Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cookie Glut

This has been an especially heavy Christmas for cookies; it's a Cookie Glut, really. There's a tradition to pass out collections of homemade (or not) cookies to those you're happy/obligated to give to but not willing to spend much braintime figuring out something more personal. Like your landlord or your co-workers down the hall or distant relatives. Distant in the sense of not close as in, can barely stand being in the same state together. And face it, most adults we know seriously lack for nothing. Except cash, home equity and maybe a job or two in 2009, none of which I can grant. But I digress.

This year we received no less than five containers (large Tupperwares) of homemade cookies, all of them delicious and all of them welcome, but it's a bit much. I mean, I can't turn them down, I love them (esp. those Russian Teacakes, honey, you know those are gone) but the two of us can only eat so much, even if we needed to rack up another ten pounds in the next two weeks. But with no teens in the house now (they are both young adults and in home-spaces of their own), we don't have those extra appetites (or the extra friends with appetites) lurking around, ready and eager to perform cookie-sweeps at the drop of a hat. Lordy, lordy what I really need are five teen boys who can wolf down a very large platter of cookies over the course of a short afternoon. And then ask what's for dinner. You laugh. I have it on tape.

Usually, I'd send the extra goodies off with the Spouse to share at work but it seems they all are suffering from Cookie Gluts of their own. And when hardwood floor installers have trouble sucking up a bag or two of cookies, you know they are getting plenty on the side. In fact, one platter of cookies came from one of those fellas (or more accurately, his wife). I guess it's bad taste (ha, ha) to send them back to the source. Drats and dagnabit. Looks like the squirrels will get lucky this year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Six Sentences

You've heard of, if not written, one of those Six Word Novels, right? Like Ernest Hemingway's : "For sale: baby shoes, never used." Or Augusten Burroughs': "Oh, that? It's nothing. Not contagious." (Here's some more at Perpetual Folly... an older post but worth the visit. The blog, too.)

But what about a story in six sentences? More words -- should be easier, n'est-ce pas? You'd think. What I can tell you is that it's absolute fun. And once you've written a keeper, you can submit it to Six Sentences, which just so coincidentally publishes only six-sentence stories.

This is such a cool idea and the site (set up as a blog) is easy to read. The submitting is easy, too, just an email. Really, there's no darn excuse. Quality ranges in the submissions from freakin' fabulous to hmmm but they're all stories in six sentences, every one.

But wait, wait, there's more. If you can whip up a six-sentencer in the next 48 hours, you can make the deadline (Dec 31st, midnight) for their second print volume of Six Sentence Stories. Volume One is due out in March. More info here.

So get a move on, get your pencil flying, your keyboard clacking. Write them fast, write 'em slow. Skewer your ex-boyfriend, honor your dog. Include just enough description to keep us located. Find the sweet spot of tension. Then submit.

... and when yours is published, send us the link! Yeehaaah!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Yet Another Writing Blog

Skipping around from blog to blog (a fabulous writing avoidance technique) has its own damn rewards. And this is one of them: Words in Place. It's written by Gay Degani who has some cogent thoughts about the process of writing, mainly that it's all about the seat-time. She refers to Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers and his contention that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to succeed in any venture. She also refers to Ron Carlson's book Ron Carlson Writes a Story, one of my absolute-can't-get-much-better writing bibles. Carlson has a version of the 10,000 hours concept; for him it's getting to your tenth short story. Not that you'll be an expert at that point, but you'll have wrestled with most of the elements of fiction. And aren't so nervous about the whole process. There are other neat things and links on the blog; check it out.

But now I gotta get Outliers. Thanks the goddess of indie bookstores for the two Gift Certificates the merry little elves left under my pillow for me. Yeah, they were a little confused this year. Could have been the punch and rum balls we left out instead of the milk and cookies.

Secret Santa Literary Style - unpacking the present

My Literary Secret Santa gift arrived in inventive & inspiring packaging wrapped around a book equally so. Or so it seems from the few times I've been able to dip into it. The full-on roar of the family events has begun to subside, so now I'll get to all the reading that came my way. Not to mention some of the books that I gave to various family members that I intend to read before they take them back to their house!

Anyway, many thanks, Secret Santa, this is a cool surprise! btw, the packaging in on the left and the book itself is on the right. Isn't the photo on the package too cool?

Monday, December 22, 2008

There are times when Christmas is laid right out at your feet.

And other times when it arrives by post, i.e. the Winter Fiction issue of the New Yorker. Five new stories! I feel rich!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Craftier Than We Even Thought

Radio, supermarket checkouts, furious flying emails, holiday and graduation parties: everywhere the talk has been about Obama's surprising move in choosing Rev Rick Warren for his inaugural invocation. Didn't sit well with many of his supporters. I have no love for the Reverend myself and am rather offended, to say the least, as were most of the people I came across. But. This is no casual move on Obama's part. I suspect that he's quote deliberately setting the tone of his administration from the very first moment. A tone of tolerance and acceptance rather than exclusion and demonizing. He's going to bring everyone, regardless of their position or viewpoint to the table, even if he disagrees with them, and get them to acknowledge each others right to their ideas and viewpoints. Or at the very least, be civil.

Tolerance goes both ways, I hate to say. Obama probably doesn't see eye-to-eye with Rev Warren on many issues, or even on any. But he's willing to listen to everyone, as he stated repeatedly during his campaign. Rev Warren certainly doesn't agree with Obama or his supporters. But that doesn't mean he must be shut out. That's the old way. We have to get past this all-or-nothing type of thinking. We have to be able to acknowledge that we all have our different viewpoints and opinions and come up with tolerant, inclusionary solutions for everyone rather than the current it's-my-way-or-the-highway.

Obama is way smarter than we think. I think he's capable of true Christian compassion, of being able to say: I don't agree with you, but I respect you; I think you are wrong, but to and for yourself, you are right. That's a toughie, isn't it? To fully grasp that other people have right ideas, too. And not all right ideas are the same ideas. Very post-modern. I think he's going to work hard to get us out of the dichotomies we are so stuck in and move us to higher ground and a higher discourse. This is his strength, this is how he operates. These are the true skills of a Community Organizer. And it will be a very new way of doing business.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Classes in Petaluma

So here's the deal. I'm leading two classes this coming spring through Petaluma Parks and Rec, held at the Luchessi Center on North McDowell Blvd. Both are on Tuesday nights and will run in 3 five-week sessions. "Forms of Fiction" goes from 5:30 to 7 p.m and "Writing Nature" from 7:30 to 9 p.m. In both classes we'll work on the craft of writing and write, of course. In "Forms of Fiction" we'll concentrate on different ways that fiction is shaped and try out a few formats for ourselves. In "Writing Nature" we'll develop personal essays based on our observations of the natural world around us. Freewrites will be involved in both classes, so bring paper and your favored pens or pencils.

If you're interested, this will take you to a page with links to the Activity Guide and Online Registration.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


... would you do if your creativity died? How would you resuscitate it? Whump it upside the head, perhaps? But it would just sulk for days afterward. Not a good solution, that.

However, a few people offered better solutions on the Searchlights and Signal Flares page in the latest edition of the online Tiny Lights Journal, including myself. In fact, I was invited to be the featured writer on the question, not that my solution was much better than the one at the top of this post. But check it out and see for yourself.

And while you're at it, look around and find the upcoming question (How do you get started?)and consider posting your own reply.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cool little writing blog

In the daisy-chain manner of the interwebs, I stumbled upon, no wait, that's a real site, I happened upon a CLWB (a cool little writing blog)titled The Bookshelf Muse. It's a compendium of so much writer-ore, I haven't even uncoverd the half of it. The two writers, Angela and Becca, have developed (I think they've created it: I haven't seen anything else like it, but I don't get out much) a whole slew of Thesuaruses, Thesuari? based on settings and emotions. Sounds odd, but it is soooo cool. A Setting Thesaurus is a list of everything possible thing that one might see, hear, feel, smell or taste at a given location, such a kitchen or hospital. An entry in the Feeling Thesaurus will list the many ways a feeling might be expressed in the body. Seems like a great resource, to me.

There's far more to the blog than this, so go check it out.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Two Classes in Spring

Yep, it's official; I'll be teaching two classes this spring! Tuesday nights: "Forms of Fiction" from 5:30 - 7:00 p.m. and "Writing Nature" from 7:30 to 9 p.m. $50 for a 5 week session. This is through the Petaluma Parks and Recreation Center, which means it will be dependent on folks signing up. So I'm spreading the word far and wide, wide and far...around Sonoma County that is. Sooo...if you know someone who might possibly be interested, or who might possibly consider being interested, direct them here!

Folks should contact me though the Comments section until the official Petaluma Parks and Recreation Spring 2009 Activity guide is posted. Then you'll be able to enroll online and all that good stuff.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Secret Santa Literary Style

If, like me, you're always ready to share/recommend books and cool journals with all and sundry, here's a neat idea: The Literary Secret Santa. Don your red suit, round up those merry little elves and direct the dog-drawn sleigh to your nearest Indie bookstore for a treat of anonymous giving.

Of course, working in a bookstore gives me some advantage in the pushing-books-on-strangers process, but it's easy to pick up. Trust me, you'll enjoy it.

Oh, yeah, check the link attached to my title for all the details.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Etruscan Dysfunction

Lately, I've had a plugged-up ear that's been driving me crazy; it came with a spate of dizzy-spells, a touch of queasiness and a pervasive, all-around crankiness. When I finally got around to seeing a doc, she prescribed heavy-duty antihistamines for my Etruscan Tube Dysfunction.

