Hunkering down

The Daily Life Text

And now, for something completely different:

What is that? It’s my office wall, and it’s also something I’ve never tried before. It’s outlining. [Please ignore the fugly wood paneling. It is not my fault and soon I will be painting it something else, since my life has become a DIY show.]

Here’s a close-up:

On each of the yellow index cards is a full scene. On each of the white, is, dur, the MC’s location at that point in the book. My thesis adviser thinks this is going to be a one-month draft. I think, okay, I’m game for that.

And the other part of me thinks, oh, hell, it’d better be a one-month draft. Otherwise I’m might close to deadline.

So let’s just see how this goes, shall we? Two scenes a day. Let’s just see.

Is it so hard to be timely?

The Daily Life Text

In the 3 months we’ve lived here in southern California, we’ve never once had a workman show up on time. Typically, they’re between 15 minutes to an hour behind. One has a habit of showing up, or having his crew show up, half an hour to an hour early. Sometimes they wait until the tail end of their window to show up.

Folks. This is ridiculous. How hard is it to set yourself a reasonable window of time and then appear within it? How hard is it to consider that your being on time impacts everyone else’s time?

I’m about to start a gig that will require me to keep pretty tight watch on my timeliness. And one of my clients is still billed on an hourly basis. So for me, this is nothing new. But I’m also not fond of being late for business appointments. And in a world where everyone and anyone is subject to review, might I suggest that this world is also not the best place for you to piss someone off?

Heck, part of me wants to bring back to timestamp clock.

I think this definitely qualifies as a pet peeve. And no, I don’t accept “the traffic” as an excuse. Build it in, for pete’s sake. Perhaps I am persnickety about this because I’ll have to keep a tighter watch on my time than usual, as I head into drafting of my thesis.

And part of me is terrified that this is just the way the world works here, and that I will have to suck it up. Hunh.

April is the month of Nostalgia

The Daily Life Text

We were watching Objectified the other night. It’s a documentary about the everyday things we use in life, and the future of design. I really enjoyed it, in part for its focus on quotidian items and the thought that goes into them. It made me think of all the things that have gone obsolete recently that I truly miss. Here’s a curated listing:

Ma Bell phones


I so love these big clunkers. I love the heft of them, the way the base stayed put no matter how far you stretched the cord. I love the effort you had to put into dialing–really, really mean it–and the way you could dab the little twin buttons on the cradle to hang up. (Incidentally, this reminds me of one of my favorite writers, Lee Child, and the way he describes certain actions: car tires “patter” when they’re crossing train tracks; his hero “butts” papers into a neat stack; he “dabs” at the cradle to dial again. Verb choices. Critical.)

I also love the lack of caller ID, and here’s why. Every time the phone rang, you never knew who was calling. Picking up the phone was like opening a present, only you couldn’t even shake the box first to find out what might be in it. And so, the greeting: “Hello?” Tentatively, curiously: “Hellooo?” Or even better: “Hello!” “HI!” “HELLO!” I don’t know who you are yet, but “HELLO!!! HOW NICE TO HEAR FROM YOU!” No, it doesn’t matter who you are.

A close second for the reason I miss this phone: The angry hang up. Slam! Bang! Down goes the receiver, with an authoritative crash. You can’t do that anymore, with the cordless phones. You can push the END button, that angry little red crossed-out phone icon, as hard as you want to, jab at it, press it until your nailbed goes white…but no one will know you’re angry, and, worse, you won’t get the satisfaction of letting the other person know just how angry you were when you hocked that receiver into the cradle.

Train Boards

from @Triborough's Flickr Stream

When I first moved to New York in 1996, Grand Central still had its ticker board up. As the trains left the station, the numbers and letters on the board would turn: ticketyticketyticketyticketyflip! and then all would be quiet for a few minutes.

The tickers were mesmerizing. They were like magic. I never understood how they worked. I still don’t, and I don’t really want to know. They were part of the background noise that makes up a train station for me. Without them (Grand Central Terminal moved to digital ticker boards in ’98, I think), the station seems eerily quiet to me, somehow too efficient.

Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station still has a proper ticker board. Some European airports have them, too. I miss them like crazy, and when I pull into Philly I always take a minute to stare at them and wait for a train to pull in, if I have time, so I can watch the board move.

The board is linear, but those moving numbers and letters–they turn something hard-edged and linear into something fluid, sinuous. Gorgeous.

Answering Machines

This is very like the last answering machine I ever owned. I kept it through my move into  Manhattan, and I can’t actually remember if Jim and I had one in Croton Falls, but I pine for it every time I look at my sleek cordless handset.

Why? Because I love coming home and seeing the blinking red light. Someone’s left a message for you! Not only are you home–home!–but you have something extra! Quick, put down the groceries, press the big blue button, find out who it was!

