this guy. The interview becomes such a surprise because it is not the chip-on-the-shoulder rehash of old accusations but an existential frustration with a failure to comprehend another individual's motivations and choices, an inability to empathize with another comedian's decision-making processes.

This is high drama, with real stakes for both of them, and you do understand by the end of the interview why each one of them can sleep at night (they are wired differently, Maron a mensch, a stand-up guy, in the best-man sense, and Mencia because that's what he thinks he has to do to make it in this street-fight of a world). Maron never says, "This guy is a thief and a parasite," a conclusion most people listening to the interview would expect him to reach. Instead he concludes that Mencia is a performer, not a writer, and too bad the guy thinks of it as such a dog-eat-dog world that he has to go around acting like he's all that because he looks like a dick when he acts like that. As you can see, I highly recommend these interviews. Certainly, not all of them are as dramatic or compelling, but Maron usually tries to go somewhere interesting with each of his interviewees.

Short story long, listening to those interviews gave me loads of ideas for my story. Over the past couple of weeks I've been letting all these ideas cook and meld and they are starting to taste like something, and reveal these arcs that weren't there before, the texture and fun of the storytelling part. It's exciting to feel that way about it. Maybe I liked those Mencia interviews because I'm wrestling with the same thing every time I sit down to write jokes for the story, and I am finding I need lots of inspiration from other folks who do it well. Once you've borrowed inspiration by listening to a bunch of comics, who's to say you can write anything truly original? Your comedy will always be colored by what you hear and what you like and what's funny to you and what everyone around you thinks is funny.

I'm psyched both to be finishing this book now that I know how to revise it and looking for work. I have a lot to offer. Let's see what happens!

Oh, and I'm going to do this nifty, fun reflection/intention project called Reverb10. It might help with everything I want to do right now.

16 November 2010

Quote of the day: We don't starve.

My children dictate my schedule--I have done vast amounts since they were born because they keep me from my desk and make me impatient to get back to it. I don't count words so much anymore, or note beginnings and endings. I work on several things at once, so there is always a file to open and no such thing as a blank page. I like working. What discipline I have comes from the fact that I don't do any of the other things I am supposed to do. Housework, personal administration--everything else goes to hell. My husband cooks. We don't starve.
--Anne Enright, in The Secret Miracle (a survey of writers' ideas and self-reported habits edited by Daniel Alarcon

05 November 2010

File under This is going better than I expected

It's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) time and I'm so very far behind! By the end of today, if I don't write more today, I will be three days behind. But having allowed myself to give up on completing the writing of my novel this year, I reread what I had written so far and decided to sit down and work on it some more just now. If any of you who know me read it you would know exactly what it is about. I had told my sister about an idea I had for a novel's gimmick--not that novels need gimmicks, mind you, but this actually seemed like an idea that would test the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, which I always think is interesting. My sister liked the idea, too. But then I ended up doing it with material I wasn't expecting to work with, yet.

So. We'll see. Will I have some big writing days and catch up in time to write the thing this month? I think of someone I know in Tennessee who writes 25,000 words in a day and wonder, who am I kidding? Will this take longer to work out than this month? I'm not sure it matters; I can't just put the story aside quite yet, now that I've opened the lid of the box a crack. The ideas in it are already busy like ants; I just have to watch them and see where they go. As I told my BFF, what am I going to say? "No, thanks, come again next year"? I don't think so.

22 October 2010


These days, I'd have to say my motto (and six-word bio) would be:

Getting sweaty is not a crime.

08 September 2010

I would throw it on the floor!

Since I quote this fairly regularly now, I'll just put it on my blog. It's from a Larry King Live interview with Julia Child that aired on August 15, 2002.

KING: I ... hate broccoli, hate it, wouldn't go near it, wouldn't touch it, what do you hate?

CHILD: I don't like cilantro.

KING: What is that?

CHILD: It's an herb that it has a kind of a taste that I don't like.

KING: Is there an everyday food you hate, like broccoli?

CHILD: No, I don't think so. I mean, if it's properly cooked and properly served, I can't think of anything I hate.

KING: So you'll eat...

CHILD: Except cilantro and arugula I don't like at all.

KING: Arugula?

CHILD: They're both green herbs, they have kind of a dead taste to me.

KING: So you would never order it.

CHILD: Never, I would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor.

How about you? Would you eat them, or throw them on the floor?

02 September 2010

Adjustments for sea-level bread recipes

I keep these guidelines posted so I can see them when I open the cupboard door to get baking powder and/or baking soda.

Adjustments for bread recipes at 5,000 feet/1524 meters

  • Reduce yeast or other leavening by 50 percent.
  • For each cup of liquid, add another 3 tablespoons of the same liquid, or water, milk. You can add another egg if you are making a tender dough, such as a challah, brioche, or sweet roll. (The alternative is a chewy dough with a substantial crust, as with the marvelously easy-to-make Speedy No-Knead Bread recipe.)
  • Decrease baking temperature by 25° F (13° C).*

Here's the link to my 20-slide "deck" from my IgniteBoulder presentation. Wow, was that some fun.

Adjustments for sea-level cake recipes at 5,000 feet

Adjustments for sea-level cake recipes at 5,000 feet/1524 meters

  • Reduce baking powder, baking soda by 50 percent.
  • Reduce sugar by 2-1/2 tablespoons per cup.
  • For each cup of liquid, add another 3 tablespoons of liquid (or an egg)
  • Increase flour by 2 tablespoons
  • Increase baking temperature by 15° F (10° C).*
Source: The High Altitude Cookbook by Beverly Anderson Nemiro and Donna Miller Hamilton, 1969

* Other sources say a rule of thumb is to increase the temperature by up to 10 percent (so a recipe calling for baking at 350° F would be adjusted to about 385° F). Remember to check the oven a little earlier than the recipe specifies whenever you increase baking temperatures.

Here's the link to my slides for my IgniteBoulder presentation on this topic.

01 September 2010

Hey, kids! Let's put on a show!

In a recent piece of writing, I wrote about the skepticism I grew up with and how over time I came to see things that had no explanations: communication between humans and animals, being able to see things in the future, and working affirmations. Tonight, as I pictured myself calmly fielding heckling from the audience with a smooth, "You don't need any more leavening, do you, dear?" I realized I was no longer petrified about the talk I am giving tomorrow night in front of a bigger audience than I've ever put myself in front of before. I had stopped saying, "Holy sh*t, Batman!" before each iteration of "I'm speaking at IgniteBoulder!" I'd finally started affirming it: "I'm speaking." And it became so. Well, is still becoming, technically, but if everything goes according to plan, I'm going to saunter up the hill on my bike and meet everyone up there and help put on a show!

19 August 2010

My, how things change

Our child bounded into the room after her first day of school and announced, Mom, today I learned how they took these groups of people, Group One and Group Two, and before a test, they told everyone in Group One, "You're really smart," and in Group Two they told everyone, "If you work really hard, you can do well on this test." Guess who did better? Group Two did! Everyone in Group One said, "I don't have to try so hard," and they didn't do as well on the test as the Group Two people.

I was delighted. I had heard the same thing, I told her. I had just read about the same study. And if she learned just that fact in school today, that was pretty good, I thought.

I didn't say this then but this study, which I read about in Daniel Pink's book Drive, felt like the nail in the coffin of the "self-esteem movement," really a giant social experiment perpetrated on youth back in the big-haired/tight-pantsed end of the millenium.

