Sunday, December 6, 2009

Slightly belated second-day-after-Thanksgiving post.

So we woke up Saturday and it was like a post-Thanksgiving miracle—which means it wasn't that great, but it was kind of fun. It hailed midmorning, giving us an almost-white ground for like 20 minutes.

Action shot.

And then it magically cleared up, as it is wont to do around here, and we packed up for a day trip to Oak Glen.

This shot isn't so clear because it came from the Riley's Apple Farm Facebook page, but you can see us in action making apple butter at the apple butter festival. They gave us a free jar for participating. Mmm.

We walked the fun little trail around the property and took self-timed photos.

And the rain/hail clouds made for a delightful sunset.

An only slightly belated Thanksgiving post.

Yay for the last two weeks of school. I start to see moments of freedom because keeping up with all my homework for the past 15 weeks begins to pay off. And blogging is a moderately productive use of time, right?

Sherlock waited for Thanksgiving dinner with as much anticipation as we did. He didn't get to feast as well as us, though.

Shannon took delectable pictures of the food.

Mmm, gravy. I don't think I'd eaten gravy since last Thanksgiving.

Aww, all the women together again. I was in front of my laptop for most of the day, writing my 10-page term paper for my Shakespeare class on the conception of the self in Hamlet and the burgeoning individualistic humanism in the Renaissance. Meh.

Shannon's black-and-white rendering. We laughed long and hard at how small Mom looked in comparison to Dad here. Hehe.

And then Angelica and I took ridiculous pictures of ourselves. Angelica's going to kill me for posting these, but I can't resist (and she's right next to me doing her Spanish homework right now and she's completely oblivious...hehehe. I will say, though, that it's nice to have a companion for weekend coffeeshop outings. I used to do these by myself).

Monday, November 2, 2009

The last of my despised pieces.

In Peet’s Coffee in Orinda. Context

As long as I’m happy. And we quibble with happy and joy until they are meaningless. And did they ever have any meaning? What small percentage of all the people who ever lived had the room and the place and resources and the recourses to devote their selves to the pursuit of happiness? The bulk of human existence has been the pursuit of the hand to the mouth and maybe another day.

And here I am, with my room at home and my room at school and my room at my friend’s place if I want to come over and stay a while. And here I am with my summers in the mountains and my winters at the beach and my spring trips to the East Coast. And here I am with my academic scholarships and jobs if I just want to apply myself a little and a home whenever I need to go back. And here I am with you can do anything if you put your mind to it and aren’t you going to graduate school and go to New York to get an internship because that’s where all the publishing is.

And here I am in a coffee shop with a laptop and a cup of tea really and actually and it’s not something I normally do but it fit in this moment because I didn’t want to go see a movie but I surely did not want to sit in the house on a perfectly nice Saturday afternoon. But I remember in that vital and immediate sort of way my father and I stopping for the first time at the cute little coffee shop in the converted train depot in the middle of our little town and ordering maybe some coffee and a bagel with egg and cheese and sitting on the patio in the wrought-iron chairs in the sunshine because there was always sunshine where we lived in the Southern California suburbs and the flowers and the fountain and wishing I were old enough to legitimately inhabit the scene, thinking and not just thinking but feeling viscerally that I did not belong there, that I was momentarily visiting a world that was not mine, playing at a person that was not me and could not be me as long as I remained thirteen and isolated in my independent studies and uninitiated into the vibrant urbane modernity that wavered somewhere in my consciousness as that thing that I wanted to be.

And I remember revisiting that coffee shop on my own years later on a warm night and grabbing a coffee and sitting on a high stool in the corner and writing something I don’t know maybe a reflection on a book I had read recently and realizing that my adolescent ideal was fascinatingly inaccurate. That all I really wanted was to be out of that town and that coffee shop with its pretenses at engagement, that maybe that place in the midst of thought and art and moving happening existed out there somewhere but it surely was not here. And I laughed at how silly I had been my thirteen-year-old self.