Now it’s like, oh, hunh! Looks like I missed a call. Gotta dial into voicemail. Gotta listen to that annoying digital lady tell me how many messages I have. Gotta press three to delete–that person called my mobile line right after she tried my landline.

What a hassle. Voicemail. I hate it.

Road maps

Maps tell me everything has gone right. Maps tell me that some things are as they should be. Maps are backstops and works of human diligence and art. And orienteering, a sport that uses map-and-compass skills, is one of the reasons I trust myself as much as I do today. If you can read a map, you’re never really lost. And you have constant reminders that you are on the right track. And you have backstops: “If you cross this river, you’ve gone too far.”

I wish more people understood how great maps are.

Analog Clocks

When I was growing up I had one of these. I think my parents have it now. More important, it is still wearing the little orange cap my dad made for it that said something like:

“Good morning Yi Shun! I am your clock. Please do not forget to wind me up every night before you go to bed.”

Big Ben, Baby Ben. I can’t remember what model it was. I do remember the ringing it made. I do remember the ticking. And I remember my dad’s handwriting. I wish I had that clock now, only Mr. Gooddirt hates ticking clocks. Oh well.


This is my agenda from the year 2000. I wrote everything down in this book. Even today it’s fun to look back over it and see who was in my life back then. As you can see, I not only wrote down what I had to do, but reference notes and telephone numbers. Elsewhere in the book, I’ve clipped membership cards, notes on the backs of business cards, things like that. What a trip.

I still keep an agenda of sorts. But it’s only if I don’t want to screw up the nice lighting in a bar with my mobile phone while I plug in an appointment, or if I can’t be arsed to do so.

I’d much rather write things down, anyway. Now I carry a blank notebook and my mobile phone. And sometimes a third notebook that is specifically pertinent to whatever meeting I’m going to. Obviously, I’ve become far less efficient that I used to be. Might be time to regress.

On another note, Christ, I looked like I was busy back then, didn’t I?

What are some favorite “obsolete” items of yours?


A New Way of Seeing

The Daily Life Text

Wow, am I cranky. Peeps, I am so cranky I can hardly believe it. I think I would be lying if I said I don’t know why, so I’ll just try to talk you through it.

1. I am scheduled to do a half-marathon on trail October 2. That’s this weekend, and I have been looking forward to it for a long time now.

2. I have been plagued by injury.

3. Now we are less than a week before the race, and although I know I won’t have a problem completing the race, I’m now in a position where I don’t feel like I can log in anymore miles because I’m terrified of hurting myself before the race. (This is because the last injury was two weeks ago, when I pulled a heretofore-unknown muscle in my pelvis during a routine speed workout.)

4. Therefore, although I’ve been undertaking normal activities, and some not so normal, like tottering around in 3.5-inch heels to and from dinner and a Baptism and walking around Manhattan in a pair of not-smart sandals that obviously hve lost their cushioning, I have not been working out, and my body is PISSED.

5. Therefore, I am pissed. But still cautious about hurting myself before the race.

This is a ridiculous, self-fulfilling prophecy. So I am ignoring it, and trying to alleviate The Cranky.

Today I want to talk to you about art. This past weekend we had some friends in town from Chicago, and we visited both the Neue Galerie and The Met, and the following day we walked over the Hudson River on the Walkway and then went to the FDR Presidential Home and Library. Then we had dinner at the Culinary Institute of America, from which Jim’s father graduated.  If that seems like a lot of culture, it was, but it was also full of art in all its aspects: natural, historical, visual, and culinary.

I did not have my camera with me, and my Blackberry has decided it Does Not Want to Take Photos anymore, so I had to rely on others for those. (This, incidentally, is another reason for The Cranky.) But this is a good opportunity for me to share with you my latest endeavor, which is to be a better recorder of life through not only words and type, but also visual arts.

Some of you may remember that I took some art lessons awhile back. This is me and my art instructor, Jan Cianflone:

We are on her porch, the last day of my art lesson, just before I went to Whidbey. Towards the end our lessons took place en plein air.

Jan ran me through several different media. We started with pencil and charcoal and spherical objects. Here’s a photo of some eggs:

And here’s the chiaroscuro charcoal I did of those same eggs:

We also did some gesture drawings, which I really enjoyed, from magazine pages. Fashion magazines are good for these, since the models tend to be lanky and long and the shoots tend to be of exaggerated poses. I wish I still had the actual page this came from. This is a 3-minute gesture drawing.