My co-self-defense instructor, Raquel, who went to Stanford, knew this when we coached the tween and teen girls at their yells and self-defense moves back then. Raquel probably knew it from being coached on the sports field, an experience I completely missed the value of at the time. (Nor would my parents have tolerated the costs -- social or financial -- of joining a team in our nonconformist family. It is still a marvel to me that my father was on a football team -- I have never known him as a team player. You should have seen my parents' faces when I begged for the money for a cheerleading outfit so I could try out for the cheerleading team. (In retrospect: Way to separate the haves from the haves-not, junior high football cheerleading squad!) I gave up on that fantasy within a day or two, and now you know something about the kinds of short-lived passions that have fallen by the wayside along with the long-lived ones I have nurtured.)

Raquel in those classes was able to find the vein of toughness in those girls quickly, in a way that I had no idea how to do, given my own dysfunctional background and social conditioning. Despite having recently completed a ten-week self-defense class and having just trained to teach self defense with the Stanford teaching/training group, I still knew so little about being strong, still lugged around plenty of the dysfunctional, codependent (another 1990s watchword that has fallen from favor) behavior that had compelled me to seek out self-defense training. I needed to find some ease in the world and to some extent I did.

Writing this is making me want to get out my training materials and make a class for local kids and families. Put all that training to use. It has helped me so many times, in so many ways, not just in deflecting unwanted attentions but also in sorting out what has something to do with me and what doesn't.

At the same time, I confess I've felt just a wee bit fired up about the coming change of season. Back-to-school time always affects me this way. September and February are the months when I have to take care to not take on too many projects. "So much depends upon the weather." It's weird because it feels great: All systems feel like they are firing and I am coming up with all kinds of fine ideas (a baking at altitude app, and a cookbook app to sell as a school fundraiser are the latest ones), but they are ideas that I would have trouble carrying out if there were three of me, given all the projects I'm already juggling at this moment. I had a good summer, organizationally speaking, but am not quite managing everything on my own personal list, like the household stuff. I haven't cleaned my daughter's desk or emptied out that one closet, or washed the windows (and I am wondering why? because these projects are no fun).

The best thing I did today was to take my research-fried brain to my writer's group meeting and announce I couldn't complete the task I had taken on, that I was the wrong person for the job. I was seeing too many options, and finding no effective ways to weed out what wasn't appropriate, and the task was overloading my circuitry. Before I had said much, one of the group said, "Do you need to not do this? It seems like you might be a little frazzled by it." I looked at her, felt a wash of relief but held back tears. "Thank you for hearing me," I said and then I couldn't help spilling a few of those tears. Later I said, "I feel like I am always coming to this group begging for understanding!" Another group member gave me a generous hug and said, "That you can have, in abundance!" And suddenly it's Oooeeee, I see abundance everywhere!

So I came home and instead of diving back into the intellectual puzzle that is Cloud Atlas I read the first pages of two other books I like so far (Jodi Picoult's House Rules and a collection of the kind of confessional essays I am a sucker for called The Bitch in the House. I'm trying to slow myself down, but still get a lot done. Make sense? I know. I'm not sure it does to me, either.

25 July 2010

Life used to be so hard

I let my child come up with the idea of the cats being her siblings, which she did in time, but I've never called them my offspring. I thought it was weird when people said, “This is Smiley. He's 15, and he's my only child,” which was often followed by a chin-scratch of the pet in question and an “Aren'tcha, my boy?” But we're all guilty of anthropomorphizing around here, I know. We are always asking our daughter to back off on certain behaviors because “He doesn't like that,” or we simply know things from experience: “Cats like to chase a toy you move just out of sight. They don't like it when you run at them with the toy.”

And our youngster insists that our tolerant boy-cat, who, like the cat in the new children's classic, Olivia, by Ian Falconer

"When she got up, she moved the cat
And moved the cat
And brushed her teeth"

just lets her ferry him from floor to lap to couch. The other day I had to tell her again she can't ride him. He's a scant 15 pounds; she's 50. Plus, it's inappropriate.

But our dear gorgeous gray cat loves us all and lets us be who we are, enthusiastically accompanying us on our bumblings through daily life and love. He has a fragile peace with our ancient crone of a kitty, the true alpha kitty, that little black scaredy-cat who seemed so fragile but grew into the hardiest of the bunch, now about 100 in people years. She is the grande dame, reigning over our bedroom. She sleeps in the trench between us on top of the bed (snug but still scaredy), while the gray boy sometimes sleeps where he can see who's in the yard, or sometimes joins us all, sleeping in his spot at the foot of the bed, or yowls at critters or longings only he hears at those hours.


(That last was an accidental but appropriate insertion while I was petting the gray cat, and made me laugh so much I left it in there.)

27 June 2010

You put de lime in de coconut

My, but I'm a good cook. I don't like to brag, but I made something good today.

Tonight we had leftovers for dinner (my sweetie's been cooking a lot, too, which is super), and I devoted my energies to dessert. We'd had Key Lime pie in Florida and I had been wanting to experiment. I thought: what about using coconut milk? I went hunting for recipes but wasn't finding what I wanted. So I figured I'd build the pie I wanted. Then I stumbled into a recipe that I adapted to get coconut into the crust and was ready to go.

Coconut-Lime Pie

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Lightly butter a 9" pie plate.

Separate 5 eggs, putting the five yolks in a small bowl and three of the egg whites in a medium-sized bowl (save the remaining egg whites if you will use them for something else; they'll keep for up to a week in the fridge).

For the coconut meringue crust:
3 egg whites
1 tablespoon sugar
8 cookies (ginger snaps, graham crackers, animal crackers, gluten-free if desired)
1/4 cup toasted almonds
3 tablespoons softened or melted butter
1/4 cup toasted shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)

Beat the 3 egg whites with the sugar until the meringue forms soft peaks when you stop the beaters and lift them out of the bowl.

Process or blend the cookies, almonds, butter, and toasted coconut until the crumbs resemble coarse sand. Fold this mixture into the meringue. Spread the folded meringue mixture quickly and gently into the pie plate and up the sides. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the meringue crust is just starting to turn golden.

While baking the crust, prepare the filling:

Beat together or blend in a blender:
1/2 of a 14-oz. can sweetened, condensed milk
1/2 of a 14-oz. can coconut milk (Note: NOT sweetened cream of coconut)
5 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup lime juice
finely grated zest of 1 lime

Pour the filling into the hot meringue shell and bake the pie at 350 for about 25 minutes or until tiny bubbles pop on the surface.

Cool long enough for the pie to set (2 hours is best) if you can stand to wait that long before you eat it. (I couldn't. And then I tried some later, after it had set. It was even better.)

By the way, I froze everything I did not use except the egg whites. I froze the 1/2 can each of coconut milk and the sweetened, condensed milk; and I poured the remaining lime juice into an ice-cube tray to freeze for future uses. What if I put all of those things in the food processor with some avocado and some agave syrup? Hmmmm. Sounds like a good ice cream recipe, no?

20 June 2010

Here you are

Hi everyone, from the here and now.

One thing I've been meaning to write about is having recently received a request for participation in a geolocation-based social network, which I ignored for a whole mess of reasons, all peculiar to me. But the fact is, I like being where I am, but not necessarily telling the world where I am. Sometimes you can figure out exactly where I am. If I'm tweeting airport codes, it's usually because I am going from that airport to another airport any second. Usually, however, I rarely want to say where I am until I've already left. It was just a matter of time before someone aggregated all those geolocating foursquare updates as they did on PleaseRobMe.com and used them for ill. I have felt concerned from my first tweet onward about embracing a behavior that would enable such abuse.

Yet I know I delude myself if I think I'm invisible online, if I think my online persona is fully compartmentalized, discrete, from my IRL (in-real-life) persona.

But what must we shield to protect ourselves from that most insidious and hideous theft: the one that can turn a whole life around and throw it on the ground -- and stomp on it? What can and can't I say here? Am I taking a huge risk by saying anything at all? Finding balance is tricky for me in this area; I was trained to fly low, stay under the radar, be invisible, adaptable, take care of things instead of complaining about them. My instinct now is to pull back and clam up tight.