Wasn't sure I'd heard it quite right but it did explain my sudden interest in root vegetables and seared meat. I also had an inclination to lounge on the settee during dinner, secretly hoping my sweetie would feed me small bites and grapes while toga-clad musicians strummed lyres and tootled double-barreled flutes in the background. Roasted wild boar for Thanksgiving, why not? If it was good enough for the Etruscans, should be good enough for us.

But then, what about this "tube" business? Had I just narrowly missed switching my wardrobe to include tube-tops and tube-socks (not a sight for the faint of heart on either account), signing up for tube-a-thons down the raging Russian River, shifting to a diet of sausage, carrots, bread sticks? Penne pasta would count, yes, but what about burritos? I could only hope.

I mentioned my concerns to the doc, who at first looked quizzical, then perplexed and finally laughed outright.

"No, no," she said, "Eustachian Tube Dysfunction, the tube that runs from your ears down into the back of your throat."

So. Great. Now I'm Etruscan and I'm going deaf.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Night Songs

Once long ago, on a dark, crisp night near the end of summer, when the snap in the air presaged fall and the stars blinked on before we were sent to our cots for sleep, we kids lounged against the pines, trying to squeeze every last moment out of the day. Glancing up, I gasped: the aurora borealis, those glowing neon curtains, wavered over the lake. Sheer, celestial beauty; a singing of light. Even now, my insides get fluttery with the memory. I wanted to stay up all night, every night to see them. But they did not always show themselves, even as far north as we were. And so some nights, many nights, I’d be put to bed disappointed. Sometimes I cried, an inconsolable 8 year old, the bitterness of not seeing them overshadowing the times I did.

I was young then. And though decades have passed, I’m not really so much older. I still seek beauty during my day, dream of it at night. I’m still hurt, sometimes devastated, when I can not find it.

This does not mean that beauty, those electric celestial curtains, the muscled fabric that stretches through time and contains all space, isn’t there. Just that I have not sat still enough to touch it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Resident for this President

This morning I realized that for the first time in 8 years I could stand to read the paper. I know the news is not all that pretty, but finally we have a real president, someone who can handle the situation, rather than make it worse. Someone who gets the big picture. I mean, doesn't Obama look presidential? sound presidential? act presidential?

I won't have to move to Canada, after all.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yipppee kiy YAAAAAYYY

Okay, we can all breathe again.

I've been mulling over this Obama-phenomenon for a few weeks(an eternity in the blogosphere, sorry), thinking about why I, my kids, my co-workers, shop-keepers, grandparents, professors, maintenance workers, voters of all stripes and inclinations are drawn to Obama -- President-elect Obama!

There is the historic aspect. That can't be denied, esp. for us older folks, who suffered through those terrible years when humans acted like animals, beating on their own kind; we who witnessed the horror, the bombings, the dogs, the malevolence, even if we didn't experience it directed at us first hand. The pain still resides, but maybe it no longer abides.

But for younger voters, race was really not the issue. Obama speaks to them directly about their desire for a more honorable country, for a country they can beleive in. He understands the way technology is embedded in their world, the economies they live under. He knows the power of many minds linked in a common cause; he understands that with the internet, a true grass-roots organization can function. Not only understands, but uses effectively, brilliantly.

Obama, in his run for the Presidency, brought honor and dignity to the campaign and to our nation. He knew that we are tired of the name-calling, fear-mongering, excluding world view of the old-style politics and the older minds. Obama understands we are a pluralisitc society and we are proud of it. He gets that young people often didn't vote because there hadn't been anyone to vote for. He operates with an attitude of respect for all, even his opponents, rather than hatred towards some, and I think this is his true nature. In that respect he's more of a Christian than the current, sitting (lame-duck) president and others of that ilk.

Obama has a vision for this country that honors the principles and ideals that created it. To me, he ran not so much because he wanted to be President (although I'm sure that desire is there, too, otherwise...how could one put up with the ordeal?), but because that was the way to re-instill these values, to re-set the nation on our course,to return hope to our country. He wants to revive that combination of acceptance and opportunity that makes this country great, fabulous and unique. He means it when he says that in no other country is his story possible and we all know that to be gospel.

McCain wanted to be president, period. In the end, he sold out, resorted to doing anything to accomplish that. That's when he lost the nation's respect. He used smear tactics, he fed into the hatreds of immature, unsophisticated voters, he pandered to the right-wing evangelicals. (I can't call them Christians when they hate others so much.) And who won? Perhaps now, the Republican Party will understand that the rightwing evangelicals are a splinter group. That they don't represent America or American ideals in the slightest. That there are few young Republicans for a reason.

Only in this country is his story possible. Only this country can redeem itself so spectacularly.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

President Obama!

Here we go...

I just can't take it anymore and I know you all are going bezerko-nutz, so here's a link to a sweet news story from Dixville Notch, New Hampshire: First Voters. I think they have the right idea.
One down, several hundred thousand to go.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Eve

It's been a day of spitting rain, soggy coats and a sudden rainbow at 4 o'clock. As we drove home from work, the sun slid behind an enormous bank of foaming clouds boiling over the horizon, obscuring the hills. Perhaps it was fog rising to meet the dissipating rain. Perhaps it was a whole new storm moving in to consume the hills, wash out the creeks and rivers, push debris to the ocean.

But there was no wind. The calm before the storm, perhaps, this election eve. For we, as a nation, are taking a collective breath, holding it, awaiting the results of tomorrow, all of us eager for a change in the political weather.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

We Stand for Change

The other evening, armed with my cell-phone, I went halfway across town to join about a dozen complete (though quite friendly) strangers to do some phone-banking. I can hear you now: "You did what? I can't even get you to go to the movies." Well, I did. These are desperate times. Faced with the specter of another Republican president, even us de-motivated, low-energy, depressed peoples are restless and unable to sit still . We've learned the hard way what can happen when we assume no one could possibly vote twice for the same idiot a village in Texas has been looking for. The village can't believe it either.

The house, tucked down a side-court off a minor cross road, was easily identified by the row of cars in front all sporting Obama/Biden spots, linked to corresponding signs on the lawn and in the windows. I was welcomed at the front door; the greeter took me to a table in the den for a 10-minute briefing. All around me, on the sofa, in every corner, in the two bedrooms and scattered about the back yard, women and men sat with phones to ears and a few pages in front of them. I found a recently vacated patio love seat, the cushions still warm from the previous phone-banker, and set to work in the quickly chilling air. We were contacting supporters, so I shouldn't have been so surprised when most of the people I talked to said they'd already voted, or contributed last week and/or were ready to join us for another round of calling this weekend. Still, I was charmed,encouraged and thrilled.

So where is this going? to this music video that I received today from one of the crew. Check it out. We Stand For Change .

If you think you hear some David Grisman influence, you would be right. Snoop around the Cast and Crew links on the video.

Another Limerick!

John McCain said " I've Picked Palin;
"We love Micheal" we said "We're all in"
But it's not Micheal, but Sarah,
and if that doesn,t scare ya,
it's a whole different kind of a Laugh In.

October 30, 2008 7:35 PM
submitted by Anonymous

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


A submission

Senator stodgy explosive McMean
picked Palin to be his new queen
150 grand to play dress up
weak interviews, troopergate misconduct
poll numbers heading down the latrine

by Anonymous...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Foaming Pipe Snake

You think I made that up, don't you? I'd love to take credit for such a fortuitous choice of words and images, but no. It's a real ad, for drains. from Liquid Plumr. Their spelling, not mine. Though,personally, I think some SNL writers are on the loose, creating chaos, having too much fun...think we can get away with it, in the "real" world?? I talking about the OG SNL writers, the ones who brought us Swill, the bottled essence of Lake Erie, Puppy Uppers, Jamitol, Bassomatic.

Maybe they're acting on a dare, maybe they want to see if we're paying attention, maybe they just want to give us some comic interludes.

Candygram, ma'am.


Three Limericks starring Palin and McCain

In Wasilla there once was a Mayor
whose knowledge of geography was, errr, fair.
On her porch with a friend, she said, "yeeup that's Russia
but enough on foreign stuff, so hush'ya --
Say what? running for Veep? Good lord, I have nothing to wear!

yeah, this is harder than I thought.

There once was a Mayor of Wasilla
who said to a moose, I'm gonna kill'ya
But with her new togs and a bun
ten winks and a gun,
she sure as hell looked mighty silly-ah.

okay.... next?

There once was a Governor of Alaska
to whom John McCain said " I'll ask ya
to run as my Veep
though you know less than my sheep
about history, foreign affairs and math-yeah!

that took all weekend. Aaarrrrgh!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Caution, Gnomes at Work

not a limerick...but the gal has her heart in the right spot. Hit the title above to find the Tax & Spend Gnomes

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

McPalin Limericks

yessss! a take-off on the Sarah Palin Haiku Hysteria sponsored by People For The American Way. Check the link out:
McPalin Haiku Hysteria...and vote for your favorite. Then, just for ducks, come back and send me a limerick starring McPalin (or components) via Comments and I'll post it. Unless it is just too vicious or way past bawdy, of course. No name calling! This is serious literature!

Here's one to get the ball rolling;

For a Veep, he picked quite a dear
though why, is not immediately clear
while she can handle Wasilia
a dead moose and Alaska --
what'll happen when Putin draws near?

I didn't say they had to be good

Monday, October 20, 2008

Joe Hearts Joe

So the word is out. Joe Six Pack and Joe the Plumber are getting married at San Francisco's City Hall. McCain of course, dropped his support and wants his "incentives" back. So much for reasoned arguments and researched positions.

Someone scooped me, too, getting a look at the wedding announcements already and posting it in his or her column. As soon as I find the original post that this came from, I'll post the link.