From there we moved into pencil washes. I really enjoyed working with the more suggestive lines of these, as opposed to the more definitive lines of plain pencil.

and then we moved into pen-and-ink, which I really loved, but only in this one case, because, as it turns out, you can’t mix color as well in these big markers as you can in something like watercolor. Although, I did love the broad stroke of the pens…

We did some drawing from life of my favorite hairy subject. (I call this the Grandma-Moses Sprocket.)

And from there, I was on my own. It was a remarkable six weeks, and although I’m still experimenting and learning, here are some of the results:

The Whidbey dock. I’m not happy with this drawing. I love the loose evocation of the trees at the top of the drawing, but I’ve really done a hack job on the dock, which looks cartoony and stiff. I know a lot of this is me learning my own style, but it’s definitely frustrating to see something like this.

I drew it from life, but, for comparison, at an obviously different time of day, here’s a photo.

Later on in the week, I did this drawing, which is of a house that sits on the lagoon near where we had our afternoon classes. I got really lost in the grasses near the bottom of the drawing and just didn’t have the energies or the know-how or the artistic balls to try and complete the suggestion of river that ran along the lawn of the house.

On my way home from Whidbey, I tried to do a marker-and-ink drawing of an airplane at its gate. When I looked up again, the airplane had disappeared. Sigh.

Here’s my most recent drawing:

Personally, it’s my favorite. For comparison, here’s the photo:

I want to get to a point where I can suggest things better and allow the viewer to make their own interpretations. But i guess a girl has to start someplace.

There are many more drawings I want to do. I still haven’t covered my beloved city, or the lovely impressionistic photos of Seattle I took at night, when the iPad camera will only suggest light and glimmer. I think those will be next.

Ultimately, I hope the drawing will inform my writing. It’s only just now occurred to me, actually, that the protagonist in the novel I’m writing for my thesis is an artist. Lately, she and I haven’t been communicating very well, and my adviser has suggested that I spend the day in her shoes, so I’m doubly glad that I took lessons with Jan.

It’s always nice to have another way of seeing things.

Dog under Desk

The Daily Life Text

…This is what happens when I am in a terrible mood.

Ergo, Sprocket is under my desk. Entirely. Where he does not fit. Here is the proof.

This is also proof that I am in a terrible mood. I have never tried writing a post while I am in a terrible mood, so this will be AN EXPERIMENT.

I am going to tell you about my two phobias. Potentially I will address what to do about them, but because I am conducting this experiment as I type, I guarantee nothing. I should lead by saying that I don’t ordinarily fall into the category of a girl’s girl. Sure, I like to get dressed up, but I don’t mind getting dirty or sweaty. Most of my shoes are shoes you can hike in, if at a pinch. I buy clothing to get sweaty in. I paint my toenails before every race. That’s about it. And I’m not generally squeamish. I like bugs and beetles and almost every type of wildlife, yes, even snakes and spiders. I love the outdoors and wonderful temperate forests. So that makes this first phobia really awful.

1. Worms

I am terrified of worms. You’re thinking, “Oh, lots of girls say that. They’re not really.” The answer is, yes, yes I am terrified of them. Really. I am so terrified of them that when I went to do a search for illustrations for this post, I had to actually close one eye and then pick a picture of a cartoon worm. Here it is:


Seriously. When the search page came up with all sorts of pink and brown collared things with no legs, all of the hairs on the back of my neck went up and I almost couldn’t touch the keyboard.

I love rain, but spring is particularly awful because when I take Sprocket for a stroll there are worms all over the sidewalk, escaping the drowning fate by stretching themselves out on comparably more dry pavement. I spend a lot of time and energy and probably shorten my life shrieking and sidestepping, heart pounding a billion times a minute. Even if it’s just me and there’s not one to shriek TO. Pathetic.




And you know what? It gets worse I’m also freaked out by these things:


Yeah, millipedes. Those fat scurrying, undulating bodies, all uniform and segmented…it’s worse when they’re curled up.

I didn’t think I was one of those. And when I’m in the field, or moving with purpose, in general, I can set it out of my mind. But…well, take the time I was with our friend Peggy, watching Jim race in a 24-hour mountain bike race in a forest in New Jersey. I got up out of the camp chair, and there in the dying light of a humid summer day, I spotted a millipede. I froze. I couldn’t move, couldn’t go around it, couldn’t really function. I just stood there, panting, freaking out, and Peggy eventually had to get a stick and move it for me. Even so, every time I thought about it, my mouth would water in that horrible pre-vomiting feeling.

I can’t really pin down why this is. I know that when I was young and we had just moved to Pennsylvania, I used to let caterpillars run over my hands and arms, watching their cute little furry bodies wiggle. I can’t even do that anymore. The feeling of those tiny fleshy feet, hundreds of ’em, wandering over and around…urg.