Yet. Another impulse I hardly understand rises up, rears its scaled, reptilian head and says I have to tell everyone about what the world looks like to someone who experienced all I did as a kid. So many people still can't believe it. Here is a memory of my dear old father: we went to see movies sometimes, and this time it was the double feature of Convoy, followed by Deliverance, Deliverance then repeated. I watched, with my father in the next seat and no one else in the car, the dreadful suspense, that terrible squealing scene, everything. Twice. And now I have to tell you because I can't stand having to keep that kind of stuff to myself any more. That's what I mean when I say "living out loud."

For years, I didn't believe that was the kind of thing anyone would call abuse. But when I was supposed to be feeling free and confident as a newly minted and educated adult, I couldn't understand why I felt so bad and carried around so much hurt, nor why all that codependent stuff I was doing -- the leaping to help, assuming responsibility where I had none -- just wasn't working for me anymore. Now I see why that wasn't working: I no longer had those dysfunctional people all around to jump in and mop up after. But I felt ashamed of myself for having that background, and all the deficits that entailed. I felt it just showed up how out of whack things were in my world, and I took that personally for a while.

Major edit, 24 June:
Rereading this post as I originally wrote it I think, My, what an internal argument I have going ("Say it! Say it loud!" "Shush!" etc.)! At first I felt embarrassed for airing this emotional response to a recent memory. But this is sort of the crux of my blog, isn't it? Why say it if I'm not going to say all of it? If some of it's going to be off-limits? Isn't that letting myself censor me before I've had the opportunity to state my piece? Or should I have just edited that second half into a separate post?

How about this: You be the judge! And the best comment wins a (smallish) Gomez t-shirt once worn by yours truly (but since laundered)!

13 June 2010

Good dog

When I look back on that time, I wonder how, and why, did we of all people have a dog? I was six and we had just moved into a communal household in Boulder. A couple of months earlier my sister had died. We were figuring out how to get along in this new town, so different from the northern California commune we'd just come from. Our eventful three years in California had all but wiped clean any memories I had of living in Denver three years before that. My father, mother, and I now lived in a three-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot house that already had three college students living in it. There was a hanging wicker swinging chair in the living room that I liked to sit in when I listened to my favorite records, by the Beatles and The Band.

Our dog's name was Pig. Pig was a barky, scruffy mutt, and a joy to be with. Pig was also a compulsive gnawer who left no shoe unchewed, which made our family unpopular with our housemates sometimes. In a black-and-white photograph from that time, I am playing in the backyard with the dog. My hair is in loose braids and I am wearing my brown dress trimmed with white rick-rack and the fringe on my Billy the Kid leather jacket is flying. I remember my dog and me smiling and free.

But I also remember how my father would find Pig in his way and kick her so hard she yelped with pain and surprise. She skulked after him, trying to win him over the way she had me, but he never liked her. He didn't see the sweet innocence that shone through her eyes. To him she was just a victim, a dog who was already as low as it could go and thus invited kicking, as in that awful saying about kicking a dog when it's down.

Which of course made me love Pig even more than I already did. But this made me scared to love her, too.

People we lived with learned about my father. They found out that he could kick a dog in front of a child, that he could and would yell at, threaten, or hit a woman. Soon we lived by ourselves, in a tiny, freestanding cottage we rented next to the owners' house. They were a family of seven: two Catholic parents and five kids, one my age, with a big color TV right in the living room and a cupboard full of sweet, crunchy cereals. You can imagine where I liked to pretend I lived when I didn't feel like going home. Some nights, the mom would knock on our door and threaten to call the police when she heard my father yelling, my mother screaming, or glass breaking. Usually my father would talk her down, but a couple of times the police did come to our door. Today, animal control and social services would be called in. Back then, my father just got warnings.

By the time we lived in the tiny house by ourselves, with only a rotating cast of cats for my father to kick around, we didn't have Pig anymore. I like to think one of our college-student roommates adopted our silly, sweet dog, someone like Spritz, who ferried me on his motorcycle (with my parents' blessing) to his family's house in St. Louis, dropping me into the midst of his siblings and parents, perhaps the sweetest, most wholesome family I'd ever met, for two blissful weeks of eating midwestern meals like hot dogs and macaroni and jello salads, riding bikes to the city pool, and watching horror movies all gathered around that big color TV in their family room -- their house was so big they had a family room! But I digress. Somewhere along the way Pig disappeared, and I still hold out a hope it was someone like Spritz who saw what was happening and rescued her from a worse fate.

Recently my mother brought up the subject of our dog Pig, inspired by my recent project of disinterring some of the storied bones of my past. She said I always had a strong code of ethics. She said: “Your father would kick the dog, or the cats, but you never did.” And it was true. I was their friend. I would let them sleep on my bed. I wanted to comfort my pets when my father had been cruel to them, and often felt paralyzed with the fear of what would happen if I were kind to them when he was angry.

Today I read an article in the New York Times Magazine about violence toward animals. The author, Charles Siebert, cited a veterinary forensics expert who asserted that animal abuse can represent “the tip of the iceberg” in a household, an indicator of an individual who doesn't respect spouses' or children's boundaries, either. I felt so sad reading that, for us and all the abuse we saw, and for all the pets I thought just wandered off or had been “taken to the pound” to be adopted out again by some other family who could take care of a pet because, somehow my father always turned it all back against us, the women and girls, and insisted we were the ones who had failed our pets and now had to suffer their loss. Now I wonder what really happened to them. As I unpacked more gnarly boxes of memories, I asked about our pets, and my mother confirmed that my father had “disappeared” some of them. I can't be sure what happened to them but I remember sweet Martha the calico kitty, who had her babies and vanished soon after that, and the burly gray beauty Billy Kitty, who “must have wandered off and gotten lost.” My mother told me a horrific story about a capuchin monkey he had brought home as a pet when I was very young and my sister was even younger.

A couple of years ago, on a vacation to the Mayan Riviera in Mexico with my family, I arranged for us to visit a little place in the jungle between Akumal and Tulum where they rescue monkeys that have been adopted as pets and abused or abandoned. They allowed us to go in a cage with the monkeys. They are amazing creatures, full of energy and childlike curiosity. When I first snorkeled, I feared I'd feel I did not belong in the undersea world, which instead was what I experienced with the monkeys. They couldn't just accept me and keep going about their day. They had to test me and mess with me and one of them leaped into the arms of my husband and launched into sweet talk for the next five or six minutes. Another soon had to be dissuaded from chewing on my toes and ankles. My daughter refused to go in the cage with them. I didn't blame her at all, but I was a lot bigger than the monkeys so was only a bit nervous, but not frightened. Later, we were walking under one monkey who felt slighted when I didn't give him, the alpha dude, the attention I had showed to his roommate; he grabbed onto my hair when I got near and would not let go. Ouch! My scalp stung for hours after, and the episode badly frightened my daughter. Suddenly I understood firsthand why the rescue people said they segregate the new monkeys for a long time before they allow them to mix with the established monkey population.

So I was taught some kind of lesson, got my monkey smackdown. But even after that painful experience, I wouldn't have dreamed of hurting one of them. (Nor would I be deluded enough to want to adopt one, thank you very much.)

On my last visit to my mother's, I watched episodes of The Dog Whisperer, which, like Law & Order, seems to be on most hours of the day. I immediately saw why she loves the show. Cesar Millan, the dog behavior specialist who is the show's star, understands the dog's mentality: he understands the need for order within the pack. So Millan goes around and rehabilitates dogs, and trains people, as his motto goes. Always, he seeks one thing from dogs: a calm and submissive state. The thing about Cesar is that he will outwait and outwit a dog to achieve that state. He will do anything it takes, and with some dogs it takes a lot. A few even get through his skin and unsettle him and he has to step back and start all over with that dog when his energy is back. As soon as I read that book by the real horse whisperer, about how you can turn away and let a horse know you trust it, to win the horse's trust, I knew it was true, and I've seen it since many times over since I read it. And while that piece of advice made horses more comprehensible for me, I admit to being nipped by the 12-year-old appaloosa mare my daughter was riding a couple of summers ago for not paying proper attention to her one day. To my credit, that horse's owner was also impressed when I noticed Shoshoni flinch when I touched one of her flanks when brushing her; it turned out she'd been bitten there by another horse a couple of days earlier.

