An Open Letter to My Gym’s Howler Monkey Guy

The Daily Life Text

Dear Howler Monkey Guy,

You are not working hard enough. I know this because you are bouncing up and down in the saddle of your spin bike like a problematic Jack in the Box. You have zero resistance on your wheel.

Half the time you are standing up due to some misguided notion that you are firming up your glutes or whatever by doing so.

(You are still pedaling too fast, even as you are standing up.)

You are annoying and distracting. Now I know how Monica Seles’s opponents felt on the tennis court. Yes, I just compared you to a girl in a very short skirt. (Somehow I know this will annoy you to no end.)

But at least Monica Seles was consistent: she grunted every time she hit the ball. (Plus, she is way more bad-ass than you will ever be.)

But you! You are surprising, and not in a good way. You make the howler-monkey noise if you like the song; when you feel yourself moved by the amount you are sweating; if you like the way you look in the big wall mirror; if you feel the sweat stain you are producing on the front of your shirt looks particularly like something you like…I don’t know. I don’t live in your brain, thank god.


If you were working as hard as I am, you would not have enough energy or breath to Howler-Monkey. I know this.

I spend all of my time trying to outride you, but I can’t, because we are in spin class, and our bicycles are stationary.

So I moved from where you can startle me when you whoop, although I liked that position there. It was right in front of the mirror, so I could see the way my right knee tracks a little bit to the side when I ride, and correct it. I could keep my eye on my shoulders and ensure they are level, belying only small movements, every potential movement channeled right into my chicken calves.

But you were too close to me there, in a direct sonar line right behind me. I imagine your WOO! drills right into my medulla oblongata, or whatever part of my brain it is at the base of my skull, which must also be the part that makes all the hairs on the back of my neck rise up.


Also, even though you are directly behind me so I do not have to look at your face when you WOO!, I still have to see you bobbing, weaving, bouncing all over the fucking place. I see glimpses of you, multiples of you, every pedal stroke, and it’s like this disappearing/appearing you is more stressful than the regular old you would be if I just had to stare at you all the time.

But the WOO!s are loud. They are SO loud from here. So I move.

I was wrong. Although this corner of the class is right by the very loud rotating fan they have on the ceiling to provide some kind of breeze, and thus is very very loud and sometimes drowns out your WOO!s, I can see all of you now, all the time, because there is sometimes no one between my line of sight in the mirror and you.

From here you look like a factory-discard bobble-head doll: “Oh, no. No, no, This prototype will never do. It moves so much it will scare small children. Throw it out. Put it in a dark room where no one will ever find it.” They dim the lights in spin class, but not enough, by a long shot.

If Howler-Monkey guy were to imagine himself a bobblehead
If Howler-Monkey guy were to imagine himself a bobblehead

Ah! Today you have shaved your normal porn-star mustache, so I can see the split second your lips start to purse and you start to blow out and argh argh argh, because there it is. WOO! The noise comes out of your pursed hairless lips, and all I can think of a literal asshole, blowing wind.


Anyway. In this corner you are less noisy. But you are just as disruptive, and not in an uber/AirBnB kind of way. You just are annoying.

Real cyclists, by the way, do not ride the way you do. We do not bob and weave. We funnel all of our energy to our legs, from our neck down, as much as we can. Our shoulders are rock-steady. If we bobbed and wove like you did, we would be all over the road so fast.

We also do not WOO!

But you are not a real cyclist. You have probably never taken your bike outside. Do you even have a bike?

I think it is not a coincidence that, after every class with you, I do something like looking up a triathlon or a group ride or something.

There on the open road, the thinking probably goes, from my damaged medulla oblongata, I would not have to deal with you. If you did start to WOO!, I could just ride faster.

On the open road, I know, the wind rushes past my ears so fast that I can hardly hear my husband or friends calling to me.

I can hardly hear the gentle beeps of the cars wanting to pass, not that we hear them that often. Going downhill on a swooping mountain road, we are faster than they are. And on the uphills, I have only enough energy to contemplate my whistling lungs, my heartbeat pounding in my ear; the midges gathering around the sweat on my nose.