I also know that, when I was twelve or so, a worm fell off the roof of our house (I don’t know what it was doing up there) and landed on my head. My friend Kate looked up and said to me, “Um, I don’t want to scare you, but…” and, props to her, picked it out. And broke it in half while she was trying to rescue me. So now there was a half a worm, leaking god-knows-what in my hair.

I don’t remember if we went on playing after she rescued me. That night I dreamed a horrible nightmare about being covered in earthworms. We had the segment on worms in science class shortly after that. We had to put a worm on a paper towel on our desks and PUT OUR HEADS DOWN CLOSE TO IT to listen to it moving around. I think I begged out of the dissection. It was awful.

I remember playing with snails and slugs, too–in Taiwan we had these huge slugs that would crawl around in the courtyard, and I’d go out there and poke them in the antennae and watch them shrink back. Yep, I don’t do that anymore either.

But worms. Worms are the worst. I don’t know what to do about this.

2. Sharks


There’s not much to say about this. They are amazing creatures. The thing is, they are perfect killing machines. And honestly, I’m not all that freaked out by the concept of a quick death at the jaws of something this perfect, something that belongs in a native environment that I’m probably invading. But I do have a problem with a lot of pain.

Perhaps my problem is not so much with sharks themselves. My problem is likely more related to the ocean, that enormous expanse of unknown. The fact that, in a lot of saltwater bodies I’ve been in, the water is so clear that you can see whatever it is coming for you, with the sure fact that it’s a lot better at coming for you than you are at outrunning it–outswimming it–well, that’s not very palatable, either.

The ocean is an amazing thing. I’d like to feel comfortable in it, but part of me says that that’s a silly  aspiration. A little healthy fear is a good thing, particularly for something more powerful than you are.

But the other part of me says that you should always try something new, always try to push your limits a little.

I’ve tried surfing. I’ve swum in open water, a lot. Maybe this is just a matter of proficiency. Every once in awhile I get panicky, although I didn’t panic once during IM Switz. I dunno. Maybe this phobia is all visual. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I can clearly see the limits of a lake, or a freshwater body of water. I can’t do so with oceans.

So there you have it. My two biggest fears. One I can do something about. The other I’d like to go away, but I’m not sure how. I think the worm thing is all tactile: seeing them reminds me of how they feel. Bleck. Anyone get over such a thing, ever?


Yes, yes, I’m still cranky!

The 30-Day Experiment: How’d It Go?

The Daily Life Text

About a month ago, I told you all that I was going to do five things for 30 days straight. So, what were the results?

  1. Drink a glass of water every morning: 100%
  2. Make our bed every morning: 100%*
  3. Write a one-page diary entry longhand every day: 93%
  4. Go to the gym or do something physically strenuous every day: 76%
  5. Read at least the headlines of one entire section of the newspaper that arrives at my door each morning: 0%

So what now? Well, let’s look at why I picked these five items to begin with.

The water thing was about the fact that I woke up dehydrated every morning. That and the making-the-bed thing were also both about establishing a mini-routine that would help me to feel more organized in the morning. (Somehow, brushing my teeth, washing my face, and making coffee wasn’t enough of a routine.) And then, it’s kind of nice to walk by the bedroom and not see a rumpled mass of sheets and blankets every time I go past it.

Numbers 3, 4, and 5 are all about things I badly want in my life but hadn’t found the focus for previously. To be more specific, I’m more organized when I can take five or 10 minutes each night to jot down what happened during the day, and clear my mind of any extraneous garbage that might disturb my sleep, like pissiness over the way a meeting went, or the way a friend’s been treating me, or the way I’ve been treating a friend.

Working out every day was sort of a physical experiment. How long could I keep that up for without a break? And what would it do to my body?

Reading the newspaper was about being a better citizen of the world. And about cutting down on waste. Every day that I do read the newspaper, I find something I care about, something of interest.

So. Here are my conclusions.

1&2. I like starting the day with a little automatic movement and routine. I’ll keep these habits and probably build on them. In the last week of the experiment I started getting up at 6:30 with Jim and walking to the train station, where he catches his shuttle to work. Sprocket got an extra two miles–and I got an extra-early start to the day, which meant I could knock off earlier and not feel guilty if I was sitting in a beam of sunlight, reading, at 4PM.

3. I liked bookending my day with a focused task like this. It was nice to recap the day. There was a time when I wondered how people could fit everything they thought into one day, or even half a page.

really? merely a page for a day? yes, but not with restrictions like this. Photo: Levenger

But I could see how it would be soothing, to know that you only had to get to the end of the page and then you could stop or go on. And, unlike my previous practice of making lists for the next day each night, this freer form allowed me room to rant if I wanted to. I still like the night-before list. Good way to ensure that everything’s out of mind and safely on paper where you won’t forget it. But you can’t rant, or worry, or muse, on a list. You can with a nice blank sheet.