Andy Goldsworthy in San Francisco

Hit the title or link below for the complete story, but the upshot is that Andy Goldsworthy is building a sculpture/installation this month in the Presidio. I was alerted to this via Zyzzyva and Howard Junker's blog, in which he stumbles by the installation site on one of his walks. Only in SF. (Junker also announced his immanent resignation as editor of the Journal. that's an era )


Goldsworthy's work is inspirational; I am entranced by his imaginative use of natural materials. To me, he personifies the drive we have in us to create something, anything, whether it's useful or not. It's a drive that can sometimes be seen in animals, too, though we usually see their more useful creations: nests, burrows, dens. It's the sort of thing that children often do, just making things out of what's around them. But Goldsworthy takes it all one mega-step further. Not just in size but in concept and stunning beauty. But it's not something so easily described, so if you aren't familiar with him, here are some links.



and...any of you Bay Area folks up for a field trip to the Presidio?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Joe Six-Pack.

Who the heck is this fella? That guy down at 7-Eleven with a six-pack of beer in each hand? Bud or Coors, usually. Always wears a baseball cap. That guy? Why is anyone pandering to his vote? If he's putting a six-pack away each night, he probably doesn't have much brain-function left and will probably won't get around to voting, if he even remembers. Because, you know, Tuesday is the day after Monday, which is a lost day, and Tuesday he's gotta work doubletime to get caught up, so he's too tired to do anything after work. Maybe if the Election was on a Weds.

But, jeeez. Is this the fella whose opinion counts so much? Oh, wait, maybe they mean the fellas with the six-pack abs. Riiiiight. They're really paying attention to trade agreements, balance of power and the finer points of de-regulation. After all, they seem to think that drilling offshore will bring in enough oil to amount to a hill of beans.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Barak Hussein Obama

As most of us know, sharing a notorious name does not mean one shares those notorious qualities, despite what some Republicans currently running for office try to say. If it did, then all Timothys or McVeighs should be rounded up and put away because, of course, one day they’re bound to blow up a few government buildings.

Nevertheless, some continue to make a big fuss about Barak Obama’s middle name, Hussein, trying to make a link to extremists that simply doesn't exist. Obama deals with the issue so elegantly and honorably, refusing to be baited with this most ridiculous of arguments, directing the discussion instead back to the more important issues facing the country: the economy, energy and education.

Hussein is an extremely popular name in the Arabic world; it comes from "hasan," meaning good, handsome or beautiful. (Wikipedia:Hussein) It’s the name of one of Muhammad's two grandsons, who became the revered leader of the Shia sect of the Muslim faith. Giving the name Hussein to a child is the same as giving the name Jesus or Mary or Linda; we want to infect him or her with the wisdom, heroism or beauty carried in the name. That some people with such a name cannot live up to it does not poison the name for everyone else.

McCain’s attempts to use such shoddy tactics to frighten voters dries up any respect I have for him. It reveals his hypocrisy, for honorable men, men of principle, true mavericks, wouldn't stoop so low ... just to win.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Now is all around us, ready for the watching

Now, on a more sedate note. Two weeks ago, we went on a fall vacation up to the Mendocino woodlands. It was a good week to go. This is what it was like.

For a few moments, as the fog fell away to reveal a blue ground, the valley held its own concert: an interlacing of croaky bassoon notes in 4/4 time, high squeals interspersed with cheet-wheet-wheet's, a run of knockety-knockety-knockety's like coconut-shell horse hooves, and a rapid kakakaka-keer! kakakakaka-keer! Though usually the names of birds will flash or rumble through my mind, for this short time, I could not identify the singers, or even if they bore feathers or fur; I could only listen to the songs, the tapestries of sound.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Final Debate 08

...did everyone else hiss when McCain said that Sarah Palin reached out to women? maybe to the Stepford Wives.....but I wouldn't want her to touch my dirty laundry.

....what about the statement that she "understands Special Needs kids more than anyone else." Ha! Her baby's only a few months old and there's a nanny involved. I think my friend Gail who has raised her Down's Syndrome kid at home for the past 18 years and about half of that as a single mom (no nanny ever), knows a whole hell of a lot more than Mrs Sarah "I can too fire you" Palin.

....for McCain to say that "the health of the mother issue has been overblown" ? Hello! Guess you've never been in 48 hour labor with a breach baby with one leg behind his shoulder. Guess we know what he thinks about women, too. They're expendable. They are not precious, like "children." Especially boy-children, I bet. "Get the baby out of there, to hell with my wife." Feels so good to be appreciated for bringing life into the world. They forget that in a biological sense it's far more important to have 10 women and 1 man, than the other way around. In the actual fact of it, men are more expendable. That's why women are in general healthier and live longer. Get it, McButthead?

As you can tell, someone pissed the living hell out of me.

I will also say, that on presence alone, Obama is Presidential: he kept his cool, stuck to the issues, promoted his program, revealed his plans, pointed out all the times that McButthead distorted the truth (lied), maintained a confidential manner, and was neither ruffled or flappable. He looks like he could handle any situation and any head of state.

McButthead looked desperate.

'nuff said.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Squirrelling Summer Away

A short, squirrelly piece was published in Newsbytes today. Some days I actually feel like a writer.


If the link above does not work, hit the title of this piece. For some reason, the links in the enclosure are acting, well, squirrelly. (couldn't resist. yes, well, of course, I could...but I didn't want to today.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Exit Exams

A comrade of ours, leaving our workplace for bigger and better things, was asked to take an audiogram as part of her exit interview. This was, we assumed, to determine that she suffered no hearing loss during the course of her employment. Why not a vision test, I wondered, since so many of us use computers all day long and we all know what that can do to even a pristine set of eyeballs. What about a height test? ...just to be sure we haven't been squashed shorter by the burdens of our job. I'm thinking there might be a few other qualities that should be evaluated.

1) Bitterness (rated on a scale from everything's-keen peachy to burned-coffee black).
How does the employee feel about their work experience here? Did it live up to, exceed or fall short of their expectations? Were their projects accomplished without undue resistance from other departments, divisions, personnel? Were they repeatedly blamed for failures that occurred under circumstances beyond their control? Were they ever thanked for the times they worked above and beyond the call of duty, even if it was just a teensy bit beyond or merely a meager, "hey, thanks"? Were their efforts sidelined, forgotten, delayed until useless? And then asked, where the hell were those widget designs when we needed them?

2) Illusionment, dis- or otherwise (rated on a scale from rainbow-hued fantasy to bleak).
Has the employee come to accept the fact that the more things change, the more they stay the same..or become even worse? Have they realized that every new form that is created in the name of efficiency always needs even more signatures than before? Had they begun to suspect (rightly) that all the previous people (male) in their position had been paid 20 % more than what they (female) were getting? Were they required to be in more than one meeting a day...and still get their work done?

3) Morale (rated on a scale from rah-rah-rah to kill-me-now).
Are they thoroughly demoralized? If so, then they are good to go. If not, maybe they should be required to stay on an extra month to train their replacement--for half-pay; after all, there would be two of them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

DFW -9/12/2008

David Foster Wallace--what to say beyond the sorrow, the loss. Anyone who's witnessed this depth of depression, either themselves or in a loved one, can only bow their heads in respect for his struggles. It shows us that, in a way, we are victims (if not prisoners) of our own minds. My thoughts go out to his family, in this darkest of times.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


It gave me great comfort the other day to hear on NPR that the definition of "maverick" is unbranded cow. Unbranded in this sense meaning not a part of society and so out of touch with reality. Able, for example, to deny saying what in recorded fact they have said; able to support a Bridge to Nowhere (too apt to be even funny), then switch positions a few months later ; able to think that an income of $200,000 defines the middle class (of course it might look like that when you own 7 houses; after all who can afford 1 house on $200,000 in the Bay Area?); able to insist one is proposing a whole new platform when it is identical to the previous Administration's, i.e. a cow following the herd after all.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


If you bring your own bottle of wine to a restaurant, there's a corkage fee.
But what if it's a screwtop...is there screwage?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Napa Valley Writers Conference: First Report

Yes, well, obviously I was having too good a time to blog from the Napa Valley Writers Conference (hi, Nan!). Make that too good a time and way too busy. I was pretty much on the go from 8:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. But it was work I wanted to do -- a race I wanted to run and a track I wanted to run on. Re-entry to the work-a-day world has been rather wrenching, as if riding the wind-shears on a turbulent flight. I stayed in most of the weekend, hoping to stabilize. Now it's more of a slowing down, cutting back from gallop to lope to amble and today, barely a notch above shuffle. It's jet-lag, really, coming down from the excitement of the conference, the conversation, the stories, the laughter,. Of meeting old writing buddies and friends: Gary Silva, Z Egloff, and new: Angela Pnueman, Angela Watrous, of hanging with a Limester, Jane Alynn, but not for long enough.

Be that as it may, I snagged some terrific reads:
Bearing the Body, novel, by Ehud Havazalet
Mendocino, short stories, by Ann Packer
Hunger, short stories, by Lan Samantha Chang
Home Remedies, short stories, by Angela Pnueman
Fire to Fire, poems, by Mark Doty
Famous Builder, memoir, by Paul Lisicky
Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, memoir, by Nick Flynn
Rope Bridge, poems, by Nan Cohen

So if nothing else I can read my fool head off until the next conference. Or residency. Or whathaveyou. Because there better be another one ... soon!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A-Conferencing We Go

haven't attended to this blog lately, been pre-occupied with getting ready for: ta da!!! The Napa Valley Writers Conference! Yep, yep, starts tomorrow and I'm ready to roll.