With every passing moment I feel I learn a little more about true compassion from being with my cats, being around friends' dogs, and seeing my child adore animals – although sometimes her love is so smothery that I feel I have to protect the poor pets from her overbearing attentions. Whether the satisfying symbiosis of my relationship with pets is due to the increased flow of the “trust hormone” oxytocin, or a parasite some say cats infect us with that will ultimately compel us to let our cats eat our brains, either way, we seem to be stuck with one another. I find one of the best things about living without abuse is being able to love my people and animals as much as I want to, which turns out to be constantly, tenderly, freely, and deeply.

05 June 2010

The coinci dance

When we chose our daughter's middle name, which I choose not to reveal here for the sake of our family's privacy, I liked the idea of picking a name that had been in my family for several generations. The middle name we picked was the middle name of my cousin, my aunt, my father's mother, and her mother; my mother's grandmother even had a variant of the same name. It seemed like a lovely thing to give my daughter something that identified her as the fifth generation to share something in my family; for once, some continuity would originate in my side of the family, I felt.

Now I notice an odd little coincidence here: I know two people from outside this country with this name. A couple of years ago, I joined a writing group, and in this group is a woman from an Asian country. She has a lovely name that her parents gave her, but the name I learned first for her is the name she had picked as her "English name" because she thought it was pretty and would be easier for Americans to remember. This this name turns out to be the same name we picked for our daughter's middle name.

It strikes me as funny that I know two people, neither one born in this country, who have this name as their English names. Maybe there are many, many more than I realize, and this is a popular name among immigrants from other countries as well, but I prefer to feel lucky to have noticed this bit of happenstance.

14 May 2010

Funny feelings about finishing my first draft

I finally finished one! It was a surprise to me that it would come this quickly -- I had set a deadline of a couple of weeks from now, but I got to what felt like the end of my novel yesterday. Ever since then, I've been mentally standing on a hilltop and shouting/singing for joy (which right now is taking the form of an Ok Go song: "Every day is the same, we're praying for rain." Ironic, in this coldest spring almost ever in these parts). I even did something funny and clever to end the story, and I was able to let go of putting all the comedy in to "git er dun," as the Florida handyman's truck boasts.

It feels amazing, and not amazing at all. Now that I've reached an ending (I'm not going to say THE end yet), I am trying to catch all the things I said I was putting in (foreshadowings, habits like doodling daisy chains, etc.), fix all the holes, weave the characters throughout, and so forth. I started all kinds of things, but none but her story got very far. But it's also a third-person limited perspective story; if my emcee can't see or perceive it, it's not in there. So I just have to take a whole bunch of these descriptions and fill them with dialogue and description instead of exposition. And I want to see her play with those good characters again -- she started some nice friendships with people who all come around for her big moments. But like thinning plants -- pulling out flourishing sprouts just so some of the other sprouts can turn into big, productive plants -- it feels odd to stop her story there when there's so much more that would happen for this person. Which could mean it's a series, but maybe not. I still have two other novels and a memoir to finish once I'm done with this one!

So to write this I have had to retreat, hole up and find my own story. Now, to flesh it out, I must get out there to live and listen, tune into what I hear in my head, and bring the story up to that standard. But it's good to know what it is like to finish a first draft! Hooray! And on with the second!

29 April 2010

A thing worth doing poorly at first is a thing worth doing

I heard a good piece of advice about writing I want to hand along. It goes against what all our parents said to us, which was: "A job worth doing is worth doing well." That advice certainly helped me become more thorough about some of the tasks I took on. But in writing, that pressure to achieve early perfection may be misplaced. One writer says instead: A job worth doing is worth doing poorly at first. Think about it. This turns around the willingness to look silly or bad or make something unusable/unsalable/unpalatable at first. I can tell when I reread my writing that I made myself sit down and write some days, despite not feeling any clarity about where I was headed. Sometimes it works and sometimes it fails. But next to all the other successful and semisuccessful attempts, which can be improved in the editing, the failures stand out in relief and can be edited out.

It's a great power we have: the ability to edit. We all do it, all the time, whether we think of it as "editing" or not. Look out a window. What do you see? What do you include and what do you leave out when you describe your view from the window (such as power lines, signs, vehicles)? Look at yourself in the mirror. Stand there and look for an entire minute, without looking away. What do you see that you don't usually see? The ways in which we edit our worlds absolutely affect how we respond to them. Just like the bumper sticker says: "Don't believe everything you think."

Thinkering Institute: Beyond Newtonian laws

Here a glimpse of what's cooking here at my one-woman think tank.

Isn't that word Geronimo! about that jumping-off, what you say when you let go of the rope or run and leap past the edge, when there's no going back and you're in free-fall for what seems like an flash and a roaring eternity? That is how I'm feeling about the book I'm working on right now. I printed out all 61,000 words of it and read it in one sitting yesterday. It made me happy -- the story and the fact that it occupies a place in the world now. Sure, I see problems all over it, but they're all solvable; there's a whole and a reason for being and a bunch of interesting scenes and people to weave together, and a main character I am rooting for and hope you will too. It's all very exciting and there's still a lot to do. I figure I need about 10-20 more writing days to get to the end of the plot (and I may need an epilogue as well). I was just reading an interesting piece about how Joseph Campbell arrived at the idea of "bliss" (it's not quite what I'd thought: it's more like that Geronimo! moment). My friend Gever may have started me thinking about this when he recently posted about leaping off cliffs on his Tinkering School blog.

The jumping-off part of this project is my attempt to answer violence with nonviolence. My protagonist is still vibrating from the effects of living with the constant, continuous threat of violence, and it takes her a while to be able to conceive of any other way. But once she does, she never wants to go back to the other mode: it feels wrong and bad and soul-destroying. So she has to find a path, to learn to be more creative than everyone around her who just wants to get to the end of the story, to end the bad guy's story, an eye for an eye, tit-for-tat. I still am not sure how I will solve this riddle. There's a Newtonian action-reaction balance I am looking hard at. Is that equilibrium truly necessary or even desirable in this universe?

This led to thoughts of how we collectively value things, which of course made me think of Lawrence Weschler's book Boggs: A Comedy of Values, which is one of those books I think should be required reading for anyone who lives in a society and is capable of reading it. Because it's about living in society, I might not choose this as desert-island reading (I like Chesterson's response when asked what book he would take if stranded on a desert island: The Art of Shipbuilding). But I am living in a society that is having to think hard about individual and group values at this moment of economic recalibration, and violence is one of the things groups collectively condone or resist. Not only do we see a lot of violence in our media but many of us are also exposed to acts of violence in our private lives, whether being bullied at school or work, or suffering physical or emotional abuse at home. There's a certain amount of tolerance for violence and bullying, a sense that it can't be stopped. This is backwards I think, and also goes to the heart of our financial crisis. We've come to value some things that intrinsically have no value. We've colluded in endowing them with their power, and now we must dismantle this big facade and rebuild something more sustainable, supportive, and enduring.