I used to do stuff like this all the time. What happened?

4. I have a love-hate affair with fitness. I’ve raced in countless events and even done Ironman. So what’s my block? I still don’t know, but I believe I am closer to solving the puzzle with these 30 days. I kept up the streak for 12 days straight. And then I had to travel one day, and that sort of screwed the pooch. But do you know what? I was so much stronger for the day off. I know, DUH, right?

Still, my experiment reinforced the need for balance. I love being outdoors, and often, a walk in the woods is so much more rejuvenating than a session on the Cybex. And then, friends also make everything so much better. Towards the end of my 30 days, some friends signed up for a June triathlon. I tagged along. Getting outside with friends reminded me how important it is to have people to train with, and folks to egg you on.

Linda, me and Jim on North County Trail

Then, too, it’s been very wintry here, so the days I was tempted to go outside were limited. I’m still not sure what I want to do with this, but now that it’s spring (although it’s snowed here for the past two days, or sleeted), my options will include many more outdoors miles. Either way, I’m stronger for this past month. In total I skipped seven days out of the 30, two of those for illness, two for travel, and three cos I was just plain lazy and couldn’t be arsed.

5. Oh, my newspaper. my beloved newspaper. I can’t give this up. I get so much out of it when I do sit down to it. But it almost never happens. Must approach this with renewed vigor. Maybe with looser parameters. But at which point do I abandon ship and just go to e-version? This would make me cry, by the way. I once had a nightmare about giving up the newspaper. Yes, really.

There are varying opinions on how long it takes a habit to form. One article I found said 21 days; another said 68! My take is that the habits you form are the ones that truly, deep down, do something for you.

I have a new challenge for myself. This one is just because I’m curious. Starting today, I will write down everything I eat each day. Will I calorie count? Maybe. I *am* curious.

Here’s the takeaway from my 30-day experiment.

*I don’t seem to be in danger of letting exercise either run my life or escape from it entirely. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.

*So, too, for the glass of water, the making of the bed, and the daily longhand diary.

*I’m giving the newspaper another crack. I’m just not willing to give up the feel of it.

And here’s what I’ve consumed today, so far:

(2) eggs in (1) tblsp corn oil + 1/2 c salsa

(2) cups coffee w (2) tabls half and half

(2) packets emergen-C w 16 oz. water.

Are you bored yet?

A brief intermission and a public announcement

The Daily Life Text

Aside from the basics off eating breathing, drinking water, I’ve never done anything for 30 days straight. Not in my recent memory, anyway, and not anything that I’ve known would be good for me. Maybe in my angsty college years I kept a daily diary for 30 days straight, but that’s hardly a challenge when you’re angsty all the time.
So, inspired by an acquaintance and a fellow writer, I’m challenging myself to do a few things over the next month, the next 30 days. They are things that have eluded me, and although I’m not up to challenging myself to doing something every day for a year, like the kid in Brenda’s story did, I think I can manage a scant month’s worth of time. And who knows? Maybe that month will lead to a year. But let’s not get ahead of myself. Here’s my list. I invite you all to either check in with me or make up a list of your own. Leave your lists in the comments below, if you like.

1. I will go the gym or do something physically strenuous every single day.
2. I will write a diary entry in longhand every day. It only has to be a page, but it can be more than that.
3. I will start each day with a glass of water.
4. I will make our bed each morning.
5. I will read at least the headlines of the first section of the newspaper that arrives each morning at my door and often goes straight to the recycling bin.

Okay, that’s my list. Now I’ve told you all, and I have no excuses, really. Some of these things are so simple! Who knows? Maybe this will be the start of something great.

‘sTrueth! A good time was had by all.

The Daily Life Text

Jim and I spent the weekend at the Trues’. I had a ridiculously busy Friday that involved a ton of networking (which, it seems, could be a full-time job even if you’re not actually following up on any of the networking with anything concrete); took some time off for lunch with a friend here in White Plains; and then bolted home to throw some final few things in a bag and drive up to Boston to squeeze in an overdue visit to an old friend before heading out to Melrose via the convoluted-but-beautiful Route 1. (Evans: Are you reading this? You are next.)

(Only in Boston would a relatively straight course end up looking like a misguided bowl of noodles.)

This route goes over the Tobin Bridge, by the way, which is stunning, to say the least.


Anyhow. We went to visit my friend Sarah, who had her baby boy, Jesus Jr., back in late December. I don’t know why there is only this photo of me, Jim and JJ and none of Sarah, me, Jim, and Jesus Sr. It seems people disappear when there are babies involved.

Baby Jesus is cute. He is just like the teddy bear he looks to be, warm and squashy and round.