I may...or may not...blog from there. As a staffer this time, I'll have plenty to do. For one thing, I'll be running the cam-corder of the lectures and readings for documentation. For another, one of my best buds from graduate school will be there; lots of catching up to do. The in-person kind, cause we do the email thing plenty. Also, I'm introducing Ron Carlson, who is one of my writing heroes--we all have to have one or two in order to keep putting one word after the other, left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot as he might say. He's not the only one; Faulkner is another and Woolf and Nabokov and Cheever; Annie Poulx, Jane Hamilton Jim Krusoe, Barbara Kingsolver, Junot Diaz, Annie Dillard, Alan Gurganus. The list goes on. Lorrie Moore, can't forget her. Or Antonya Nelson. So of course, I want to do the intro right. But I'll settle for being coherent on stage and not making a fool of myself in some god-forsaken, unforseen way

The weather promises to be pretty good; sorta hot (90's) but not super hot, like two years ago, when the temp climbed into the 100's. That's when your eyeballs crisped up just walking across the parking lot and your lungs melted a tad with each intake. I'm not much for 100+, even if it is dry. With most of (but not all) the fires put out, the air is pretty clean, though occasionally the wind pushes some old smoke, slightly brown and stale-smelling, down the valley.

The bags are packed; I'm ready to go. Better get some sleep and take my vitamins first, though.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

100 Things - exit stage left!

I'm making progress on the Remove One Thing A Day project. I've tossed out a wobbly folding chair that no longer folded, let go of a Deskjet 840C that finally started chuttering rather than printing and returned the canopy that fell apart after one use, and (get this!) didn't replace it with another one.

There's also a box in my living room with a growing mountain of stuff: toys someone else's kids can chew; a zip-up jacket and two winter scarves that were probably left here by friends of my kids when they were all in junior high a decade ago; those special dorm sheets and pillow cases used for one semester of college and then I don't want to know what they slept in or where; some extraneous holiday-themed table linens and a faux-sombrero from Chevy's. Now I just have to get the box from my living room to the Goodwill. How hard is that?

Obviously hard enough because the box is still sitting there. Dang!

We won't go into the bizarre and probably latent-OCD reasons why I simply can't put the box in the back of the car and then take it out when I get to Saks Thrift Avenue (clever name, no?). I think maybe I'm waiting to fill it up. But how full is full? Is the box going to sit there for 6 months slowly gathering random small things, a thick layer of dust and cat dander? The correct answer is yes.

So I've come up with yet another plan (stick with me long enough and we'll have enough to wallpaper the Oval Office). The other day, I was out in my studio, which is one of those built-in-day garden shed kits, roughly 10 by 12 feet. But I treat it like one of those magic bottomless bags. I'm constantly bringing things out to it: books, notebooks, tchotchkes I think I can't write without, another cozy blanket for winter, a fan for summer -- while rarely taking anything out unless there's an odor involved. It became so crowded I could barely turn around in it; my ideas got all tangled every time I looked up. Then I lost a cat in a corner behind a few piles. Boy, was he pissed when I finally realized he'd gone missing and came to let him out. Standing in the doorway, enduring the silent wrath of one indignant tabby, I stared at the over-full shelves, the stacks of books and papers, the piles of blankets, the encroaching tide of magazines and odd socks on the floor; it occurred to me that I could probably take 100 things out and still have plenty of stuff to spare. It would be the inverse of the original proposal of owning only 100 things, though I'd settled on having only 100 things in any given room--not counting books.

Of course, hypocrites that we are, when we take them out, we'll count books as one thing.

p.s. I've taken 66 things out so far and I like the result. So spacious, so airy...well, it will never be airy exactly, but at least now we have air flow.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

100 Things = Fewer Things to Lose

With the fires to the west, north and east of us more or less under control, the skies have returned to a more normal summertime blue, undimmed by smoke or haze. Even the fog is being kicked to the curb by a high pressure system and we are on our way to another heat wave. But to the south, in Big Sur and Goleta, the fires rage on, consuming thousands of acres, jumping fire lines, roaring closer to towns and homes. Evacuation orders wobble between mandatory to recommended and back again as the fire lines advance, retreat, curl back around.
Most people in the affected areas by now are prepared, cars packed and pets close by, ready to drive out at a moments notice. I look around my house, wondering what I would pack besides the kids (if they were home), the cat, (if I could find them) and the essential documents (ditto). My laptop, of course, Norm’s sculptures, the small cat figurines the kids have given me for my collection, some of the art they’ve made, some photos, the few prints we have. But beyond that…well, suddenly, the 100 Things system has an obvious practical side. If I'd gotten with the program, I'd have already shed the clutter and crap and figured out what I couldn’t give up. Yet even then, would I put even half of those things in the car, if I had 20 or 30 minutes to get out? I doubt it. When the fire comes, most objects become non-essential; life itself is what counts. While photos and works of art cannot be replaced, I would rather have the kids, than the kids' watercolors or photos.
But let's not dissemble here too much: I do like my things. I’m a packrat, descended from a long line of packrats. I haven’t met an object yet that I could reasonably refuse to house. (This is why I have a spouse; otherwise I’d be living in one of those houses with narrow paths between towering collections of … stuff.) In due time, I’m sure I would pine for the antique settee, the 1000-plus books, the few odd things from my grandparents whom I never quite knew, the deer tooth from a best buddy (yes, someday, sometime, I'll tell that story), the entire collection of cat-figurines, the mirror framed in carved-wood maple leaves that has hung in my bedroom from the time I was knee-high to a grasshopper. I’m sure regret and loss would have its day with me.

But maybe I should take advantage of the situation, and use the threat of fire as an impetus. Perhaps I could evaluate things on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 designating those objects worthy of a spot in the car and 10 designating what I would gladly let burn. And if I’m smart, I’ll remove all the 10’s well before we're ever ordered to evacuate. And if I’m super-smart, I’ll load all the important photos onto cd’s and put them in a fireproof case with all our birth certificates. Once I find them. Sorry, kids, I know they're here somewhere.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Bit More About Carlin

My friend Carol, who posted a bit about George Carlin here, along with a great photo (and kindly linked to my piece), reminded me of his movie roles and especially the first SNL episode he hosted. Hate to date myself this much, but I distinctly remember that first SNL: the usual gang had gathered at our house to watch what was rumored to be this hot new show. Some of us had our doubts, but what the hey. Mostly I remember we laughed so hard we just about choked on the popcorn we'd made back-in-the-day style: a layer of popcorn kernels in a bit of oil, shaken in a pan on the stove, loaded up with lots of butter and salt, passed around in a large ceramic bowl. By the time Andy Kaufman came on, we knew this was going to be a hit. Of course, I had to watch the dvd of it to recall the actual personnel: Andy Kaufman (lip-synching the Mighty Mouse song, which I still sing to this day complete with the hand gestures, embarrassing any number of kids who happen to be around), John Belushi, Dan Akroyd, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Chevy Chase, Laraine Newman; they were all there. Father Guido Sarducci came later, but that's a whole 'nother story.

But Carlin as host convinced us to watch the show, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Here's the Smoke. There's the Fire.

The sun rose today a vibrant tangerine fuzz-ball in the thick haze of smoke like something out of a sci-fi flick. Fires to the east, fires to the northwest, fires to the south; just no fires exactly here. But we got the smoke, greasy grey and thick as Hades. Over 7,000 lightening strikes in California last weekend, over 800 1,000 fires still rage. The fire brigades are stretched thin and work ceaselessly; they are overwhelmed. Only one or two of the largest blazes are more than 20% contained; the smoke that fills our valley could be here for weeks, they say, depending on wind patterns.

Though I'm more or less okay while I'm inside, the coughing starts as soon as I open the front door. I've been abusing my albuterol inhaler over the past three days to avoid asthmatic hacking; I'll be moving onto the harder stuff tonight. Everyone's breathing is compromised, eyes are red and itchy, throats are sore. The air reeks like the bars of yore, without the underlying hints of spilled beer and wayward piss; it is unhealthy; it is downright nasty at times. Closer to the fires, roads are closed because of the wretchedly poor visibility; deer, foxes, raccoons fleeing the fires crash down the canyons, across roads and highways.

All day the sky hangs low, Sonoma Mountain invisible behind the murk. An eerie red sun sinks down the thick leaden sky, limning the world in a peculiar rosy-gold. Planes fly overhead, low and weary, returning to home bases for the night. They will fly out again tomorrow in the peachy-amber light of another smokey dawn.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

George Carlin 1937 - 2008

Today, in honor of George Carlin, I used all seven words you can't say on TV (or radio), quarreled with God on the way he's running the damn Universe ( the Goddess, imho, could do so much better with 6 of her 8 hands tied behind her back, two toddlers and guests coming over for diner) and moved a bunch of my stuff to a better stuff-location. Even in my sorrow, I was laughing.

wtf. We've lost one of the best: a giant among comedians; a word-smith extraordinaire; an intelligence to be admired. Even as he skewered us on our pretensions and un-considered habits, we were peeing our pants and gasping for breath from laughter. He nailed us in all our bad habits of thought and entranced us with the sheer poetry of his own mind and word-wizardry. And even as our guts cramped up from guffawing, we knew he was right on.

Bye, George, thanks for the laughs.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

100 Things Challenge

So have you heard about this particular challenge to our madcrazy consumeristic world? It's a movement, as some call it, to limit our personal belongings to 100 things. But really, it's a guy named Dave, blogging at stuckinstuff (click post title for link) He's concerned about the rampant, unconscious, unconsidered consumerism we suffer from and the small mountains of stuff that subsequently accrete around each and every one of us (cue George Carlin on Stuff: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvgN5gCuLac).

Doing his bit for Less Stuff = More Fun, Dave's been working on purging his own pile.