If I am in the foothills, on the trail, I hear nothing but birds, since I am usually alone. I pay close attention to where my front wheel is tracking, what the terrain looks like; can I make this short steep climb?

Cars hardly need to beep anyway, because I am a good cyclist. I take periodic glances over my shoulder.

On the open road, or trail, I am strong and fast and I am frustrated only by my lack of strength, or endurance. On the open road, if I hear something that annoys me, I can outride it. Him. Her. Sometimes, the stray dog, nipping at my heels.

On the open road I can see the end of the hill. The scenery distracts with its variety. My mind does not roam, though, to how annoyed I am, because you need to pay attention to the tiniest things on the open road, on the mountain trail.

How I wish I were there now!

Why am I not there now? Why do I let you torture me?

If I go to spin class in my eyeglasses and not my contacts, I have to take off my eyeglasses, so I don’t sweat all over them. And in this darker corner of the room, I can choose not to see as much.

In my refection in the mirror I can barely see my lips, stretched in a gasping grin, trying to ride out the effort. I wheeze through my teeth and try to outride your WOO!

The instructor says, like he always does, Relax your shoulders. Relax your face. This is not running.

If it were, I would outrun you, Howler Monkey Guy.

On the open road I would not grimace when you WOO. We are not even in the same universe, Howler Monkey Guy.

In the reflection of the gym mirror, in this darker corner to which I have moved to escape you, I can also hardly see my age spots, especially the huge one of my cheek. These age spots sit right over my cheekbones, the ones I’ve been been praised for all my life. In this dark corner, they are less prominent.

Put on sunscreen, says the doc. I tried that; SPF50 all the time.

“Let’s try bleaching cream,” said that doc. Tried that, too.

My husband says my spots are lightening up. But whenever I get out of the pool, I feel I can see a noticeable difference…I can see it—them—the ugliest blotches I have ever seen on any face, dark, stain-like, on my countenance.

I find it hard to look at pictures now, of myself in my 20s and all the way through my mid-30s, when the spots were not yet there.

I got the big one—well, it appeared, anyway, after a stint in the Philippines with the disaster relief agency I love so much. Close to the equator. Working all day. Not enough sunscreen in the world.

Sometimes, in my wildest, darkest dreams, I think I’d rather lose a finger, a toe, instead of having these stains on my face.

Sometimes, I like awake at night, thinking to myself, if I am this stained at 41, how will I look at 60? 75?

This is a losing proposition. This is just as bad as trying to outride you, Howler Monkey Guy, in a classroom of spin bikes.

Why am I here?

I am here because one can swim in the dark, at night, and one can run in the dark.

One cannot ride one’s bike in the dark, not where I like to go.

So one will tolerate you, won’t one, just to be close to one’s bicycle. One will collapse over one’s useless, unsteerable handlebars, time after time, effort after effort, deflated by your stabbing, animal yelps.


One’s husband will tell one that one has GOT to get over it.

If one could get over this massive age spot on one’s face, this would not even be a problem. One would be outside, on the open road, where she truly wants to be.



The Daily Life Text

It has been what feels like an obscenely long time since I’ve blogged.

In the meantime, my book had its birthday and we had ten days’ worth of houseguests, and then I went to Seoul to participate in the Rotary International Convention on behalf of ShelterBox, and then I had a most extraordinary time being carted around South Korea, talking about writing and publishing with interested parties all around.

Truly, I lead a charmed life.

On the last day of lectures, a grueling 4 hours of talking broken up by a pleasant hour-long lunch, I got a note from one of the attendees in the audience. Having evidence of the work we did together outside of Instagrammable, social media fodder in my hands, a tiny little craft-paper envelope with precise writing on it, still warm from her hands, is such a present. I, too, may take to carrying around little cards, the better to thank people in tangible fashion, on the fly. How much we can learn from each other!


Over my three days with the Embassy, I met some other characters, people I’ll forever be grateful with for making it so obvious that sharing what I’ve learned with others is bound to be a most gratifying existence.