Jesus and Sarah took us to the really great Village BBQ, where I had beef brisket, and Jim had…something I can’t remember. Jesus had hot wings whose flames could only be quenched by tequila, and Sarah had an entire rack of ribs. Have I mentioned that Sarah is but a mere waif? I never understood where she put the food. For that matter, I’m not sure where she put Jesus Jr.

Then it was off to the True household for a promised weekend of mountain biking.

That didn’t really happen. I mean, Jim and Colin went, and came back suitably muddy. The story is that Jim executed an awesome endo, but there were no photographs. However, as these were the photos that happened that night, I think it’s obvious that everyone had a good time. Indeed, Jim look properly relieved to have gotten out of the afternoon with nothing more than a good endo story to tell:

We girls went to hot yoga instead. It was very, very hot, although I know it wasn’t the 100 degrees on the thermostat. It was aggressive and I had some sort of aggressive woman next to me who flexed her hands wide open when she was doing Warrior and jumped back and forth with an annoying plip plopping noise whenever our instructor said to “jump or step back into upward facing dog.” You could see her tendons and she seemed to be very competitive. Anyway, Carli lost the lid to her WaterBox and it went rolling in a lopsided confused way underneath me before she caught it, which sent me into fits of snorting laughter that, thankfully, no one but Carli heard, I don’t think. This must be why Carli and I look so composed in this photo, because all of the giggling snorts had been sweated out of us.

Lily is a right proper angel.

Most days Carli is, too. I said most days.

Later on that night there was watching of the most ridiculously gleeful movie ever, The Hangover. Bradley Cooper has incredible hair in that movie. And that’s all I’ma say about that.

Photo: David Gabber,

Er. What happened just now? I got distracted. Oh, right, the weekend.

Perhaps one of the most cliché-and-yet-not moments of the weekend was when Colin dragged out his home videos, made back when he was, oh, I can’t remember, eight or so. People. You’ve never seen home videos like this. To be fair, they were shot by someone I think was an aspiring filmmaker (not Colin, but a childhood friend of his). There are sound effects and visual effects and great costumes and fake fighting and everything. They are from “Peter/Paul Productions,” with a proper nameplate, and they. are. hilarious. Seriously. I think I might have liked watching clips of those better than I liked.




What? Ahem.

Okay, so we knocked off to bed shortly after that, as Jim had to get up the next morning to ride in the King of Burlingame time trial race. People. Watch the video. Sometimes I cannot believe Jim rides this stuff. Sometimes I am sick with envy.

King of Burlingame Time Trial

Other times I look at that and go, “Agh, mud, trail erosion…eeeEEEeee…bridges!” In this case, I was not around to see the actual race; I was inside the car, trying to get a head start on editing the newspaper. We left shortly afterwards, and stopped on the way home to consume what would eventually be The Bane of Our Existence.

Doesn’t it look benign? And lovely?

It was, at the time. And then, four hours later, it was not, as Jim and I were rapidly overtaken with horrible food poisoning. I still haven’t decided if I can write up a Yelp review of this restaurant. Jim has fond memories of it from his days working in Groton, CT at Pfizer, but…oh, le sigh.

Anyway. So our wonderful weekend fizzled to a stop, as we both, in separate rooms, moaned our ways through the night (we didn’t know if it was flu and didn’t feel like passing it back and forth to each other). Jim gamely went to work Monday morning and I moaned my way through all of Monday and into Tuesday morning and now finally feel 100%. I am convinced that the hot yoga which made me sweat out all of the water in my system contributed to a slower recovery time for me.

Anyhow, we’re already halfway through the week, and I ahve a ton of work to do, because I have a houseguest coming Friday and things to do in the city tomorrow evening, I think, and then I am going to Haiti on Sunday.

Yes, I’m going to Haiti on Sunday. More on that later.

Bradley Cooper’s hair!


P.S. Carli made this thing out of WikkiStix. I have never heard of them until this past weekend, but I was suitably impressed:

Day of Birth, Girls’ Night Out, and the Weekend of Bad Photos and Gorgeous Houses

The Daily Life Text

Oh my, oh my. What a week.

I turned 35 last Tuesday and did it in the company of some good friends, some I hadn’t seen in a year or so. It was a terrific evening: Jody and I saw a movie that a friend produced, and then hopped into a taxi cab to meet up with some old friends.

Girls' Night Out, the reprise
Girls' Night Out, the reprise

We met up at a funny little bar called Three Steps that was very sweet and came with its own hound. [Who’m I kidding? This is not a hound. This is some kind of Roomba creature. I know this because it spent most of the night trolling the floor, looking for bits of the pizza we ordered.]