But as any of us who have repeatedly failed De-Cluttering 101, purging is a helluva lot harder than acquiring. So Dave gave himself this challenge: pare down to 100 personal items. Yes, faint if you must, because I just about did. I mean, I have at least 50 tchotchkes on my desk right now. Maybe, just maybe, I could get down to 1000 items, if there was like, money involved, say $10 an item disposed of..... What I find more interesting in conversations with friends and online are the things that are immediately declared off limits to the decree: books, dvds, records, tools, shoes, unders, paintings, photographs, bug collections, car paraphernalia, inherited ancestral stuff. Where would you draw the line?

And then what to do with the stuff you can finally bear to part with?

I certainly don't want to just dump stuff, especially indestructible plastic, into the waste-stream. This guy named Dave has managed to donate, sell and recycle most of his stuff (not all of it was junk, that helped) and I could probably do the same with some of it. But, getting beyond the question of why I still have this crapola, consider what I wouldn't want to just toss and no one in their right mind could possibly want: old analog tapes, Beta tapes, teething rings, cracked Tupperware, parts of machines the kids took apart, plastic doodads, thingamajigs, lick'em-ups and wham-whams. Guess I could stuff it all into boxes and then store them in the basement? Yikes, isn't this where we started? Wouldn't those those boxes have to be declared off limits. too?

It is all a bit much. Perhaps I'll resort to an old practice and just try to remove at least one thing from my household per day by whatever means possible: recycle, sell, donate. That too is harder than it sounds. I tried this a few years ago and I only lasted two weeks.

Say, anyone interested in a hot tub?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Point Reyes National Seashore is a treasure of the first order, which most people who have been there know. That space between ocean and land, water and air has the power to create change. In my notebook from the retreat there two (three?) weekends ago, I found this response to being there.

On Pelicans

They glide silently and in snug formation with barely a wing beat--just an acute sense of wind and upwelling, sometimes a mere foot or two over the rocking water. Their necks are crooked back, their prehistoric pouchy beaks furled tight underneath. One wing beat, two, ripples the fluid line; they skim along the bluff below, wheel the corner, skim back-- a mottled brown and white necklace sailing loose and flung free

Something in me, that feathered thing perhaps, rises with them as they flash over the rim of the bluff and float swiftly onward over the land of water, on an ocean of air.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

heckled fetlock

(sometimes you get these bogus snake-oil emails touting remedies for the-dysfunction-of-the-moment that have their own poetry within; see below for an almost direct quote. The title is word-for-word real. lk)

Ever tell you I saw him once?
Dude, had a good lol time.
said I could have other employment than lacemaking.bayeux@home.
Gothither, o king, in all thy prosperity, he said. He stood on the earthdam before me.
Think I want a fresh hogshead of beer, the lowenbrau, I answered.
I refuse to marry you. Is that clear? he shouted, citing the basic principles of self-government in the territories.
We heckled the fetlock into a twee dawn; then he was flew the little deuce coop.

rearranged by Lakin Khan

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Blogcast, Publishing and the Rejection Carousel

For writers, publication is the holy grail, the magic elixir that gives meaning to the slogging drudgery required to finish a manuscript. Suddenly, it was all worthwhile, every gnashed tooth, every smacked forehead, every expletive. In fact, the agony is often forgotten altogether, like childbirth. (Oh, yeah, took me only 40 months, not too bad, no back labor, just shooting pains in the wrists and a threatened divorce. No, no, everything's fine now; it's a healthy little book.)

But as anyone who has sent their babies out on the Rejection Carousel can testify, publication itself seems more like a crap shoot than a reflection of the quality of our little darlings. Unfortunately, publication is our proof of the pudding; it is the accepted way writers, as artists, are acknowledged. Our words exist primarily as a private conversation between us and the keyboard, either ephemerally as bytes on a hard drive or more tangibly as weighty reams of recycled paper, serving most usefully as a doorstop for our studio or fodder for our writers group. Unless some other entity agrees to publish, it doesn’t exist for a larger audience. Without that tangible published work (no matter where or by whom) to wave and crow about our endless hours in studio can look like more like an excuse to be willfully anti-social.

The way I see it, most other artists don't need an intermediary to produce their work. Artists who paint, draw or sculpt always have the object that represents their thousands of studio hours ; they can point to it, display it, hang it on a wall. Musicians, after their years of scales and practice, can pull out an instrument and play tunes, whether at a gig, a party or their home where it can be heard by another person instantaneiously. (I agree, the professional part is a bit different, but bear with me.) A dancer can reveal his or her ability on any dance floor. But the writer? We are still bound to a feudal system in which we create the work and then seek a second party for it's manitestation. Except for occassional readings, impromptu recitations or odd requests by Aunt Agatha for a sweet piece for Bertie's engagement party, we are invisible. Without the concrete proof of a published work, no one knows what the hell we’re doing secluded in a studio while the rest of the world parties, goes to movies, takes their first baby steps, graduates cum laude, or blows itself to smithereens.

And so our struggle is two-fold: to make the best work possible and then convince someone to take it.

But I see this changing even as I type. Although I'll continue to submit work, now for the first time, writers can dodge the editors, the arbiters of what will and won’t get published. We can blog, e-publish, podcast and let the audiences be the judge. No more second guessing, no more trying to please some old crotchety guy in Wichita; now we can work to please our own standards, high, low or inbetween, and our own niche-y audience. Maybe we’ll only have 15 readers, but that’s 15 more than we would have had, working the old system.

Don’t get me wrong, if someone agrees to publish any of my stuff, I’d come unglued, salivate like a starving boxer at a barbeque and I agree to just about any terms (yes, you can just call me Print Slut anytime now). But until then,I'll blog, blog away and let the publishers take the hindmost. For these days, the proof is in the blogcast.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

What's Writing Got To Do With It?

What's writing but second-hand emotions--or, as it's been said, re-living your experiences with commentary and editing? Just a passing comment...

Lately, the conversation in various webby-circles has turned to rejection, perseverance and why the hell we do this thing called writing anyway. First of all, you have to sit down and produce anywhere from 5,000 to 100,000 words, not just any words, but the "right word in the right place," as Mark Twain said. We won't speculate on the amount of time this might take, you all know it's far more than anyone would pay you for a real job. At the end of this you have maybe a ream of paper with endless lines of tiny black marks or the more ephemeral billions of bytes. But as an object, it doesn't have much of an existence to be shared as a communication... until it's been published.

Wherein lies the rub. After you've bled all over the keyboard, bored your friends to tears, strained/wrecked your marriage, provided fodder for your children's abandonment issues and consequently expensive therapist, after all that, now you get to send it out on the Rejection Carousel. Here's an eloquent page on that subject from ZYZZYVASPEAKS: Passed On

It only stands to reason, then, that after the 20th, 30th or even 50th rejection, we pause to give ourselves a reality check. Why should we want to continue?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

E-Flash News: Semi-finalists Gather for World's First Annual Post-Kegger Belching Contest.

At least that's what it sounded like, down on the beach of Drake's Bay in the Pt Reyes National Seashore, about a mile or two from a recently established elephant seal rookery. Those guys are way loud, even though at this time of year only the weaned pups (merely a few hundred pounds) were still lurking about. Twenty-five of us gathered last weekend for a Writing Retreat Field Seminar at the refurbished Lifeboat Station, just below Chimney Rock, somewhat south-east of the Pt Reyes Lighthouse. We were here to commune with nature, write ourselves silly and talk shop. The elephant seals trolled along the small beach, watching us wander around with notebooks in hand and our minds off in left field. Whether their explosive guttural outbursts were comments on our looniness, or a mere fact of biology was, at times, a bit difficult to determine.

The elephant seals were not the only creatures around. With the low tide, the sea stars and sea anemones were exposed among the kelpy rocks, seagulls hovered about hoping for handouts, and pelicans, those prehistoric-looking birds, floated by in long banners. And of course, us writers, soaking up sensations and inspiration, working on prompts and/or our own stuff, listening to the ocean, the world, our words, ourselves.

The leaders, Patti Trimble and Susan Bono, did a magnificent job with the diverse range of writing experience and orientations, giving us all room to roam and time to report back. On the first day, they took us on a hike up to the top of the bluff; in the mizzle and mist, we stood there, on the spine of the world, eye-level with the pelicans, one side ocean, the other side bay. The mournful foghorns, the booming waves and the long, low, loud belches filled our ears.

Nature: isn't it grand?

Here's the link to the Pt Reyes Field Seminars, though the Writing Retreat, since it's over, is no longer listed. But there's tons of other seminars .... and there's always next year. Keep your eyes peeled!


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Looking for a Few More Good Writers

Yes, fictioneer folks, the Napa Valley Writer's Conference is still accepting applications. I urge anyone who relishes a week immersed in writing to apply. Can't beat great faculty (Ron Carlson, Lan Samantha Chang, Ehud Havazelet, Ann Packer), stunning location (the Wine Country), fabulous meals (majority of meals catered by the culinary school on campus), high-quality students. As noted on the Conference website, "Vanessa Hua, who attended in 2006, has won first place in the Atlantic Monthly Student Writing Contest for the story she worked on in ZZ Packer’s workshop."

Of course, I have to reveal that I'm working on staff this year. But! I have attended the conference two previous summers and been just amazed at having this top-notch conference in my backyard, so to speak. I's like a best-kept secret, or an undiscovered treasure. Check out the website, and see what you think.


Nature's Way pub: Swallows and Owls

It's been a good three weeks since my last post, I'm rather embarrassed to say. Hectic-wild at work for one week, then it was hella hot and I wimpered in the shade with my feet in a wading pool waiting for the 100 degree temps to disappear. But the marine layer (weatherman talk for fog-starter) is making its way back and this evening, I've been shutting windows against the chill.

But I did manage to complete an essay for Newsbytes and it ran last Friday, so here is the link, for those who are interested. It's titled: Owl Boxes and Swallows Nests.