And I laugh now at how silly I had been my eighteen-year-old self. And tomorrow I will surely laugh at how silly I am now my twenty (and three months and twenty-eight days)-year-old self. Because what do I know? What do I really know about anything? How am I supposed to pass judgment on this whole world and evaluate it and rank it and decide what the best way for me to be in it is? How I am supposed to be happy? I’m positively paralyzed with the potential for happiness.

I’m not though. I’m posturing even as I say that. I don’t know exactly what it is that I want and I don’t know exactly where it is that I’m going, but I know I want something and I know I’m going somewhere. And that’s unfortunately vague but it’s true, truer than anything else I could say at this moment. And I all I really have now is an awareness, all I can cling to is this awareness of who I am and I am just me, but I am me.

I talked to my mom on the phone last night and that’s where that phrase came from. “Just as long as you’re happy,” she said. She says it to me more and more and it’s hard to step back from my parents and ask if what they’re telling me is true because it’s so much easier to obey them and accept what they say and do and imply as The Way the World Is and I don’t know what to say except that this is what I am saying. And before I wonder whether the pursuit of happiness is even a worthy pursuit I have to wonder about what happiness truly is.

It’s notoriously hard to define, I know because I’ve read the studies and scientific studies appeal to me because I like concrete, empirical knowledge and even though they contradict each other all the time and even though my illusions of objective observation have been shattered in the past year because post-modern thought somehow seeped into my head—okay, I sought it out actively in my search for a functional worldview, a search that rested strangely on the foundationless presupposition that there was a functional worldview out there that I could grasp, a presupposition that betrayed my own unavoidable subjectivity—I still can’t resist the seductive tug of the scientific method’s assertion of conclusion. And oh gosh, I know that minimizing commute time is the best way to increase happiness, and I know that having hobbies and interests increase happiness, and I know that many life tragedies that most think would devastate them actually don’t modify a person’s resting happiness rate all that much. And I still don’t know what it is. And I have this feeling that no one else does, either.

But assuming this happiness exists, and I do it all the time, assume that it exists, especially in my protestations to my mother that yes, I am happy, I am wildly happy and everything is going well, I just cannot bring myself to blindly agree that “As long as you’re” can end with happy. Just because the drafters of the Declaration of Independence said it doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because anyone said anything doesn’t mean it’s true. Who says?

I don’t know how to determine who’s right, and I don’t know whose authority I rest upon. And I once thought that reason was independent and rationality was obvious to anyone who had a pulse and a brain and then someone told me Descartes was wrong and I believed it. And I still believe it. And then someone told me that we don’t come into the world as tabula rasa, blank slates, that we are born in context and under the authority of a tradition and I knew intuitively it was true and I believed it. And I still believe it. And maybe all I have in my limited context is a slosh of intuition and reasonable reasonability and mostly sure and if it works pragmatism. And maybe it’s a little much for me to ask for more.

I looked out the window next to my granite-topped table and dark-stained wood seat and saw a sparrow perched on the sill in the shade. And mostly sparrows don’t catch my attention but I learned this week in my ecology class that sparrows are not native to California, that snails are not native to the United States, that the grass that grows on the hillsides around here came in the stomach of European livestock just a few hundred years ago. And if sparrows aren’t natural in their blind background ubiquity, what is? The Central Valley that feeds half the world was a swampy dry flood plain fewer than one hundred years ago. We made it, dammed up all the rivers and built a giant aqueduct and between the constant sun and the water-on-demand created an agricultural dream.

And we just make reality whatever we want it to be. Now ice plant grows on the beach and rice grows mid-state and I sit in a concrete building with my plastic and metal and type in a bath of electric and wonder what I was created to do.