Capitalists like to say we saw the collapse of communism a few years ago, starting with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan. I'm sure there are Marxists out there right now crowing about the crumbling edifices of capitalism, too. What I see is the end of an era of valuing money and might in the abstract and the specific. To survive the next era we are going to need to adapt and value other things even more highly: creativity, connection, love, innovation. More money and growth for their own sakes simply aren't sustainable values, in and of themselves. For example, I find it interesting that this country has corporate laws enforcing a growth-at-all-costs belief system that prohibit targets of corporate takeovers from resisting a merger, even if the merger would clearly weaken or destroy the target company's production or business.

I am doing a lot of reading at the same time as all this cogitating and writing the ending of my novel. One topic I am reading about is nonviolence. I have found some interesting things already, having just scratched the surface. I never knew this, but Gandhi said that he learned the path to nonviolence from his wife, whom early in their marriage he had first tried to bully into submission. It wasn't working, he said, and she showed him the path to nonviolence by teaching him that no differences between them made her deserving of how he was treating her. Then I read about how if one person is a tyrant but everyone agrees that person is a tyrant, there is no need to subdue that person because all of society can turn away from the tyrant. I see parallels in the degrees to which we as a society are willing to accept money and might as ideals and to look the other way as despotic rulers looting and pillaging the very things that gave them their strengths. Can't we all just turn away from those outmoded definitions of power and influence and turn instead to the power each of us has within us to do good in the world, to be of service to others and our own truths. What if we weren't all competing to be first to use up the last of the resources and instead were each of us supporting and encouraging the other in engaging with our communities and our very own selves?

26 March 2010

The food-obsession-shame spiral

I just read Ainsley Drew's blog post about being anorexic. It was honest and well written and intimately describes something I've been observing in and around me.

There's a cultural pattern in which so many of us are food-obsessed -- for whatever reasons: genetics, allergy issues, veganism, concern for the environment, etc. -- to the point of religious fervor (psychologists might even be tempted to call it "scrupulosity"). Ainsley Drew in her blog said what so many say these days: "I became obsessed with food and ashamed of my obsession." Just as she phrased it, it's all of a piece: the food-shame-obsession spiral. Much in our landscape today shoves many of us toward this obsession about food, whether it's the proliferation of organic food options, the detailed labels on food products, the fashion magazines, and the skinniness of our pop stars, just to name a few. It's a difficult tide to resist.

As I see it, having struggled with different dimensions of food obsession myself, all we can do is choose what to take into our bodies. Contrary to common wisdom (e.g., "Your body is your temple," which may not be so helpful right when you're in the throes of food- or body-obsession), we may have to learn how to be slightly less-vigilant gatekeepers. I see personal power and taking up space as elements of this, too, and think this is why more women and gay men are likely to fall victim to this strain of obsession. I think what has kept me from becoming anorexic is that I have learned to take up space and exercise my power in the world. I like having mass, presence.

For any of you who are struggling with food- or body-related obsessions, I wish you balance and health. Also, I would love to hear what has worked and not worked for you. Peace be with you.

25 February 2010

Hierarchies of needs

Here's a piece I just wrote for my writing group's February assignment, on "moving."

You say “write about moving” and I try hard to skirt the obvious and think about writing about dancing and discovering more about my physical presence on the earth every day, an aspect of my life I have come to treasure in my middling age.

Yet I can't help circling back to the fact that we moved a lot. Much more than most other people I knew. Even my daughter who was born halfway around the world has only moved twice, once to the orphanage when she was a newborn, and once to the house where we all live now. When I was a child, we moved, and moved again and moved some more, leaving one behind, forever it turned out, just like everyone said. We had so many addresses I couldn't remember them all, but my mother kept track, and wrote them down for me before we could both forget them, bless her soul. The longest we had an address during my childhood was three years. When I started going to kindergarten, I was amazed that most of my friends had lived in their houses for their entire lives. We hadn't even had a house some of the time.

Looking at the list of addresses where I've lived can be painful. I didn't have a special doll or stuffy to tote everywhere I went. I had my sister and my mother, but after a while I didn't even have my sister anymore. We dressed in clothes we found in free boxes, bought secondhand, or even found on the street. I was proud of my ability to sleep anywhere. Was it any wonder that, when my grandfather came to town and dazzled me with visions of debutantes dancing across the ballroom floor at the Brown Palace Hotel, I begged him to buy me a special doll, a brand-new one, even though my parents had explicitly instructed me not to ask for anything for Christmas?

Now I think about moving sometimes, but we chose well when we bought our first house 15 years ago. and I like its modest size; I can clean all the floors at once if I want to. I feel so fortunate to be where we are that I don't want to upset our happy apple cart -- I'm far more risk-averse than my parents were, I notice, as a parent and homeowner and free agent. I'm not as likely as I thought I would be as an adult to want to pull up roots and relocate. My husband and I did it once, for six months in Germany, and it was one of the most difficult periods of my life. Without the ability to translate, I was without my sense of humor and verbal agility, and often felt I didn't have much to offer. The heavy gray weather didn't help matters. The phrase “Out of sight, out of mind” would ricochet around my brain, making me wonder whether my friends were all forgetting about me.

A couple of years ago, I was seized with the idea that I should move with my family to India, we should get tech jobs, and write a book about the experience. I'm fairly certain more than one person or family have since gone and done this, and have written books or are making documentaries about it, which I'm a little surprised to find brings me relief. Ahhh, I don't have to do that!

The fact that my daughter has had some special needs has made me feel very fortunate to be able to get some help sorting through them and working with her. She would be a different person today if we hadn't been able to do that. What gets to me is: We didn't know enough to help my sister the way she needed help when I was a child. And what an opportunity this has been for my daughter; learning about her needs has helped every last one of us in some way. I didn't know enough when my little girl was tiny to know what she needed, although people tried to help me see it. I just did what I could, loving her and sticking close by, and trying (if not always succeeding) to find nonviolent ways to respond, counter to some of my initial instincts, which I knew were wrong but didn't have as much modeling to fill in for them as one might wish when one is suddenly spending many hours a day with one's little baby. When she started getting independent, e.g., walking, I started trying to push her away, too early for her abilities I now know. It turned out she couldn't see well. Now that she can, she is far less fearful about the world at large than she was when she was small. I was worried that she was so clingy; now I see how she couldn't always see faces, probably not enough to recognize whether people were friendly or hostile. Of course she clung to me; I always sorted such things out for her. Now she has more skills and we can support her better, instead of getting mad that she isn't like we were when we were smaller. Being able to provide her not only with love but also with stability and consistency closes some circuit within me and her and allows energy to flow where it hadn't been flowing before.

Will we move again? Hard to say, but living on a block with great neighbors, kids around my daughter's age, and great transportation options to just about anywhere, I have a hard time summoning any motivation to relocate. What a relief, another thing I don't have to do.

Oh, the places I've lived!

S. Columbine St., Denver, CO

S. Federal Blvd., Denver

Berthoud, CO

Gough St., San Francisco, CA

Julian St., The Rectory, San Francisco

Noe St., San Francisco

Pierce St., San Francisco

Cole St., San Francisco

Olompali Ranch, Novato, CA

Nederland, CO

37th St. & Baseline Rd., Boulder, CO

High St., Boulder

Canyon Blvd., Boulder-Mother and father separate, divorce

South St., Boulder-with father and stepmother

Mapleton Ave., Boulder-with father and stepmother

18th & Spruce St., Boulder-Mother

28th St., Boulder-Mother

15th & Spruce St., Boulder-Mother and stepfather

Bluff St., Boulder-Mother and stepfather

Broadway, Boulder-with father and stepmother

S. Boulder Rd., Boulder-with mother and stepfather

Vienna Way, Venice, CA-with mother and stepfather

UC Davis off-campus student housing, Davis, CA

Blake St., Berkeley, CA

Walnut St., Berkeley

Pilkington Ave., Santa Cruz, CA

Fair Oaks Ave., San Francisco, CA

Laidley St., San Francisco

Friends' apartment, Dortmund, Germany

Our apartment, Dortmund

Don & Joyce & Steve's house, Mapleton Ave., Boulder, CO

8th St., Boulder

Catalpa Way, Boulder

24 February 2010

Farewell, Lucille Clifton, or Why we don't critique content in my writers' group

My poetry teacher at UC Santa Cruz died recently, which undammed a wash of complicated feelings. I liked her poems, but the best thing about being in her class was the other writers I met there.