I haven't abandoned my Wildlife Backyard Project willy-nilly; more on that later. Gonna get some pix of my improvements, too. But first, I have to find the camera. That thing is so small, sometimes I'll find it in the couch cushions along with the spare change and gum wrappers.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Spring Calls for New Projects

After writing about hedgerows, native plants, birds, bees, butterflies and the like, I've decided to put my money where my sore knees will be and turn our yard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat. A naturalist-gardener friend of mine, Frederique Lavoipierre, gave me the idea and steered me to The National Wildlife Organization, which sponsors the official backyard certification program. Since I'm not much for garden or yard organizing, I figured this would be as good a way as any to structure my wanton, gone-to-seed-and-weeds backyard. And harbor a few critters along the way. And this is part of the point of the project, to integrate way stations and habitats throughout our land for critters, rather than relegating them to the diminishing wildlands and the scattered, insufficient nature preserves. I want to do my part because without insect or critter scurrying, bird songs or butterfly dances, our place seems sterile and barren. Eerie, too.

So I cruised www.nwf.org and found it's not really all that difficult, to wit:

All you need to do is provide elements from each of the following areas:

  • Food Sources. For example: Native plants, seeds, fruits, nuts, berries, nectar
  • Water Sources. For example: Birdbath, pond, water garden, stream
  • Places for Cover. For example: Thicket, rockpile, birdhouse
  • Places to Raise Young. For example: Dense shrubs, vegetation, nesting box, pond
  • Sustainable Gardening. For example: Mulch, compost, rain garden, chemical-free fertilizer
(excerpt taken from http://www.nwf.org/backyard/)
(link to it from title of this post)

Some of the steps I've already put into practice. I've done my hippie best to avoid all chemical additives, to the point that our lawns were more like weed-patches--and not that kind of weed, either. I've used compost and mulched like crazy. Last summer, we nuked our front lawn by sheet mulching it, letting it RIP under thick layers of newspapers and wood chips. I don't intend to reseed with water-greedy grasses. To encourage bird and butterfly life, I've planted a few sorts of bushes and flowers they like (mallow, penstamen, lavender, salvias) and kept two bird feeders going. Newts and salamanders have benefited by my lax and lazy gardening; I spy them under damp leaves and overgrown bushes.

So I really only need to provide a water source, some shelters and more places to raise young. And up my use of native plant species. I can probably do all that this spring. Then we'll see how many creatures take me up on my welcome mat. I'll even leave the porch light on--for the bugs.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Nerd or Geek; what’s the distinction?

This was the question posed at a celebratory dinner the other evening. I was curious because, at least in my experience eons ago, these terms had not only been used derogatorily, but also somewhat interchangeably. How many people feel the need to parse an insult? Get mad, get even perhaps, but not stop to quibble about which slur fits. But the times, thank the goddess and pass the gigabytes, have changed and, in this regard, for the better. Still, it leaves me with the question: is there a definable difference between geek and nerd, and if so, what?

So this is what I’ve come up with.

Geek — someone who is highly, even overly, enthusiastic about a particular field of endeavor or interest. More than hobbyists, geeks are several ranks up from buffs. Usually, equipment or materials are involved, as in: camera geek, yarn geek, car geek, silent movie geek. Has to be non-sentient, too: someone who’s avid about people they don’t personally know would be either a fan, groupie or stalker. So, one can be a rock geek, a star geek, but not a rock-star geek.

Geeks collect their totem items, and can be distracted beyond measure by its presence. Witness a book geek in a bookstore. Might as well bring in take-out Chinese if you thought you were sharing a lunch date.

Geeks love to hang out with other geeks of their persuasion, witness camera clubs, yarn-off evenings and Trekkie Conventions (Trekkies are geeks not fans because their focus is the whole show, not just the stars). A geek’s concentration, while it might seem somewhat whacked to their significant others, nevertheless can be genially tolerated and should even be indulged. If it’s an irritant, then look out, that relationship is OVER. While geeks will gladly talk shop whenever possible, they are also willing and able to converse on other topics and they will participate in other activities, such as work that might not be their enthusiasm, raising the kids, attending family functions. In the best of all possible worlds, some one, a nephew, niece, grandparent, in-law, uncle or aunt, is also smitten by the same bug, and the long afternoon barbeques pass in a lovely haze of shared enthusiasms.

Nerd — this is someone who is in over their head, immersed in their interest to the point of letting go of the tow rope. They are generally the reigning expert and are only too happy to establish that. They don’t seem to understand “a passing interest” in their subject. When talking with a non-nerd, the conversation can be quite one-sided; when talking with another nerd, the volume tends to escalate, as they strive to out-nerd each other. Nerds can be quite bored with activities or people not related to their interest. This makes it difficult for non-nerds to appreciate their genuine intelligence and wealth of knowledge. I would think that nerds are best matched up with another nerd of the same or similar persuasion.

Although those who know me might disagree, I self-identify as a word-geek. I love words and how they operate; I love them forwards, backward, sideways, jumbled-up, scrabbled. New words thrill me; making them up is even better. Anagrams, puns, poems; bring them on. A word geek like myself either has the OED or lusts after one. But a word nerd no longer needs one; they have it memorized and can recite definition and antecedent, first print appearances, annotations, footnotes, and variance of usage across time. We need the word-nerds of the world to keep the dictionaries well-oiled and running. Then we word-geeks can have the fun of pushing them to their limits.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Getting Unstuck

When the words don't flow, when the ideas are lame, when the brain is mush and the eyes crossed, there is nothing left to do but throw up my hands and admit I'm stuck, flat out stuck. There are all sorts of evasive measures I'll take to prime the pump. But if weeding/mulching/pruning all 16 roses, vacuuming lint out of the crevisses of the sofa, washing every reachable curtain, changing the oil in my car, grooming the cats, answering email, and laying in supplies for the winter hasn't brought forth the juices of creativity, then I apply the following 7 steps, in the method of a religious ritual.

1)Remind myself I can quit writing any time; it's not like I'm getting paid the big bucks here.

2)Find some walnuts, hard apples, stale chips, anything to gnash with my teeth as I have probably gnawed my fingers to bleeding stumps, thus accounting for the small red-brown smears on the final paper drafts, something electronic submissions can't yet transmit—thank you, thank you, Goddess of All Small Things.

3)Consume vast quantities of coffee to get the heart rate up and the blood flowing, hauling a fresh dose of oxygen up to the brain, shaking loose cobwebs, freeing up ideas, making connections.

4)Consume even vaster amounts of chocolate to raise the serotonin levels, lubricating all the newly loosened brain-parts.

5)Within the hour, I'll be jittery, sweaty and queasy from the odd combination of foodstuffs, caffeine-overdose and oncoming insulin shock. I bolt out the door for a very, very long walk around town, muttering to myself in the voices of my characters. That is, not only talking to myself but answering, the classic definition of schizophrenia.

6)Returning home, I'm exhausted and in some sort of trance. Surely something will arrive when I sit down at the keyboard, as there is nothing left in my puddin'headed brain to offer any resistance.

7)If all else fails, I write to the Tiny Lights question of the month. By the time I'm finished, the day has passed and I'm off the hook. Tomorrow, I swear, I'll finish the novella.

(published courtesy of TinyLights.com)


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

April? Spring?

Some of these posts will be un-chronological, dislodged somewhat from time. The one below is an excerpt from a chapbook my daughter made from essays of mine published by Newsbytes, a newsletter of Sonoma State University. Which explains why it is talking about winter in the middle of spring. Not that it feels like spring. Though the trees and tulips have blossomed, the wind whipping the pollen around has been cold, cold, bitter cold. Down vests in April, oh yes, and in California, believe it or not.

btw, the chapbook is beautifully put together. Very proud I am of her and it.

Stopping by Our Pond on a Pre-winter’s Morning

Winter is close upon us, the nights and early mornings brisk, as they say in New England. To the west and east of our valley, dense fog layers over and between the hills, Chinese ink paintings for our contemplation during morning and evening drives. Coming in from the M lot one morning, the ponds were grey with the reflected sky. Six cormorants stood along the concrete rim of the island, black-clad sentinels for an invisible castle behind them. There had been a whole slew of them a few weeks ago, more than ever before, it seemed. Aside from those six standing on the island’s edge, I counted at least four more in the water— though it’s difficult to get an accurate head count the way they lingered underneath, popping up just as others popped down.

I went back by the ponds around noon-time that day for a bit more cormorant-watching and ran into Carol Hall, Administrative Coordinator in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and bird enthusiast. We swapped tales as we ate our respective leftovers-for-lunch in the weak sunshine. She told me she’d counted anywhere from 8 to 15 cormorants over the previous week and showed me some pictures she’d taken of them, both in the pond and out. Along the bank of the island in front of us, the cormorants stretched and held out their wings like damp feathered overcoats linings loaded with goodies for the indiscriminate bargain hunter: knock-off watches, oyster-shell rings, mackerel tails, seaweed necklaces.

These are Double Crested cormorants, dark-bodied, with a pale orange around the eyes and beak, sometimes a dull yellow sliding down the neck like a meager ascot. They hold their wings out in order to dry them, for the top layers of their feathers are not as waterproofed as those of other water birds. This gives the cormorant deeper dive capabilities; the Double Crested is known to dive close to 25 feet down — other species of cormorants dive even further.