And it’s fulfillment, right? The old question that surely someone asked from the beginning, someone who was fed on the backs of others and had the leisure time to sit around and sip delicately prepared hot drinks. There were less of them then but it does not make me any less privileged I think; if Maslow has any credence, fortunate is in some respects absolute. Because we can’t blather about meaning and vocation and purpose until we’re firmly entrenched in the middle-upper-middle.

It’s not that complicated. We can strip life down to the bareness of being and the answer will still be the same. And I know it even as I deny that I know it. Love.

And I know it even as I pretend I don’t that none of it matters, that even the pretensions that I wish I had the abandon to affect are hollow.

And the what then I should do still does not spread itself out in perfect lines and black and whites but the smudgy grey takes a little form.

And maybe the most general map is all I can ask for; maybe if I need a fertile plain, I can make one. Maybe if I want to be that person who legitimately inhabits the world I just have to say it and it is so. If civilization is our action upon the world, then reality is created in that space. And I am an actor.

And we are all actors. I think therefore I am has no longer any hold. I am who I am in relation to the other.

And suddenly everything is a simple syllogism.

I am who I am in relation to the other

Monday, October 26, 2009

My despised writing part II: non-fiction.


And so I was talking to Steph and she said something about where my general dislike of people came from and I guess I could trace it to the sixth grade when I entered middle school hopeful but a little fearful. I remember balancing on the curb along the street of my new house, looking up at the mountains that were so strange and comforting, and wondering what school was going to be like tomorrow, hoping I’d find some friends maybe like me but not daring to believe that it would happen. And on the first day, during science, I sat at the front table across from a girl named Srini who befriended me instantly because she knew I was smart and thus began my since-then struggle with being befriended by people I don’t particularly like.

What was hard for me with Srini was that she was Hindu and at eleven years old the only friend with completely different beliefs from my own that I had had had been Jewish and she moved to Florida after second grade (but gosh she was the coolest person I had ever met. Julia Horowitz had dark hair and she would wear threaded wraps in it with beads at the end that made little lines of color and her eyes were so dark they flashed like stars when she smiled and a there was a tiny beauty mark placed perfectly on her cheek. And she had a little brother Ezekiel called Zeke who was on my soccer team that fall. Sometimes during practice Julia and I would rifle through the piles of leaves that were beginning to collect under the bleachers on the field intending to press and dry the prettiest ones, which I don’t think we ever actually did.

We made fast friends in class that fall and I was at her house for her October birthday, and I remember her mom saying how grateful she was that Julia had made some friends so quickly, in time for her party. And I remember driving up to her house in Timberlake that first time, at dusk with the lights glowing and the ivy and the trees dark along her curving driveway. Timberlake edged Lake Erie, and it was green and leafy and eclectic. And Julia’s house was white with windows everywhere and inside was hardwood floors with rugs and dark and wonderful things everywhere, shelves and leather and family pictures in black and white. And out of the bay window in the living room we could watch the sun set over the water. And I wanted to snuggle in the cushioned bay window and read like Julia did. And the sill was lined with little bits of translucent green and white and blue sea glass that they had collected on strolls along the shore.

And I remember having dinner at Julia’s house in the dining nook with her mother and her brother. They had an avocado or two in the bowl on the table and I think I knew what it was but I’m pretty sure I had never seen one before; I certainly remember asking about it. And they had a little t.v. that you could watch while you were eating or cooking and I wasn’t crazy about t.v. but I was so intrigued.

And once Julia’s mother drove us to Cleveland and I watched the urban park areas in their summer greenness roll up and down out the window as we drove and we parked and we walked some colorful and artsy section, sparkling in its funky magic and sunshine. And we browsed through intricately stocked shops and her mom bought us little colored rabbit’s foot keychains. And I was suspicious of superstition and I was unsure she should be buying me something because I was just tagging along and so glad I could come but I was caught up in it all and it just added to my wonder. And Julia and I found a photo booth and took funny pictures of ourselves, flash flash flash, and we divided up the squares three and three and that was I think the first and last time I ever took pictures in a photo booth. And then she moved away but whenever I remembered her there was always a twinkling and a sense of something I wanted to be).