Once I was feeling comfortable in the class, I submitted a poem about being a child in my father's car while he drove us home from a party, drunk. Lucille Clifton, instead of critiquing my poem on its literary merits, attacked my content: "A father wouldn't do that to his children. This isn't believable. This couldn't happen."

Really!? This was astonishing news to me.

But you know how it is when someone tells you "This can't be done" or "No, you are dead wrong on this"-- and you just have to set them straight. I was so flummoxed at first by Lucille Clifton's reactions to me and my work that I deliberately didn't pick up my final critique from her, which in a way was just hurting myself because now it means I probably only have a couple of those poems from long ago. Miz Clifton, I now see more clearly, had a chip on her shoulder about discrimination and privilege, understandably given our time and place. I am guessing that to her, most of us at UCSC appeared to be just-weaned, still-sniveling symbols of privilege. She asked aspiring poets who wanted to take her class to write about a time when they were in the minority. She barely believed me when I said that being from a hippie family made me different from my peers, even though I felt those differences acutely every day that I was in school or watched television or had some other opportunity to see how other kids my age lived. I believe she had in her mind a notion about what it meant to be a hippie that didn't quite match my situation. I didn't know enough about the way things were to explain that I wasn't talking about being the kid of privileged parents who had decided to chuck the whole establishment scene, but rather was talking about being a kid of a sociopathic father and a manic-depressive mother. Now I know, and I still feel a need to set the record straight.

I only worry that all this dwelling on what happened is giving me some kind of chip on my own shoulder. I feel compelled to record each new set of revelations, and I keep hoping that process will make it easier to leave behind me. But I haven't fully been able to name what has been whittling away at my shoulder all these years, and I now I can.

Not only can things happen that way but they did, to me. Bless your heart, Lucille Clifton, for not having the capacity to see evil in a father's heart, but I did. And if you are willing to listen, I'll tell you how it was.

17 February 2010

Being us

Every now and then I'll say:

"I love Prince!" or some other equally grand declaration.

My sweetheart will challenge me: "I think you just like the idea of Prince."

But here's the thing about the Princes and the Lady Gagas and the Johnny Weirs of the world: They are doing their best by being most true to themselves. I felt that way the other day watching the Oprah episode about the woman who went from being Tim to Kimberly. She documented it in a fascinating documentary film Kimberly made about her experience switching genders that I attended at BIFF last winter. Oh, and by the way, Kimberly is a lesbian now, and has a partner. Oprah, bless her pointy little soul, really tried to wrap her arms around the transgender thing but couldn't quite let herself go there, so offered Kim's story in her "be your best self" format. Oprah celebrated that Kim was able to go back and become friends with her buddies from the football team for which she'd been the star quarterback, back in the day when she was a boy and feeling like she was in the wrong body. Oprah brought Kimberly's mom on the show and told her face to face she wished she'd told her about her feelings earlier. Not much outlet for thoughts like that in Helena, Montana, up to the point where he made the leap to being she.

But today, Kimberly is living proof that being yourself can change things for the better, and offer others a broader view, which is why yes, I really do like Lady Gaga. And I flat-out love Prince.

05 February 2010

We're baking with electricity now

Making that delightful no-knead bread has been quite an experience, one that has made me think about what it means to make your own food. I remember lots of baking in my childhood, my mother's and when we lived in communal situations she always helped cook. I thought the kitchen was always one of the most interesting places to be. My mom baked for a living after she and my father split up, making pies for restaurants with a friend, and then as pastry chef at Caribou Ranch. She baked healthy breads, adjusting as needed for the 8,000-foot altitude, and even concocted wholesome meals and wedding cakes for the crews of musicians who came up to make their records.

When my husband and I were young and living in the Bay Area, we were turned onto Greens and ate at Chez Panisse and Jeremiah Tower's restaurants and and it turned out that we were living in one of the epicenters not only of a major earthquake (Santa Cruz, 1989) but also of a revolution in the way huge swaths of the population were starting to see the food they consume and the chefs who prepared it -- chefs have in subsequent years been recognized as more than cooks but as curators of food. Our batch of early health-foodie revolutionary tracts -- one of the Moosewood Cookbooks, Laurel's Kitchen, a copy of Adele Davis' Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit that I never used, intermingled with The Joy of Cooking and the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook and the New York Times Cookbook as the cooking canon of our time and place, one of the very best was the lovingly compiled Tassajara Bread Book. I have enjoyed recipes from other Tassajara cookbooks, but there is an attitude of calm support and peace with the natural proceedings you are about to engage in that is unlike any other cookbook I have ever read or cooked with.

And so we made many loaves of bread and relished the scent and texture and experience, experimented with the balance of white and wheat flour, and loved the results, even when the proceedings seemed to take the better part of a day.

Yet, despite all that calming Zen baking advice, I was always concerned that I'd gone past the smooth-as-a-baby's-bottom phase in kneading my dough and into the tearing-the-gluten-bonds phase that would make my bread tough and chewy. Every loaf of kneaded dough I've made has made me fret about that.

So the no-knead dough was a revelation. I was suddenly more anxious about overhandling the dough when you hardly touched it except to spill it out of its bowl and fold it a couple of times and let it rest, then spill it into a piping hot dutch oven that you cover and bake for about 20 minutes, and uncover and bake another 15. It turned out I needn't have worried -- that dough is about the most forgiving, beautiful stuff on the planet. I have not worried once about torn gluten strands since I started baking this way, and if I feel like making kneaded bread, I know I always can. But I am far more likely to do this instead.

Crusty, Crackling, No-Knead Bread

This is my version of the Speedy No-Knead Bread recipe that the New York Times published recently.

In a deep bowl, measure and stir:
3 cups flour (or 150 grams)*
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 packet or about 1 tsp. yeast**

Pour in:
1-1/4 cups water (no warmer than 110 degrees F/44 C)
1/4 cup plain lowfat or whole-milk yogurt (or use all water if you wish to make this nondairy)

Stir the ingredients together for a minute or two, until you have a shaggy, sticky dough and all the ingredients are well blended. Scrape the dough down the sides of the bowl and cover the top of the bowl with a damp towel. If your house is chilly, make a place for your dough to rest by heating your oven to 200 F (95 C) for about five minutes and turning the oven off before you put the covered bowl inside the oven to rest from 3-8 hours.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, fold it in half once, and fold it in half again. (Expect a loose dough that barely lets you handle it.) Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap for 30 minutes. After 10 minutes, start preheating your oven to 450 F (235 C) and put your 6- to 10-quart dutch oven and the lid in the oven to preheat as well (be sure to unscrew and remove the handle on your lid if it is not heatproof -- many of them aren't. If you have to do this, twist a small piece of aluminum foil and insert it into the hole where the lid screw was to seal the hole because the steam from the baking bread is what initially allows the beautiful crust to develop).

After the oven and dutch oven are preheated, use a pizza peel or a flexible cutting board to gather up your dough and put it into the dutch oven. Bake on the middle oven shelf for 20 minutes. Remove the dutch oven lid and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until the loaf is a rich golden-brown.

Remove dutch oven and set it on the stove. Take the loaf out of the dutch oven and set it on a counter or cutting board to cool for a few minutes, if you can wait that long before slicing and eating it.

*My current favorite blend is about 1/3 white winter wheat flour to 2/3 unbleached organic white flour.
**Fleischmann's or Star rapid-rise both work well -- and you don't have to proof them in warm water first.