The Old Storyteller: He comes to many of the American Corner Daegu’s events. He speaks pretty spot-on English and has stories he wants to pass on, but he’s 85 and wanted to know what I would tell someone like him, someone who’s tried to write but can’t seem to do it. Time is short, he says. “When should I quit trying?”

The Anxious Girl: “You said we should write every day. Well, I draw every day. Is that okay?” Later, meeting me one-on-one, her hands shook as she tried to turn to a page in her notebook. I mis-stepped, asked if she wanted an autograph, like her classmates, but no, she wanted to show me her drawings, and boy! Were they something! Reptile claws over a planet overgrown with trees and scrub and vines; silhouetted people standing at the hearts of planets, trees rising out through their heads…Yes, yes, write every day, but geez, don’t stop doing these, ever.

The Concerned Citizens: “I wanted to know if you consider yourself a feminist.” And “You say we should fight the efficient fight when it comes to unfairness in the workplace. What is the best way for writers to do this?” And, “As a writer, do you think Donald Trump is exercising free speech?”

The Enthusiastic One: “You’re my very first author ever.”

The Worrier: “I think I carry around so much of what people say in critiques. How do you know what to take and what not to take?”

The Interpreter: Did you know that, during simultaneous interpretation, interpreters have to switch out every ten or fifteen minutes? It’s that grueling.

The Single Girl: My handler over the three days in Korea was this amazing young woman who has no plans of getting married and no plans for kids. She’s truly a career woman, a person who’s constantly curious, always living, it seems, whether that take the form of hiking up Seoul’s beautiful hills or scouting locations for visitors like me or enjoying whatever it is she’s eating. I wish we could have spent more time together.

The Veteran: “Could you sign this for me? I want to show our young people what we can do with our creativity. And I want to show them what we Orientals [sic] can do when we go abroad.”*

What a terrific three days. How lucky I am!

*No, I’m not offended. It’s a dated phrase, and the guy was near 80.


Biography of some blue jeans

The Daily Life Text

Adopted ca 2006 from a consignment store in Chicago, on Southport.


Meant to be “dressier” jeans due to original darker wash and stiffer denim.

Heritage: “Made in the United States,” likely one of the last pairs of Luckys to carry that distinction.

Worn: everywhere, from dive bars to wine bars to bicycle seats to ferry seats to porch stoops.

Worn: any time, from first thing in the day to late, late at night and into the early morning and then into the next day again.

Worn: with polo shirts, button-down shirts; T-shirts; sweaters. Flip flops; heels; boots; flats; bare feet; sneakers of all stripes and spots.

First tear: down around the cuffs, from scuffing along in flip flops.

First wear: Front right pocket, top edge, from rooting for change and keys.

Most obnoxious tragic flaw: zipper placket hopelessly crunched to the side, so as to expose brass of zipper. Sigh.

Second visible wear: Zipper placket, from constant tugging back into place.

Second and third tears: Knees

Fourth and fifth tears: Thighs

Sixth, inexcusable, mysterious tear: Crotch.

Diagnosis of sixth tear: consistent right-leg-over-left-leg crossing, and accompanying, inevitable slide down the seat.

Legacy: Mournfulness. Where will I find another pair?

Do you have a favorite item you’d write a biography for? Tell me in the comments below. 


Brain Flotsam from the past

The Daily Life Text

Early this morning, while I was walking the dog, a kid on a bike with a loaded-down backpack rode by on the way to school. It recalled for me the sense I had on my own bike, riding the very same road, on the way to the high school a mile down the road.

I never felt rushed, I remember that. I remember feeling free, and like I knew I was going to get there. (I felt the same thing walking, but I usually walked home with a friend. And I do remember also the little frisson I got when some guy friend pulled up in either a black Mustang or a Jeep and asked if I wanted a lift (those were the two best, in my experience). What a thrill, to be part of this landscape. How cool it was, to be in a scene I’d seen so many times before on television. The stuff of dreams, I tell you.