And so I went to Srini’s after school and ate steamed rice with butter that her grandmother prepared for us in her sari with a little patch of her belly showing and I ate with a fork and Srini ate with her hands (though once I tried it with my hands too and Srini clapped for me proudly) in her house of white, white couches with white pillows and white carpet and white marble with a crack where it had settled, perched as it all was on one of the most visible hills in our valley with some of the most striking views from the floor-to-ceiling windows. (And once when I expressed admiration for her house, Srini said she much preferred mine, the one in the “devel-UP-ment,” as she pronounced it, with its crazy paint on the walls and old circle chair and pictures and worn saltillo tiles. It was more comfy, she said. It looked “lived in.”)

The first time I came over, I was struck by the lifesize photograph in the foyer that was repeated in cloned forms all over desks and appliances and side tables depicting an imposing Indian man in a flowing tangerine saffron robe sporting a dark afro and smiling like everything was a giant joke and he knew it. And I thought maybe it was one of Srini’s uncles dressed up for Halloween, and I thought maybe someone had printed a bunch off and put them up everywhere as a practical joke. But I asked Srini and she told me that her family believed that God continually inhabited people, and that this man was the current God incarnate. And I wondered how someone so smart could believe something so ridiculous.

And so I felt I could never get close to her, that we didn’t share the things that were most important to me and so could never talk about the things that mattered most to me. And she was crazy and fun and I liked it but sometimes it was too much for me. And so I kept my distance, hung out with her when she wanted to but was mostly passive and undemonstrative and I wonder sometimes if she was ever hurt by it or if she just thought that that was just how I was. I hope it was the latter. But toward the end of the year I began to make friends with a girl who went to my church as well as school.

(I feel I should insert here a brief but upsetting friendship with Lauren, a girl I met in P.E. She lived just two blocks away from me with her mom, and she was quiet and pleasant enough, so we hung out a couple of times until her birthday party that year when her friend Alexis started picking on me even though we had just met and Lauren stood by and did nothing. [I remember sitting up in my sleeping bag that night and looking over at Alexis and thinking how nice she looked while she was asleep and wondering how she could be so mean when awake.] And Lauren offered some sort of apology the next week at school and it was the first time I had ever said it was okay when it wasn’t.

And I remember telling my mom about it and her saying I should have confronted Lauren and told her how much I was hurt and me insisting no, no, that’s not how you do it and thinking that this was the best way to deal with this sort of social situation and that it wasn’t really Lauren’s fault but that I just wouldn’t be friends with her anymore, that was all. And looking back I can see what poor inner resources Lauren had had to draw on, with four step-brothers she didn’t see much since her mom was divorced, and having little to do with her father, who had never been married to her mother, and thinking she was “a mistake” because that’s what she had been told, and spending nights at home alone since her mom was spending nights with the neighbor who waved to us as he watered his lawn across the street. And I still don’t know what the right thing for me to do would have been.)

Desiree went to my sixth grade Sunday School and she brought Christian magazines to school and she was tall and thin with long blonde hair and I thought we would make good friends. She did take part in an after-lunch competition with the boyfriend her mom didn’t know she had and another couple to see which could press their lips together longest while a group of classmates watched and counted. And I was a little scandalized and I privately laughed at her boyfriend Karl, who was shorter than her and whose ears stuck out so much that they were the only things that burned when he spent a day at Sea World. But no one was perfect and Desiree seemed fun and she was a Christian, right? And so we became friends. She served as my social educator; once when I tried to hold her hand as we walked between classes, just as I had done at recess with my friends in elementary school, she batted my hand away and told me we couldn’t do that.

