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 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.