Place can often shake loose so many memories. It's worth having a wander in your old haunts.
Place can often shake loose so many memories. It’s worth having a wander through your old haunts.

Last week I was with a friend at my high school track. We were doing laps. Laps upon laps, terrifically painful rotations from a workout from my coach (triathlon, not high school). Afterwards, we took a walk through campus. I was surprised to feel how many memories just being in those places shook loose. The students with the formaldehyde cats; the argument I had with a guy who was running for class secretary, or something like that, against me (he won); the place I was confronted about losing a book a fellow student had just loaned me–I’ll never forget the hurt look on his face.

And then, recently, I’ve been remembering some things my brother said to me when he was older, about some things that happened when we were very very young:

  • “You know when you guys used to put the french fries in my burger so I’d eat the burger first? Well, I always knew what you were doing.”
  • “Hey. I always knew those weren’t Scooby Snacks.”
  • “Remember when you were cutting my hair with the clippers? And then you went, ‘Oops!’ and walked away? Yeah.”

What places shake loose memories for you? Tell me in the comments below.


Brain Flotsam 6

The Daily Life Text

Welcome to Brain Flotsam, the weekly digest of things I read, saw, or otherwise encountered that made my week more interesting. This week I saw five friends in person and got to interact with so many more in real time. What a great, packed week. And, the following:

  • One night this week I dreamed I had tried out for and made the high school cheerleading squad. We had to go to a tournament soon after. And I spent all of my time F-R-E-A-K-I-N-G O-U-T. Like, “I can’t do this! I have never been in a TOURNAMENT before!” And then part of me said, “Ridiculous. Why do you think they picked you for the squad? You have been training for this all your life! A tournament is just a bigger tryout! You can do this!” I like to think it was my conscious, slowly realizing I was dreaming, or do I like to think that? Wouldn’t I rather think that my subconscious, telling me that I can do whatever it is that’s coming my way? (NB: I have never wanted to try out for cheerleading, although I did rather envy the little pleated skirts and tiny sweaters.)
  • Sometime last week I stopped hitting “like” on facebook posts. (I borrowed the idea from this guy.) I think, honestly, it was because the introduction of the new “react” options tipped me over the edge into decision fatigue. Now I react only using comments. I think it’s made me a more thoughtful person. (Don’t laugh.)
  • A new museum! It’s of broken hearts!
  • I made this fish stew this week. It was delicious, and then I left it out on the counter after we’d had our second meal from it. Sad. Oh well.
  • The MFA program I graduated from is closing its doors this semester. I don’t have anything coherent to say about this yet, except this: I am sad that I won’t be able to give back to the community that gave me so much, now that I’ll be a published author soon. Lesson learned: contribute whenever you can. Don’t wait.
  • I am still reading Stephen King’s It. I would like it to end sometime soon, and it looks like it will. After this, I think I should read something rather less gothic. And shorter. The last time it took me this long to read something, it was Moby-Dick (chapter 18! Still no whale!) and I was on deployment in Malawi, and I never finished it.
_It_ feels about as big as this whale.
Stephen King’s _It_ feels about as big as this whale.

I think that’s it for this week. Hopefully by the next time we check in together, I will have finished reading _It_ and moved onto something comforting and fluffy. What did you see this past week? Tell me in the comments below.

P.S. My MFA program’s mascot is the orca whale. I think I won’t be able to look at Orcas for a long time without feeling a little bit sad.

Brain Flotsam 5

The Daily Life Text

Welcome to brain flotsam, the weekly column where I tell you about some stuff I read, saw, or otherwise encountered.

A woman down the street from us waves with both arms when she sees us walking the dog. I like it when people wave with both arms. It seems so happy! enthusiastic! I think I may adopt this from now on.

This important opinion article, from a female firefighter, made me recall my own childhood. Apparently we tell our girls to “be careful” four times as often as we tell our boys. It’s making me check the way I think: Why do I constantly remind myself to be careful? Total situational awareness is one thing. Over-caution is another. Societally-created over-caution is yet another beast, and I’ll keep on fighting it within myself.