30 January 2010

A decade

If there's one thing I could take away from this past week, and only one, it would be that the fire burning within is what we have, and it's up to us to stoke it. I am doing my best to devote time and energy to the work I want to do most, to put off the housework before I put off the writing. Everyone has much to juggle; I have less than many, but one of the tricky things to keep aloft is my own ambition, my need to tell these stories.

It's not easy to spend so much of one's time doing something -- striving for some kind of mastery -- that is largely invisible to everyone. In Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000-hours concept, if you spend eight hours of every day doing one thing you wanted to master, it would take you 1,000 days of practicing to become really good at it. That's eight hours every day, which almost never happens. So double your 1,000 days, or more realistically quadruple them, and maybe you're talking about 10-12 years to achieve mastery, unless you are blessed with lots of time every single day for your practice. Or you set a specific goal: a novel by a certain deadline, a marathon you want to complete, and you structure everything around meeting that goal. That's how I haven't been thinking but how I'd like to switch.

This practice feeds me, too: I feel so grateful for every day and every minute I can write. And dance, love, walk, be here, be with you.

21 January 2010

I kissed some foot on twitter today

Ruhlman is the what-if-John McPhee and M.F.K. Fisher-had-a-lovechild of our time in his full absorption in all things cooking related, and I'm such a groupie.

I can't help it. I'm a tad aflutter: Michael Ruhlman thanked me today when I paid him a compliment on twitter. I'm reading his latest book, Ratio, and the book pretty much cemented the rock star analogy for me. (He also wrote a trilogy: The Making of a Chef, Soul of a Chef, & Reach of a Chef, good books all. Oh, and he helped Thomas Keller write his cookbook. Amazing. And his instincts are so true, so good; here he's come up with great formulas, great examples, and some amazingly yummy-looking recipes that I have yet to try out. His preoccupation with food is something I recognize; it drives everyone on one side of my family (every last one a gourmet-food seeker, crazy for the stuff).

I am raving about this book because I find it a rare thing, a fine and flexible reference tool in the spirit of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. It's more than just a cookbook but rather a liberating way to think about cooking, perhaps even a way to demystify cooking for a whole bunch of people. Once you have learned the basic ratios (and once you've procured a decent kitchen scale with a "tare weight" button), you have a great set of places from which to launch yourself, especially if you are a tinkerer like me who can hardly leave a recipe alone.

In contrast to Ruhlman, who is after some quintessential information about the best ways to prepare food, I keep circling back to what has become something of a new meditation for me: "What if I didn't have the best lunch possible but a good lunch?" What's the difference between best and enough? What does it mean that there is a gap? It doesn't necessarily mean I need to close the gap. I can have a good lunch without making things too fancy.

I heard a great thing -- at least the author of the book where I read it made me feel I heard it: In Beth Lisick's Helping Me Help Myself, Lisick talks about one spiritual guide, one of the people she consults for help in the course of a yearlong life makeover that involves taking the advice of America's most popular self-help gurus, one per month. Irresistible premise, right? I couldn't put it down. It was good, too: She's funny and sharp, if a little mean, which isn't surprising considering her hipster-than-thou life before her grand experiment (even her husband is a super-hipster -- his band opens several shows for Radiohead!) and considering her former disdain for outside expertise of any kind she has a refreshing willingness to submit to the logic of her new 12-pack of teachers. The one that struck me says to a crowd gathered to hear her communicate with people no longer dwelling in the physical world, "A martyr can only nail up one of his hands." I have been chewing on that one ever since I heard it. (And you, dear reader, deserve a prize for most tenacious if you've made it this far without rolling your eyes and clicking to the next big or little thing.)

In other news: The most popular exclamation I hear among the kids at my daughter's school is "What the...?" with equal emphasis on "What" and "the." And today I heard my daughter's schoolmate say "OMG," complete with Valley-Girl emphasis, in conversation. I'm not sure my kid knew what her friend was saying. I wonder whether her friend learned it from older siblings or from TV. I'm guessing the latter. It strikes me as extra ironic because the girl saying it is from a Catholic family. Wouldn't that be taking the Lord's name in vain somehow?

Oh, and there's this little circle thing we do with our knees, where we draw a circle with one knee and then the other. That used to be so hard. I could barely pick my leg up and drag it across my body. It still aches sometimes but today I was thinking, "Where would I be if I weren't doing this?" It's so hard to imagine, I don't even feel like trying.

14 January 2010

Current resolutions

Finish at least one novel
Earn money for writing
Be a better friend
Love more
Kvetch less
Use fewer exclamation points
Go hear some more live music
Make another film
Sing more
Write down lyrics
Keep on dancing

13 January 2010

A teaser from the new novel I'm writing

She'd bombed. Flamed out. Died. Big time.

“Everyone has to do it once,” they told her after, allowing her to bond with them over shared failures. “It's good to get that out of the way early.”

And: “Now you know how the worst night feels. If you can go back out there after a night like that and not take it too personally, you might have what it takes to make it in this hellish business.”

It made Lydia feel better to hear it. 99 percent of people who dream of this probably never ever try it, she thought, with pride. And it's weird but it's a freaking thrill and a half. She was unable to stop the smile from stretching her lips wide. By the end of the night her face had ached from all the grinning. She was high as a kite, soaring over her old life. Plus, she was funny as hell with all those new brothers. If that five minutes was the worst thing that ever happened to her, and she could even stand doing it again, she felt fine about that. If that were true, who knew, maybe she could be the next Seinfeld.

Lydia's secret excuse for her crash-and-burn of a debut was being in disguise. She cut herself a great deal of slack for it instead of beating herself over the head and concluding she was no good. Her material was pretty good, she thought, but it was trickier finding the way to deliver it, while trying on a whole new persona. She couldn't just drop the persona when her set was over like most performers, she quickly saw; if she wanted to snare the bird she would have to keep it up during the bantering-in-the-bar portion of the evening with the comedians' brotherhood after. She had to be Carmen Flame. She liked the joke of having red hair and being named something smoldering and Latin sounding.

It was like trying to join a fraternity suddenly being around all these guys kind of like her, odd balances of Introversion and Extroversion in the Myers-Briggs personality inventory. She hadn't quite figured out who she wanted to be with them yet. She hadn't yet connected well with her audience, or herself, which was making her feel less worthy of connecting with the accomplished fellows in this group, every last one of them (she thought) with more experience in a month than she'd had in her whole life.

Onstage, Lydia had been worried under her false bravado, which of course the audience sniffed out immediately, nosing her jokes as dispassionately as dogs poking around a pile of leaves while she died in front of everyone, afraid her delivery was rushed and trying not hold back from her inclination to be snarky, which she knew could turn an audience on her in a second. Fear made her sweat, drove her on. She dreaded being booed or hooked off the stage. She'd seen one club owner ring a loud bell or buzzer on the performers – they never knew which to expect – that startled each comedian into submission, abruptly ending their desperate not-quite five-minute sets. You could see the stress of wondering on every comic's face a few minutes into each set: Will my sound be a bell or a buzzer?

No mojo that time. Oh, well, too bad, she thought. But she sure liked the electricity and the instant camaraderie of it, and had felt more alive this night than at any time except riding through the country so busy with thoughts of what she might do when she stopped somewhere and started setting down new roots that she hadn't noticed she'd been singing to herself for miles, alternating between “This Land Is Your Land” and “My Country 'Tis of Thee,” the songs' repeating refrains in the background of her mind like Muzak at the supermarket.

12 January 2010

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light pop and everybody goes "Awww!”'- Jack Kerouac

This inspires me and also makes me recoil, all at once. I'm still immersed in judgement about candles that burn bright, the ones who suck all the air out of the room -- you probably know someone, at least one, like that, right? But I also want to be that passionate about my work.