They are amusing birds, these cormorants, endearing and lithe, true swimmers. They are not buoyant birds, like the more staid and stately ducks and geese that float on the water like ships, flipping their back ends up as they scrabble under the water’s surface for sustenance, rarely submerging themselves completely. Cormorants are the submarines, their backs just under the water’s surface as they cruise the pond in small flotillas, their distinctively hooked beaks pointed skyward, like periscopes-up! Or as if in salute. They’ll be there one moment and gone the next, gathering themselves up and shooting under water, sometimes two or three in unison, having spotted some sort of succulent pond snack. They are under long enough that we begin to wonder and then up they surface, almost bouncing a bit as they hit the air, a fish tail sliding quickly down their beak and gullet. They can be quite far from their point of entry into the water, and if Carol or I didn’t see them dive under, it was un-nerving to see them suddenly pop, pop, pop! Up on the pond in front of us. It tickled my funny bone, and made me giggle, even when I didn’t think I had much to giggle about.

The double crests, for which this species is named, are white feathers projecting out over the eyes and above the head, only visible during courtship and mating, which takes place in early spring, further north and inland from here, often in colonies of thousands. This small batch was probably scoping out some over-wintering spots and will move on once the fishing gets slim, as it’s bound to do. Because they aren’t buoyant and their top feathers are wettable, cormorants are quite vulnerable to oil spills; they get soaked to their skins, the weight of the oil immobilizing their wings, pulling them under to drown.

So I am glad they were here, even if only for a short spell, for they have escaped the oil sludge from the tanker that has contaminated the Bay and the San Francisco and Marin beaches. It is some comfort to know that we have a respite station. For the time that they were here we have enjoyed their presence and appreciated their grace and humor. And they in turn might remember that our ponds were a safe haven during a very bad fall for ocean life in the Bay Area.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Recipe for Perfect Writer's Retreat

Cabin, preferably with a wood stove
Water, rushing is best, or waves
Inclement weather for 75% of the time
Walks that are safe enough for distracted minds to navigate, strenuous enough to keep the large muscle groups oiled, long enough to freshen the brain
Excellent Mexican restaurant within walking distance
Meals shared with other writers and artists
Healthy and unhealthy food in equal proportions
Music, either self-generated or on CD
A suitably engaging project
Books and notes for reference, inspiration and just plain escape
Excellent chair and desk
Just enough electricity to power laptop and music devices
Good writing friends

Take a rustic cabin, with wood stove inserted, and wide porch along one side. Add a dash of trees, or if available, a whole ridgeline. Place within walking distance of active water and dust with enough decent weather to get there every day (in the opposite direction will be the most excellent Mexican restaurant). Slowly stir in walks, a little bit at a time, alternating with meals (composed of equal portions of healthy and unhealthy ingredients) shared with other artists; toss in a soup├žon of music as needed. Briskly mix in suitably engaging project, inspiring books and reference notes, then pour into ergonomically correct chair and desk; simmer for two weeks. Check frequently for adequate electricity. Deep conversations will bubble up in the evenings; do not mash them down. The end result is quite tasty; participants always beg for more. Have printed recipe available to hand them as they leave.

originally posted on Tiny-Lights.com, November, 2007
Searchlights & Signal Flares page
permission granted by Susan Bono, Ed.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Are you a writer or an author?

That was the question posted at Tiny-Lights.com on the Searchlights and Signal Flares page; I missed the deadline (March 13th) to post an answer back to them. But it is a good q. So I'll answer it here.

An author or writer? At this point I'd settle to be considered either one, really. But upon reflection I'd say , that a writer is someone who practices the word-craft of writing, whether it be for their own work (novel, memoir, poems) or on behalf of another such as a newsletter, an indigent and lazy relative or writing a manual for a corporation or business. An author would be along the lines of the French auteur, a creator of a piece or body of work. The author, who could also be a writer, is promoting their personal vision in some way; only they could have created that work. The writer is a skilled artisan who builds for themself and others, creating work that another skilled craftsman could as handily do, though of course issues of quality/approach might come up.

So I think most of us are both, all rolled up in one tidy (or untidy, in my case) package. The writer in service to the author; the author driving the writer. As illustrated when my friend Ruth greeted me "Hey, here's our author" when I came into her office the other day. I turned halfway around to see who this Arthur was. "No, you, silly, you're the author." That pleased me; I had thought I was writing the essay for the newsletter, but I saw immediately that I'd also authored it. While another writer could have written a piece about the program, no one else would have written the mini-essay that I had.

It's possible that tomorrow I might post a different opinion. But no matter what, next month I'm going to get my rusty butt in gear and reply to this prompt:
What story are you being asked to tell? (deadline: 04/15/08)

find it at http://www.tiny-lights.com/searchlights.html

Friday, March 14, 2008

a pub !

...a publication, that is, not a cozy drinking establishment.

I've been writing some small nature columns for our weekly faculty and staff e-newsletter, although my column tends to come out once a month during the semester. One just ran today, so I thought I would include it below.

Sustaining the Landscape
by Lakin Khan

Soon enough the dry days will outnumber the wet, and we'll relegate our Wellies and raincoats to the back porch for their hard-earned summer respite. But for now, umbrellas are staying in the car and sandals in the closet. One day a few weeks ago, during a welcome though brief intermission between bouts of drizzle and spitting rain, I splashed over to the Environmental Technology Building to meet Frederique Lavoipierre, the recently hired Director of the Sustainable Landscape Professional Certificate Program.

We sat on a protected bench in front of the ETC; nearby lavender gleamed in the sudden benediction of sun. In front of us most of the community garden marinated under a soggy winter blanket of brown leaves and mulch; every so often the rich, fecund smell of leaves becoming soil wafted our way. It was a fitting location, Lavoipierre told me, for the sustainable landscape movement grew out of the green building concept. "It was as if, once the buildings were designed and built, we looked out the windows and saw the next step," she said.

Although the idea and plans for a Sustainable Landscaping Program have been around for years, this is its inaugural semester. The program is aimed at professional landscapers, gardeners and home-owners alike, who are interested in learning about healthier ways to design and manage our yards, gardens and greenbelts. Classes such as Soil Resources, Water Resources, Ecological Principles and Site Management, among others, are offered; students have a year to complete the program, including a project.

"I expect most students will come in with a project or garden in mind," Lavoipierre said and gestured toward the dormant garden "but if they don't, there are plots here they can use." I couldn't help but think that our entire campus could be a worthy project. Planting water-thrifty native species, implementing composting and mulching practices and integrated pest management should cut down on demands for water, soil amendments, pesticides and herbicides, thus reducing landscaping costs, a big plus in the upcoming budget-crunch year.
Sustainable Landscaping is one of a variety of terms that refer to practices that adhere to basic ecological principles. It means to work within the local eco-system, not against it, seeking to minimize drain on local water and soil resources, avoid releasing toxic chemicals or invasive species, and provide habitat for native wildlife who find their territories growing slimmer and slimmer as we and our suburbs expand into rural areas and wildlands.

Sustainable landscaping implies that our manipulated and designed landscapes can sustain and support the local eco-system, providing sustenance, shelter, beauty and joy to humans and animals alike; it implies that the landscapes can be sustained easily because they've been designed to cooperate with the environment.

Although dealing with plants, soil, rocks and water, traditional landscaping practices can't always be deemed "natural," sustainable or even beneficial in the long run. Rather than build around and within the constraints of the local environment, traditional landscaping often seeks to create the handsome lawns and gardens that thrive in water-rich environments, a practice driven by home-owners and clients who want the typical American yard, with little regard to the over-strained, meager water supply of our semi-arid, Mediterranean climate.

They modify the land to accommodate the non-native plants, using fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, rather than fit the plants and plans to the land. The amendments might keep the lawns perky and vibrant, but the chemical run-off infiltrates the water supply; affecting indigenous plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish and mammals, altering the food chain and skewing the habitat-web. Some of the imported plant species, like Scotch Broom, water hyacinth or ice plants can thrive too well and became invasive, crowding native species out of their niches.
The loss of native plants then becomes a lack of necessary food and/or shelter for the more particular native insects and animals that have co-evolved within this habitat. As habitats shrink or become noxious, so go those species.

Much has been learned over the years about our effect on our environment and different ways to mitigate it. Programs such as this Sustainable Landscape Professional Certificate can hasten the spread of accurate knowledge and the implementation of sustainable, regenerative practices. There sure is high interest, for the response from the community, both among professionals and non-professionals, has been thrilling, Lavoipierre says.

The rain clouds thinned as we sat, the soft music of dripping bushes and eaves surrounding us. But as the sky darkened and the wind picked up, pushing the branches around and stirring up trouble amongst the soaked leaves, we hustled back to Darwin Hall where our umbrellas waited patiently, leaving the garden to revel in all that the weather and new students would bring.

For more information on the Sustainable Landscape Professional Certificate Program, please go to http://www.sonoma.edu/sustainablelandscape/.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Blessing of the Birds

Opening the front door on this chilly, damp morning, I welcome the sun as it arrives through the still bare branches of the ailing sycamore across the street. A raven flings itself off the neighbor’s roof, swoops in front of my face as I walk out to my car, parked curbside. I am delighted by this brief almost-intersection between his glossy feathers and my feeble, just-washed, still-damp hair. I have a bounce in my step, a smile on my face as I stand in line for my morning java-jolt. The barista raises her eyebrows; this was not my usual demeanor.

Later, on the way to campus, I see a flurry of large red-brown wings in a field to my left: a hawk has found breakfast! Beating mightily, it lifts up out from some low bushes; I slow down to see what might be wriggling in its talons, annoying the line of cars behind me to no end, no doubt. The hawk struggles, turns and flaps full-force across the road right in front of my slowing car. I catch sight of a tawny chest in the upsweep of wings, then the burnished brown of wingtops; I see nothing clutched in its claws and then it is gone, passing over me. I’m thrilled at this blessing of the hawk, as if picked out to be honored from the thick line of now-honking cars. I step on the gas, grinning like a delirious idiot; it is beginning to feel like a red-letter day.