And so we laughed together in church and I spent summer afternoons at her house floating in her pool and stealing quick breaks out of the blinding sun into the equally blinding dark through the sliding glass door inside the maze of rooms that seemed more sprawling than mine but so much more windowless that I decided I’d rather not live there, had I the choice (which was rare, because I almost never chose my house over someone else’s). And we went to summer camp together and something happened, I think she ditched me for other people or something, but it was okay because I got to know some other people and Desiree and I were fine by the end of the week anyways. And we hung out some more and I was delighted to start school with a real friend and so glad that things were finally working out.

But a funny thing happened as soon as we were back with all the other seventh-graders. We would be standing in a circle, or maybe it was that I came over to join a circle, because Desiree would tell me to “go stand over there, I’m talking with my friends.”

And I could take this a couple of times, but I couldn’t take this forever, and by September 11th the world was falling apart and I had no one to share it with. I woke up that morning and put on the radio like I always did and that’s when I heard it but I had no one to tell about this and at that point I didn’t really understand the ramifications, had barely ever heard of the World Trade Center, but I walked into my parents’ bedroom and the t.v. was on and my mom was crying and I had no one to share the tragedy rush and the uncomfortable profundity of the moment.

And I went to school and tried to join the excited chatter of the group on the steps of the band room but just couldn’t and in English class my teacher had the news on because no one still really knew what was going on and all the girls around me could talk about was what Carson Daly was doing right now in New York and I put my head down and I wrote about it because there was nothing else I could do.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

It's been a long eight weeks...

I would like to tell you a story. A story that will lead to another story, incidentally. I am, as some of you may know, the editor in chief of our campus creative arts journal, which features fiction, non-fiction, poetry, photography, art, music, and film (we're extending our deadline, by the way. Send your entries to You don't have to be affiliated with the school!). We hadn't received too many entries for the first few weeks of the semester, so I wrote up a short story one weekend and decided to submit it to the fiction committee so that they would have something to judge. I also grabbed a couple of non-fiction pieces I had written over the summer.

We judge blindly, so the committee members (a.k.a. people my age who I pretty much teach in a class once a week) didn't know the pieces were mine. Well, as soon as the first judges' eyes hit my writing, moans and exclamations could be heard throughout the classroom. "I don't understand this . . . This is not grammatical . . . I don't think this is even a word . . . Look how long this sentence is! Eleven lines! . . . This is hurting my head."

Well, I was a little shocked. I had no idea my writing would elicit such visceral reactions. I sent my pieces to my advisor for the class, a professor of creative writing, and he told me I had good ideas but just needed some basic improvements to make my pieces more reader-friendly. He lent me a book on narrative craft, and I skimmed it and decided I would never be able to write anything decent and was glad that my writing minor isn't a major. I tried to work on my pieces but I really couldn't find the cracks in their surfaces and so just ended up breaking up a few large paragraph blocks and adding a scene to my story. I'm going to time-release publish the pieces here, since they'll probably never be read by anyone and, I'm pretty sure, will not be featured in a campus publication anytime soon.

Without further ado, the despised short story:

Discrete Math

Michael Massey knew that everything could be contained in a pencil and it bored him. He could count all the items there were and he could write out that number and all of existence would be contained on that piece of paper and really, what was the point?

Just now, Michael was counting. Stitches. In, loop, hook, through, out. Twenty-seven. In, loop, through, hook, out. Twenty-eight. The lengthy crocheted rectangle lay in his lap, growing steadily as his math class progressed. Twenty-nine. His professor was a nice guy, but he didn’t teach much. Michael liked the repetition and the yarn curling around his fingers. The low clouds out the window on his right cast diffuse light over the classroom, sharpening the outline of the professor’s silver hair as he leaned against his desk discussing his weekend, the burnt orange plastic chairs peppering the classroom, the tiny hairs twining out of the thin line of mossy yarn that pulled out of the skein in the backpack beneath him.