That said, time for dance class!


11 January 2010

All those channels

A Facebook friend had a question: "Does anyone get this cable channel? We don't and we hear we're on TV."

Sorry, can't help, I replied. No cable. We keep a TV downstairs, mostly for movies. I usually have one show I'm interested in at any given time, sometimes two. Now they are "So You Think You Can Dance" and "Glee," which I made a feeble attempt at watching religiously. They have since fallen off my schedule and I rarely remember they're on at the right times.

The Mister of the house likes to say, "We don't get TV," which isn't strictly true, as he's carefully edited our setup to get the most out of the new digital broadcast signal. But even with the new, improved picture quality and channel selection, there's still hardly anything on broadcast TV.

We haven't had cable in about 20 years -- it was still on for a while after we moved into our little cottage on the hill in San Francisco, but after it finally got turned off, after three months or so, we just never opted in. This fact was remarkable if you consider the sheer number of mailings from the cable company we received over the years (I can't count the number of times I thought, "Oh, this looks like a pretty good deal"). Plus I spent some of my formative teen years with a parent who thought cable was a necessity, and there is always the allure of the premium channels on our friends' TVs and on vacations.

But the deal was never good enough to tip it toward entering into a contract. Because like sex, there was no going back. I knew that much. Once we had cable, we'd deem it a necessity everafter.

I recently read that Bobby and Danette Stuckey of Frasca fame don't have a TV, so couldn't watch Bobby's "Today Show" appearance or Lachlan's "Top Chef" episode at home. Is it a trend? Or three parallel anecdotes?

If I had cable I'd be less likely to update this blog. I'd be less likely to make progress on any of my novels. I would be less likely to read as many books, which might just mean I'd be that much less interested in writing one. But lately I've been reading good ones that make me want to tell stories that are this enriching and enlightening: Lorrie Moore's Gate at the Stairs, Michelle Huneven's Blame and Michael Ruhlman's middle book of his Chef trilogy, The Soul of a Chef, plus the usual Michael Connellys and Anne Perrys and such liberally mixed in.

I always wonder when I see those surveys saying the average amount of time people in the US watch television is more than four hours a day, who has that kind of time for TV-watching? I guess if you watch it for an hour in the morning as you ready for your day, and then you have it on in the background and then watch a little prime-time, a news show, and some of the late show, you're there. But that's a lot of noise in your life!

I've learned a few things from television (a topic for a future blog post), but in the balance the box gives back so little of the time I invest in it, relative to everything else in my life. Now that I've written today (earlier I started Book Two, or Chapter 51, of my novel, Time to read--about Fat? Milk? Kenny Shropsin? Best Friends Forever? Heidi Julavits? Haruki Murakami writing nonfiction? Ahh, choices, choices.

06 January 2010

Food and faith

So cozy inside.

There's a storm brewing outside -- it got worse by the minute as I dropped my child at school and returned home after. Nothing falling, yet. And the ground covered with awful ice patches everywhere. Hips will shatter, should snow fall on these lumpy slicks lurking all around.

So: my next writing goal is revising and extending the rest of my current novel. She is poised on the brink of a sting operation, in catching him at his own game. I need to work out the details about her MO (modus operandi is the Latin phrase called out by the acronym).

And then a turning point, where she realizes she doesn't want any part of his game, and mirroring his behavior to trap him at what he will do anyway is not only unfair but also morally wrong and she can't do that another minute or her life might as well just be declared wasted. She has to live her life instead. She can't keep on reacting to his madness; she wastes all her own resources trying to keep up with him. And she never can, because he's miserable with what he's become but can't give up being a bully with all the power it brings him.

That's the emotional plot line. Now to scene-out the mechanics. That's what's next.


It is sad to lose a generation. There is always the death of what might have been for those in a branch that chose to live far from their mothers instead of near. So many stories we never heard, never let ourselves hang around long enough to get to know everyone and be a part of.

That happened before I knew it when my maternal grandmother died a few years ago. But that was never offered. She wasn't accessible in any real way -- she'd just blow into town every few years. Or once we went to see her on her turf, in Barcelona, and she led us to the place listed in our Let's Go book as the most rock-bottom cheap but decent food in all of the city, where you could eat a hearty meal for $4 in the midst of all the hoity-toity tapas bars that line the streets and keep the city humming every night. We ate there with her apologizing for the place but the food was good and cheap and we bought hers. I remember meeting her for lunch at the Emporium, across the street from where I worked in San Francisco, near the Powell and Market cable-car turnaround, back when there was still a Woolworth's with a lunch counter and blue-plate specials. I think I harbored a notion that she would take me shopping, but she had the opposite idea and I bought her a scarf in the end. She'd found the least-expensive thing in there and made me buy her one. I had a job, after all, so I was surprised but gracious about it, if a tiny bit resentful. I got one shopping spree out of my grandparents, but have never had parents or grandparents who blew into town to take me shopping. Sigh; some dreams die hard.

I think of people like my grandmother, who seemed afraid to consume much to stay alive, and how my mother does the same thing now, and how others in my sphere are trying to teach me about self-negation, sacrificing for the good of all. My heart reaction to that is no! I know I have entered into phases of food paralysis, when my ideas about what is healthy change and I see food outside that sphere as something less than nourishing. It is a form of anorexia concerned with foreign or polluting foods. I still have it, when we go to someone's house and aren't comfortable with what they eat. My kid abhors McDonald's and I'm with her.

Not long ago I read and started passing around a funny memoir, Jenny Traig's Devil in the Details, about a woman hitting puberty and entering into a life of scrupulosity, obsessiveness over process and correctness. Traig was half Jewish, and at the moment puberty struck, she dove into her religion, especially around food preparation and bodily functions. She had obsessive-compulsive disorder and this was where she expressed her depth of feeling and commitment: to eating correctly and handling food correctly, in observance of Jewish dietary laws about mixing meat and dairy and keeping a truly Kosher kitchen. (And bathroom.)

There was that Aha! when I read about her challenges; I remembered trying a diet when I was 13 that involved a lot of hamburger and pineapple, and thinking everything else was bad and having a hard time starting back up eating other foods again. And then learning about people's challenges with gluten, I wanted to believe it could help our kid with her mood swings, or could cure me of inflexibility and joint pain. And suddenly wheat seemed to be looming everywhere. We caught out a waitress who said no, hoisin sauce doesn't have wheat in it. We Googled it on our little phone.

But for a while I didn't believe in wheat. Now I am just more aware of it as one grain we eat. I tire of it and have to make something with this blend of gluten-free flours I've developed. I like to take occasional breaks from our monoculture wheat culture. So I make banana bread with gluten-free flour. Crepes with buckwheat flour. Those beautiful panisse sticks with garbanzo flour.

Sometimes with food as with nothing else, it's hard to know what to believe in.

03 January 2010

No sharks allowed

I was in the car listening to a Led Zeppelin song on the radio, loving the intro and how beautiful it was but simultaneously dreading the bridge, which turns the song into something else entirely -- something else, as a woman, to be dreaded. It's that energy that says, "I'm full of lust and I'm not taking no for an answer. You're in my path and I'm comin' at ya, ready or not."

I just thought for the ten-thousandth time how much more I would have liked those guys if they could have done more than a song or two that was simply beautiful and not full of all that pushy "baby, baby" energy.

Then I opened the New York Times Book Review to discover there's a new biography of them that to hear the reviewer tell it leaves out much about the music and rehashes the gnarly details of their decadent rock stardom. There's some hideous incident involving a woman and a shark that I can only imagine. A bandmember pooh-poohed all that, though, saying they'd only done all that nasty business "for a laugh." "The thing I remember most from that time was the laughter," he said. I wonder if all those women remember the laughter the same way. Ick.