Shortly after (okay, three hours later) we dragged ourselves to the Campbell Apartment, where this happened:


And this:

DSC00306What’s that? You want to know what’s happening there? I’ll tell ya: Our girl Jen landed herself in a Reuters photo, is what. Jen got laid off on a Monday, made a sign, and ended up all over the newswaves the rest of the week. Way cool. I hope this will help her to land a job soon. She deserves it.

Tuesday and Wednesday were ShelterBox days for me. The CEO of our little NGO was in town, and I accompanied him on a little junket that involved some speaking and socializing and meeting. It’s always nice to get the head honcho’s point of view about the future of the team you volunteer for. Even cooler, Tom’s just won the Alternative Rich List, an award given to honor those whose wealth is measured in terms of what they’ve given to society. Very cool. Over the course of our three days together, we met some people who seemed truly stunned by what we do. Someone even told me that what we do elevates us to the status of angels. I’m not willing to go that far–it’s just a fact of life, isn’t it, that some of us are driven to do this work and others aren’t, and that’s OK. To call me an unearthly being was jarring, to say the least, and humbling, at best.

Couple that with a visit from my girl Jody, newly re-arrived from Boise, and you get a whirlwind three days. It was just the way I like to lead some of my days: hardly room enough to breathe, capping evenings with good company from friends. Wonderful.

On Friday Jim and I went to Rhode Island to visit the Newport Mansions. Here’s one of them, the Elms.


D’you see the massive shadow of the tree taking over the lower half of the photo? That’s a weeping beech. Here’s what it looks like from the inside:

This photo is only one of the reasons I'm calling this entry "Bad photos." People's thumbs; blurred photos; missed subjects...argh.
This photo is only one of the reasons I'm calling this entry "Bad photos." People's thumbs; blurred photos; missed subjects...argh.

Seeing the houses was bittersweet for me. I fully believe–and intend to–have a home as expansive as the ones we saw in Newport, but I’m fully aware that I need to make a lot more money–and have a lot more diligence–before I can have one. I don’t mean to say that I want something that’s 70,000 square feet, with 70 rooms, I just mean that I want something that feels as open, something where all of my friends come and visit and see it as a place to relax and be happy. I’ve written before about this. I won’t bore you with it again, but I will say that I’ve added one more requirement to the list: A big lawn, I think. Croquet is in order!

Jim and I tried–and failed again–at the fishbowl photo. Jim looks increasingly consternated in these things. I think we’d better try another tack. P9190136We spent the later part of the day wandering the grounds of The Elms, and discovered this scary-looking statuary.

P9190133I mean, hello?? This is a lion, attacking an alligator. What does this mean? Let us take a closer look at the struggling alligator. P9190134Why? Also, is it an alligator or a crocodile? If it is an alligator, than the bronze thing above it is a puma or a panther or some sort. If it is a crocodile, the thing is a lion. Because, well, alligators live in Florida. Lions do not live in Florida. I am so confused. Mostly because, well, why would you want to have such a sculpture in your yard??? The other one, on the other side of the yard to preserve symmetry, is a lionness with a dangling limp turkey from her mouth. (Or is it a vulture? ‘Cos, you know…) Ugh.

And then we saw this:

P9190139This is s horse with webbed feet. I know there is some mythological thing going on here, but I am refusing to entertain it, mostly because the faun on the side of the fountain scared me with his wide-open mouth and scary singing technique. Or maybe I was just distracted by the other fountain, with the woman proudly squirting water from her melons. Yes, you read right. Oh, those crazy American industrialists.

Actually, the whole weekend was very interesting. I learned a lot about some very ballsy women, which was cool, women who weren’t exactly happy with their lots in life, despite having tons of money. Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, who kept scullery maids but who was a champion of women’s suffrage, and her daughter, Consuelo, who agreed not at all with her mother’s decorating sense and went on, like her mother, to divorce her first husband. And then there was Gertrude Vanderbilt, who grew up wealthy but who wondered if anyone would ever love her for anything but her money. Tragic, in their own ways. Definitely worth reading up on later.

On Saturday night Jim took me to dinner at the White Horse Tavern.

P9190141It’s rumored that there’s a ghost in here, but I didn’t see him, even after a half-bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. Really nice meal. We’ll come back, if we can.

Here’s one final photo from the weekend, ‘cos I did name this post “Bad Photos,” after all.

P9190146See? All blurry! Argh!

Book publishing goes all Michael-Jackson on me

The Daily Life Text

There’s been some hue-and-cry lately over Justine Larbalestier’s new book, Liar. It’s not because it’s about a black girl who is a compulsive liar; it’s not because it’s a young-adult book about a black girl who’s a compulsive liar; it’s not because it’s about a black girl who’s a compulsive liar who may or may not have committed multiple murders.

No, it’s because of the cover, which shows a white girl.