He reached the end of the row and hooked up to begin another. He held the equation on the board in his head, calculating steadily while keeping his count of stitches. Michael wasn’t delusional; he didn’t really think he could count everything, but it was undeniable that it was possible, and the sheer quantification left him lost. If the world is indeed a physical entity existing right now, then there is a fixed number of things in existence at this given point. The universe held little import for him. Physical existence was finite; even an infinite universe would be a finite infinity, bound by itself.

He didn’t care if his line of reasoning didn’t make sense to anyone else; he rarely articulated it to himself. But it was a truth that had knotted so tightly around the core of his being that he had resigned himself to it as an inescapable inevitability. Wonder in others was ignorance. All the world was knowable if you had just the mind and the time to do it, and a thing known has lost all its power. He longed for limitlessness.

Michael was thin and dark-haired and adequately prepared for his college education. He was majoring in mathematics because he could do it well. He assumed he’d be a moderately-liked high school math teacher and that would be that. He took only brief detached joys in the startling abstractions of well-formed equations. That he didn’t care about what he was doing and secretly considered it all futile bothered him only occasionally.

Michael started as a door slammed across the hall and students garbled down the stairs on their way to lunch. He gathered up his looping work, a single line that you didn’t see if you didn’t think about it, and walked down the hallway.

The campus was small and well funded. Oaks and maples and the odd pine gathered near sweet little bricked and gabled buildings. Michael walked the neat sidewalk past the circled fountain where students reflected off the still olivey stone pool.

Sarah was waiting for him outside the dining hall. It had gotten a little darker and colder and the low clouds were autumny and she just wanted to curl up somewhere warm with him. But she didn’t let herself know that. It wasn’t that Michael didn’t like to touch her. He just wasn’t a touchy person. And she wasn’t, either. Or she didn’t spend a lot of time touching other people, anyway. And she was fine, and always had been. She could smell the leaves drying.

The scarf he was making was for her, of course. He liked the thought of something he had spent hours fingering and fashioning draped around her neck, liked the way the green would nestle in her brown hair. He liked her. She was a computer science major, and she was a girl with all the regular girl aspects, and once in a class that they had shared she was reading the exact book he had just finished a week before, satirical science fiction, and that was sufficient. He had invited her one night to climb on top of the auditorium and they sat in the dark watching bits of light play on the surface of the lake that lay along the edge of the campus.

They collected their meals and sat together, alone. Michael looked up from his sandwich over the chattering cafeteria and nodded to his roommate a couple of tables over.

“I asked Richard about that program thing you were talking about and he said he could help you,” Michael said.

Sarah sipped her coffee and her glasses fogged over her green eyes for a moment. “I figured. He’s been hanging out in Professor Welling’s office for a week.”

Sarah worked in binary, lived and breathed in binary, thought in binary. It was how she knew she liked Michael, and not Richard. Michael read in his spare time: 1. Richard didn’t: 0. Michael worked inconspicuously, did what was required of him and didn’t let anyone else know: 1. Richard didn’t: 0. Michael didn’t have stuck-out ears and blank blue eyes: 0. Richard did: 1. Michael was programmed for her. It wasn’t that she disliked Richard. It wasn’t often she devoted much space to disliking anyone. Memory was too valuable.

“I was thinking about walking out to the lake tonight,” Michael said, his fingertips like pads gripping his cup of milk.

“Oh yeah?” she replied.

“You can come with me if you want.”

She hated having to invite herself along and rarely hesitated when he outright asked her to accompany him somewhere. “Okay.”

They finished and parted on the cafeteria steps, the air chillier now and dark brown spots appearing on the concrete as silent drops hit the ground. Sarah gave him a flickering wave, reaching her hand toward him, and half smiled. “See you tonight.”

He raised his eyebrows briefly and nodded. “Yes.”

Michael walked back to his dorm building later that afternoon, hands customarily clasped around the straps of his backpack. He glanced through the glass window of his mailbox out of habit and stopped to reach in when he saw a sliver of envelope. The envelope was unmarked except for the logo of the campus poetry society in the corner. He opened it anyway and read the thin sheet of paper inside. “In celebration of National Poetry Day, a poem for you.”