Last week, though, I caroomed down the Claremont Wilderness Trail on my bike with something like 10% brake functionality. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone out that day, since I’d already noticed they were soft. Hmmm.

I started re-reading Stephen King’s It recently. I’m reasonably sure I read it in high school, which is when one reads Stephen King books, after all. You guys. This book is remarkable, in aspiration and scope and sheer complexity. Six characters, all fully fleshed out by partway through; flashbacks that all totally make sense. Plus, somehow, proving to me once again that Stephen King really is a master at character above all else, the suspense of this thing lies not so much in the supernatural, but in the humanity of what is ostensibly the subplot.


On another note, I stopped reading a book recently, too: It’s called Look Who’s Back, and it presumes that Adolph Hitler somehow wakes up again in 2011 on a patch of grass in a Berlin park. After some bumbling around, he gets his own reality show, starts influencing people, and…and…you might be able to guess why I stopped reading it smack in the middle. *cough* Art imitating life, anyone? Still, it was entertaining for as long as I could stand it.


I also went to The Getty with my friend Jen. I hadn’t been there in ages. I like it for its collection, for the fact that it’s free, for the exhibitions it draws from its research department–and also, for the weather that sometimes slides up the hill and only up the hill, leaving the rest of LA seemingly alone. So cool.


Plus, I read this curatorial note at an exhibit on illuminated manuscripts: “Turbans and a camel add an exotic air.” You know, as they would, unless you lived someplace where turbans and a camel were normal. Then you’d have to find some of those Hot Dog on a Stick costumes to add an exotic air with. You know?



Later on that night we went to an L.A. Kings’ game. There were lots of flashing lights.

I am such a dork.

That’s it for this week. See you next week!



Brain Flotsam 4

The Daily Life Text

Welcome back to Brain Flotsam, the weekly feature that touches on things I heard, read, and saw that made me go Hmmmm. Here’s what I encountered this week!

A tour of the British Isles in accents! I haven’t vetted this with my English pals yet. But I found it a very useful lesson in both accents AND *cough* geography.

I’ve decided to stop saying and writing “Best of luck.” To my ear, it sounds disingenuous, almost sarcastic–“Yeah, good luck with that“–and it nearly assumes that whatever it is the person is attempting, s/he’s going to need luck to get it done. I think “all best” is a good way to go.

I just started watching Star Trek. It feels a little bit funny, to immediately “know” that Spock is half-human; that the thing he’s doing to that guy’s neck is the Vulcan neck grip; that the guys in the red shirts are all likely to die. There’s no element of surprise or discovery for me. But still, I’m enjoying it to pieces.

I had a shock this week after reading a most undemanding book. It was called Penelope Goes to Portsmouth, and the edition I was reading had this cover on it:


I read it as light, fluffy, frisky modern lit. Like I said, it was completely undemanding work. But then I went to enter the book into Goodreads, and up popped this cover:


And suddenly I was like, o WOW. I had no idea I was reading outdated old-lady romance garbage! We are, as ever, visual creatures, aren’t we? (Capsule review: This book was really fun to read, if not predictable and not assuming a very sophisticated reader. But it was a nice, quick, one-day diversion.)

Pockets. Pockets are on my mind. Nearly all of my dresses–even the nicer ones–have pockets in them. I look for them. When I am out, I keep business cards, a small notebook and pen, lip balm, in them. And sometimes I store things in them–other people’s business cards, for instance. But pockets are also good for memories. This week I found this in the pocket of a dress I last wore in December, in England:


It is a tiny propeller off a tiny airplane that was a toy in a Christmas cracker. It immediately sent me back, briefly, to an awesome evening with great friends. Pockets. Good for finding memories.

Tune in next week for more Brain Flotsam!

Brain Flotsam 3

The Daily Life Text

Welcome back to the weekly digest of things I saw, heard, or encountered this week that I thought you might like, too!

Check this awesome museum out: It’s the museum of endangered sound. Yes, sounds like the fax shriek, the AOL sign-in, and other things guaranteed to bring you back in time. via Stefan Bucher.