Bloomsbury, Larbalestier’s publisher, is quoted here as saying something to the effect of, well, the girl’s a liar. You’re going to believe her about her own race? (Justine’s side of the story is here. If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, I suggest you take some time and read her very thoughtful post.)

I haven’t read the book (it’s not out until September in the U.S., and I don’t have an advance reading copy). But I must confess to having spent several hours thinking about this from several different perspectives.

As a Reader

I have a specific problem with seeing movies that are based on books before I’ve read the book. If I didn’t know that a book was based on a movie, I tend to quarantine myself until I’ve read the book, so that I don’t end up with too many pre-arranged images in my head. I feel sorry for those who equate Harry Potter with Daniel Radcliffe, and not with the angel-faced boy that Mary GrandPre dreamed up. I feel equally sorry for everyone who equates Ralph Fiennes with The English Patient, or mistakenly thinks the Czech Republic looks anything like France (“Les Miserables” movie, 1998) . The point is, of course, that when you go to pick up a book, you get to draw your own conclusions about what people look like, what the landscape looks like.

In this case, Bloomsbury runs the risk of screwing with the backbone of the book. The readers were presumably intended to draw our own opinions about whether Micah’s compulsive lying extends to a matter as basic as her identity, her race. Visuals are a powerful thing, and with one photo, Bloomsbury has made the decision for us.

I wrote a review earlier on Christopher Paul Curtis’ Elijah of Buxton, and how cheated I felt to find that the big event that’s mentioned in the jacket copy actually has very little to do with the bulk of the book. If jacket copy can have such an effect, imagine how cheated readers will be to discover that one of this book’s questions is already answered for them, and without them even knowing it. I spent the bulk of Curtis’ book wondering if I had missed something, if “the big event” was metaphor for something else; if I was less of a reader than I thought I was. I wouldn’t be surprised if some readers comb through Larbalestier’s book after they’ve read it, looking for clues to Micah’s race that might betray the fact that she’s really white.

As a writer

My parents have always said to me that I can’t forget that I’m an Asian , no matter what happens. You can imagine the kind of effect a statement like that has on a girl trying to fit in. My friends were white, my teachers were white, the pop culture all around me was white–my parents were effectively telling me that I’d always be different. More than once they’ve said that I might *want* to be an Asian kid, but I could forget about it–my black hair and slanted eyes would always give me away. (Later, as I took classes in such high-falutin’ subjects as “The American Dream,” I argued that being American was more a matter of style than substance. Yeah, that didn’t fly, so much.) They were trying to protect my heritage–I get that. But I am and always will be an American kid.

As I grew in my fiction, though, I noticed that I was de-colorizing my books, probably as a way of fighting back. The YA novel I mentioned yesterday is about a girl, just a girl, living in New York City. The middle-grade book is about a girl with a decidedly British bent. One of my downfalls is that I almost never physically describe my main characters. I think all of this is tied up in my hangup about being Asian. At any rate, the book I’m hitching my star to, my third WIP, is about an Asian woman living in New York. It addresses all of the things I’ve learned growing up in two cultures, and I think it’s a better book, a richer book, because of the distinct issues that only a person of color might encounter. My main character is stuck between two worlds, and that makes her struggle real, and a real American story.

I can’t imagine what would happen to my thought process if my future publishers saw fit to slap a white girl on the cover of my book. I mean, the book’s not about a white girl. Why would there be a white girl on the cover? It’s apparently a very real question. I’ve worked too hard to walk the fine line of being Asian American in my writing. I’m loathe to think that my publisher could take the work I’ve put into being an Asian American writer away from me.

My heart breaks for Justine–she’s worked so hard to craft a complicated personality, only to have one important pillar of that personality–its race–swept out from beneath her.

As a person

I try not to think so much about race. A friend of mine once said, in a college class I was taking with her on journalism, “My friends think of me as Holly first, and Asian last, or maybe never.” I’ve always had what she said floating around in my head–I think putting people into a box hampers what you can learn about them.

But my parents were right, to a degree: visuals are powerful, and, whether or not we like, we often make suppositions about people based on race. But I take very special exception to being called something I’m not.

Liar is not a book about a white girl.

And I am not good at math just because I’m Asian.

And Bloomsbury is not in the right here.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Bloomsbury tested the cover, but without letting focus groups know what the book was about. It tested very well. Also, there’s been some discussion about whether covers with black kids on them sell as well as covers with white kids, and whether covers with illustrations or type (the Australian version of Liar is below) sell better than covers depicting people.


I don’t care about any of that. Bloomsbury’s cover doesn’t reflect the subject matter of the book, and this makes me mad.

I don’t even know how to end this post. I think I’ll go and read some Asian-American picture books.