Michael gave it a cursory read. He didn’t know whether Dylan Thomas was a student or not. It was a peculiar, repeating poem, and a line kept saying itself to him: “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

It meant little to him but it stayed there in his head anyway. He thought to the rhythm of the line as he plodded upstairs: “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

Sarah met him later that night outside his dormitory. The grass had left wet lines on her brown shoes. Now she could smell the rain that had fallen after lunch. The air was clear and edged and Michael was framed in the glowing doorway for only a moment before he was beside her in the dark.

They walked across the deserted campus, each with their hands buried in the pockets of their coats. It wasn’t quite time to resign themselves to evenings huddled in the moist, thick dorms against the cold, but it would be soon. Michael spied his usual path and led her through the dripping branches toward the water.

They rounded the ridge beside the shore and walked out among the lined trees. Michael pointed out an owl staring down at them. At the water, they listened to the quiet lapping and watched the lights of the campus flicker across the surface. A startlingly opaque moon floated in the center, trailing its shine in skips behind it.

Michael reached out around her and drew her close to him. He stood on the edge of the lake and knew he could count the stars if he just had enough time but for the moment he pretended he couldn’t.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A-maze-ing. (There was really no other title for this.)

I was browsing Wikipedia a while ago and came across a genuine registered state landmark in my backyard, so to speak. I'm all about registered state landmarks, so when Daniel and I needed a destination for our last summer adventure, I knew this would be it.

Okay, so the Hemet Maze Stone is just a rock with an interesting painting on it, but some native peoples really, truly made it. And that's worth surrounding in not one, but two chain-link fences and barbed wire, apparently.

The view was nice. It was warm, but slightly overcast. Nice day.

We were really there. I mean it.

I learned last summer at the Diamond Valley archaeology museum that sunflowers are native to the San Jacinto Valley, and we got to see some up close.

One of the things that I love most about wandering through a deserty region with a macro setting on my camera is that the tiny elements that you'd normally pass by become fascinatingly intricate and genuinely beautiful when you can stop to see them for what they are.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Not year of the dog, but definitely day of the hot dog.

Mom's second group of Chinese students this summer spent a five-day intensive here. Here's Shen, the one who stayed with us. The students are addressed last name, first name in China, and here they told us that we could just call them by their last names.

Hu, Mom, Shen, and Chen.

Mom and I drove them to LAX Wednesday and then, at the recommendation of one of the host parents, had lunch at Pink's, a hot dog place that, he said, is "where all the stars go." We didn't see any stars, but we did see a lot of other people.

The line wrapped around the back of the building and we waited in it for a good 45 minutes. But the food was tasty, and we got a little LA diversion.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Polaroid blitz.

I've been rifling through our collection of family photos all summer, and the other day I decided that I should compile all of the Polaroids floating around in our picture bin and display them. But in researching ways to display Polaroids, I discovered that they don't do well when exposed to light and air. I hung them in a darker part of our hallway, but in case they don't survive prolonged exposure, I took pictures of them (not sure what happened to our scanner...). And in case something happens to my digital copies, they are now uploaded and preserved here.

Rachel, Shannon, and Angelica exploring our tool shed back in Cleveland.

Mom asleep with the puppy Happy that we had for about three months in the summer of 1997.

The four of us in our backyard with some sort of odd creation that we were evidently proud of.

Look at that smile. Someone's happy.

I don't know what the occasion for this picture is, but you've got to love the fake tree and improvised couch slipcover.

Oh Rachel. Crazy kid.