I liked these New York steps the way they were when I used to live at the top of them.

This cover, of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” from Linkin Park. What I love about this is how much the crowd gets into the song, singing along with the chorus. Some music transcends genre.

We went to visit Monterey this weekend, and checked out Heart Castle along the way. Here are some faces I noticed at the castle:

By the way, Hearst collected sarcophagi. What a weirdo. More importantly, the architect for Hearst Castle was Julia Morgan, one of the U.S.’s first female architects. Very cool.

And then we went to the aquarium. Otters. Octopuses. Lovely views of the water. And I bought this book, all about the sea. Stay tuned for a capsule review over at Tahoma Literary Review at the end of this month. sea

That’s all for this week. What did you see, encounter, hear, read?

Brain Flotsam 2

The Daily Life Text

Stuff I read, saw, or encountered over the last week:

  • This pretty important, and revealing, post from author Wendy J. Fox on how many books she’s actually sold. (h/t Jen Dawn Brody)
  • These great photos from Ellis Island, ca 1900, digitized for the first time:
  • Bruce Lee’s personal manifesto (click the photo to read):
  • bruce lee


  • A fascinating story of what might have been, from Robert Kerbeck. It involves O.J. Simpson and an exercise tape.
  • My friend Josh is crewing for this guy as he runs across the country in 49 days. This is pretty bad-ass.
  • “Wist” is not a word. It should be, because sometimes you are wistful, and what is that if not full of wist???
  • Cool name of the week: “Drinkwater.” But not cooler than some of the names we encountered in Malawi:
    • Precious Bicycle
    • Lovemore Jones
    • Fanny Friday
    • Just Now Kolosi
  • Book I read this week: Jo Nesbo’s _The Snowman_. It was effing exhausting and I don’t need to read another Harry Hole novel anytime soon. (I’ve read two so far.)
  • Finally, today is the Iowa Caucus. Every election year I have to hunt down an article like this so I can re-educate myself on what the hell that means. Gah.
  • Okay, fine, let’s end on a better note. Here’s a brick in a washing machine on a trampoline.

Brain Flotsam

The Daily Life Text

Here are some things I read or saw this week that I really loved.

First, some people playing Adéle’s “Hello” on a surfboard. (Thanks to Audrey for the tip-off.) I love so much about this: the way the guy on the end spots the cymbal on the ceiling before he nails with with a high kick (high hat! high kick! ha!); the voice of the girl in the middle, standing on a block to be the same height-ish as the others; the [SPOILER AHEAD] way the guy with the longer hair loses his hat from rocking out. It’s a nice five-minute break. 🙂


Second, here’s some interesting reading (h/t Dave Nichols) about why U.N.-spec tarps are the way they are. We use these tarps at ShelterBox, in our ShelterBox ShelterKit.

I remembered suddenly the very last breakup meal I had, in January or February of 2000, and how much I paid for it. It was at Le Zoo in Greenwich Village, and I paid $75 for the two of us, because I had invited the guy out, and I also got to say exactly what I wanted to say (we all know how rare that is). After we’d broken up–“I never said I loved you,” he said–he reached for his wallet. “Don’t add insult to injury, M—,” I said. “I invited you out.” But I still got dumped. 🙂

The McSorley’s snack. Last Wednesday I had a friend over. We sat on my floor and she brought over beets on Alouette over a bed of micro-greens; I had a brainwave, New York-related again, that took me back to sawdusty floors at McSorley’s Ale House, where some friends and I used to drink, along with the rest of the world who ever visited New York. Their standard bar snack was sliced white onions, cheddar, and a sleeve of saltines. I did mine with Tilamook extra-sharp and water crackers, but I forgot the mustard. IMG_3587 2

We went to Santa Barbara this weekend. I liked this random collection of textures:

Early in the week I saw this comic-book caption in real life (Ka-POW! Blam!):


I mean, what the krunk?

That’s all for this week: Tune in next Monday for more brain flotsam.