No particularly great news awaits me at the office. According to the messages in my voicemail, I have won neither the Pulitzer nor the Publisher’s Clearing House Prize, although student Y wants to speak with Professor X and the reconciled spreadsheet for the department’s budget is expected in the Dean’s Office by noon. Still, the song in my heart runs on, undismayed. I take the opportunity to hand deliver a few items across campus, and return the long way, along the winter creek and across a small, somewhat neglected patch of lawn. In a heartbeat, a phoebe sweeps in front of me, almost lands about two feet away, pulls a U-ey, then races back across my path to the tall fir it came from, a single flowing motion, quick as an sketch artist looping out a smooth line. My spirits pick up again, the grin repaints my face: three bird blessings on a spring day. If these are omens, they are good omens.

The day is about over. I’ve not won anything, nor received notice that any of my stories or essays have been accepted for publication, nor been offered a groovy new job or a raise. My kin-folk had neither good news nor bad news; they are all dealing as best they can with the same issues that plague us all: commuting, trying to balance school studies and work obligations, the lack of funds for all our heart’s desire. But perhaps the bird blessings have little to do with these daily concerns. Perhaps the blessing is that even while connecting student Y with Professor X and making Excel behave, I spent most of the day with a smile on my face for no reason other than a bird (or three) lifted its wings to me.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Another cool thing

This summer, I have the good fortune of being Fiction Assistant at the Napa Valley Writers' Conference. I'm pretty jazzed about this, because I've enjoyed being at the conference, I've enjoyed all the writers there (staff, faculty & participants), and I've especially enjoyed working with Anne Evans, the Program Director. It's a groovy conference, in my mind (admittedly, I'm biased) with a nice ratio between particpants and an excellent teaching faculty. Great setting too.

See link on LinkLog for further details.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Even Better Than Locking the Door

We’ve all had them, the ubiquitous callers out to save our soul and sign us up for their club/cult. Not so long ago, the Witnesses or Adventists or those tandem-traveling, bicycle-riding Mormons boys (cute, but would I trust them with my teen-age daughter?) would ring doorbells up and down our street attempting to convert the heathens. I know they meant well, but really, I’m a grown woman with just-about grown children; I’ve been contemplating spiritual matters and doing the metaphysical math for decades. What I haven’t figured out, I’ll wait for a burning bush to tell me, thank you very much. Until then, I am quite content with my lapsed-Unitarian, quasi-Buddhist ways. Best not to answer the door, for these people are over-trained in not taking no for an answer.

Way back in the day, in another town in a county south of here, my then-husband had cured the local Ultra-Christian gangs of rousting us from our coveted, heathenish weekend sleep. One Sunday morning, after a brisk round of knocking, he opened the door in his birthday suit. Nothing like a naked brown man with tousled hair to send proselytizers packing. After the brief commotion in which they hurriedly turned and hustled down the porch steps, shielding their kids' eyes, no doubt, never to return, I sleepily asked him why he even answered the door and then without the jammies God gave him last Christmas. He said with all that pounding on the door, he thought it was an emergency, like the time the hillside was on fire, or the drunk burglar was hiding, noisily, in the back yards on our block. I hazarded that the Adventists had probably once thought we were a spiritual emergency, but now thought we were spiritual felons. Or a lost cause, for they never came around again. None of them did. Must have been a note they passed amongst themselves: crazy naked heathen, black as Hades; don’t take the kids.

But that had been another neighborhood in another county, as I said. And while it had been a sure-fire method, that husband now lived on the other side of the globe and couldn’t be called in for doorbell duty.. When it rang in the middle of a weekend morning, I wasn’t ready to shuck my clothes, especially since I had probably just succeeded in getting into them. Nor did I think I carried quite the same scare-factor: a buck-naked woman, no matter how over the hill and hefty, might be considered an attraction to some. You just never know.

So one day I printed up a sign and posted it on the door. It read: “Herein resides a bunch of FUB's: Finnish Unitarian Buddhists. We promise not to proselytize you, if you promise not to proselytize us.” A few groups clomped up the steps, stood for few minutes, then retreated. They must have put some sort of hobo-sign on our house that warns others away from the FUB Cabal, as we haven’t had any cult-callers since, even though the sign disintegrated and disappeared years ago.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Things happen, that's a fact. Especially when you least expect them. This time, it's mostly good news. Firstly, the Flash/Fall 2007 issue of Tiny Lights has now hit the news stands... no, that's not right-- it's being sent to subscribers and might be in an independent bookstore near you, if you live in the Bay Area. It's a well-designed print journal of personal narrative, with cool artwork and thoughtful, well-written, provocative essays. Not only that, but one of my essays, Chalk Talk, is in it. (short break for the Snoopy dance of joy). Anyway, the link to the Tiny Lights website is on my Link List. My essay isn't posted, at least not yet, but there are other writing-tastic things on the site: check out the Searchlights and Signal Flares page.

yes, there's more, but this is a darn good start!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Washing Our Hands of The Whole Deal

So the Significant Other and I have been appliance shopping. Yes. One of the top ten experiences that can wreck a relationship. Last week, our Maytag washer of fifteen years seized, gasped, rattled and then oozed water all over the floor. Ruptured a blood vessel and bled to death, was the S.O.’s diagnosis. The rapidly expanding and festering mountain of dirty clothes enforced an atmosphere of cooperation and we got down to business right away.

Being eco-conscious consumers, we agreed immediately on a front loader. Plus they are soooo cool! After we got over the sticker shock (eased a teensy-tiny bit by rebates from the water and power companies), we continued our consumer research: cu ft, rpm’s, stainless steel baskets, the whole nine yards. But we really weren’t prepared for the showroom with candy-apple red and chrome stacking sets, all stainless-steel machines and German machines with steam cleaning. Not to mention the myriad of buttons and dials, the plethora of cycles with goddess-knows how many spin & temp modifications: it soon overwhelmed my tiny little brain. I stood in front of a row of round windows, transfixed to know that a machine can hand-wash.

And the stoves and refrigerators, whoa, Nellie! Some of the fridges were wired to the ‘net for reasons not exactly clear to me. I shied away from them, wondering if they would start downloading porn in the middle of the night from sheer boredom, and then shuddered to think what refrigerator porn might look like. Ooh, baby, you’re so… frigid!

Then you have the hybrid refrigerator-stoves-these hold the food refrigerated until such a time as you call it up and tell it to get cooking. Yep, voice control on a stove. That gave me serious pause. For one thing, I talk a whole hell of a lot in front of a stove, muttering imprecations and working recipe-math problems out loud. After years as a breakfast and line cook, making a meal always involves fast heat, plenty of fire and rounds of chef-style cursing — my family knows dinner is ready when the smoke alarm goes off.

But in the confusion of several dishes being timed to all come out together, I see the potential for some crossed signals and clipped expletives. “Burner three, go to medium, I mean high, no, no, wait, med high, hey, hey, burner two, off ! Off! OFFF! god f’ing damn it, now you’re burning the frickin’ green beans. Down you @%#& flames, down!” The smoke alarms goes off well before the broiled chicken is done because the cooktop is in flames, and the oven, in a snarl of confusion, has shut down. This is when the name-calling and shin-kicking comes in, and Mom (that would be me) would have to be restrained and escorted to her room to recover her good graces with a stiff drink and a fat novel.

But I fear this would not be the end of it. The stove, having sulked through the quickly ordered take-out and then left alone in the dark kitchen, would simmer in its own stew of righteousness and indignation. It might very well, in the manner of a spouse unjustly accused of overloading a washer (again! how could you…), heat up in retaliation. I could see the burners raging red in anger, smoke pouring out of the broiler, the whole appliance bulging with hot gases. By three in the morning, the curtains would be on fire, and the smoke alarm screaming--but no dinner in sight. No, voice-command stoves would not be for me.

By the way, the front load washer works just fine. A Maytag, of course, with a minimum of bells and whistles. And for a machine, it does a fabulous hand-wash. Go figure.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Lawn Condoms

Being the New Year, I’ve been out for some early morning walks -- my usual two or three weeks of gonna-get-in-shape-this-year, no fooling!, before I slip back into my true sedentary nature. But I have to tell you, I’ve been noticing some rather sordid evidence of what could only be astounding nightly orgies by gods of gigantically priapic proportions. Their discarded condoms, bizarre and other-worldly, lie all over front lawns, in groups of two or three, occasionally and stunningly in hedonistic parties of eight or nine— even more, if you clump neighboring lawns together. These are gods and giants of all races and genders (some of them not yet invented, I’m thinking), who’ve been donning and then doffing condoms devilishly designed to please-- well, I’m not ready to imagine quite who is being pleased by the top-hatted jaunty snowman, the antlered Rudolphs, the swirling snowglobes with embedded working trainsets, the Mickey and Minnie Mouse ears popping out from under Santa Elf hats. Let’s just say that these multi-gendered gods are having way more fun in these new weeks of January than the rest of humanity put together.

But perhaps we should forgive them for their slovenly ways, for being too delirious or drunk, giddy or passed out to dispose of their protection more considerately or hygienically; maybe we should tolerate their frisky behavior, glad they are using protection and neither spreading around massive cases of Giant STD nor creating little god-monsters. Let's count our blessings: what ever they're doing must be in another realm for it's inaudible and invisible –at least they’ve never woken me up. We only have to witness the limp, soggy by-products of their frolics for a few weeks of the year. Hmmm, come to think of it, this has been going on since late November. Oh wait, these are the deflated giant holiday displays pumped up nightly over the 39 days of Christmas by home owners out to impress each other with their humongous holiday cheer and massive quantities of hot air…. oh, well, then, never mind…