All of us at the Washington Elementary School Father-Daughter Dance. That was the only year that we all attended the same school, if you don't count Dehesa. Polaroids make me wistful and nostalgic and wish that they had more detail.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

At the beginning, I thought I might just be getting into an Indian version of Tristram Shandy. But Saleem Sinai, the first-person narrator, was eventually born. And he was born at the stroke of midnight on the day of India’s independence, so that he and his country would be precisely the same age. The novel, in mystic departures from Western reality, recounts the unrest and political turmoil of India in the mid-20th century. Rushdie conjures an entire world of clashing and sloshing traditions, the swirling influences of Muslims and Hindus colonized by the British.

Saleem relates the events of his life in the enigmatic rhythm of an Indian spun tale, making completely understandable events into vague prophecies, telling fortunes both backwards and forwards: “There was a washing-chest and a boy who sniffed too hard. His mother undressed and revealed a Black Mango. Voices came, which were not the voices of Archangels. A hand, deafening the left ear. . . . And love in Bombay caused a bicycle accident; horn-temples entered forecep-hollows, and five hundred and eighty-one children entered my head. . . . There was the question of purpose, and the debated between ideas and things. There were knees and nose and nose and knees” (348). The convention lends legitimacy to the actual prophetic utterings of a turbaned lower-caste seer, making his presaging remarks seem quite plausible after the explanations.

Saleem, typing up his life story as the novel progresses, stops to try and comprehend all that has happened to him. “[N]ow, seated hunched over paper in a pool of Anglepoised light, I no longer want to be anything except what who I am. Who what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by me. I am anything that happens after I’ve gone which would not have happened if I had not come. Nor am I particularly exceptional in this matter; each ‘I,’ every one of the now-six-hundred-million-plus of us, contains a similar multitude. I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you’ll have to swallow a world” (440-41).

I was daunted by the length but I became transfixed by the rich sensory universe of the novel. Alteratively ridiculous and tragic, Rushdie's novel in its wide-ranging scope encompasses India and what it was as it began its movement toward the rising global presence that it is today.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mom's 47th.

Angelica and Shannon came down from the camp on their day off so that we could put together a little party for Mom's birthday. I had just come across a New York Times piece filled with 101 delicious summer salad ideas, and I relished the opportunity to try some out (we made 3, 7, 15, 18, 25, and 95).

Would you believe she's 47? I feel like she hasn't changed since I've known her.

Our attempts to get a self-timed picture.

The strawberry cake was Shannon's masterpiece work. The blueberry muffins were Rachel's. The hummus (and the chopping!) was Angelica's.

See what I mean? Still looks the same. Sans puffy hair.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Possession by A.S. Byatt

Possession is, quite distinctly, impressive. A.S. Byatt constructs an entire fictive romance between two Victorian poets of her own creation and layers it with the intrigues of literary scholars who slowly discover it. She writes the poetry, she writes the clandestine correspondence, she writes the literary criticism, and she weaves it all carefully into the storyline. The novel runs in alternating cycles of multiple plots as the Randolph Henry Ash scholar and the Christabel LaMotte scholar unearth evidence of a liaison between the poets and begin to form one themselves.

In a startling display of metafictive commentary, Byatt brings the field of literary academia to task. She makes asides on the point and thrust of literature. She creates caricatured depictions of biographers and historians and archivists, asking quite earnestly what their purposes are, where they are to find their own identities when they devote so much of their time to preserving and analyzing the lives of others. Deliciously self-conscious and delightfully complex, Possession is a surprisingly intellectual romance.

I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters, but I held them in interested distance. The story garnered my attention at a steady increase as the book progressed. As a partial satire, the novel didn’t woo, but it did entice through suspense. It gained a breathlessness as it went on, an urgency pushing toward an unsure ending. The simultaneous levels on which Possession works easily merit its acclaim.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

On going from Riverside to the river side.

Daniel's family invited me to join them on a weekend trip to the river.

We stayed in Laughlin and spent a couple of days on Lake Mohave. They taught me how to wakeboard. It took me a while, but I finally stood up, and was absolutely delighted at the rush. At some point I may have even got out of that pained crouching position.

We moored the boat in a cove and enjoyed lunch on the lakeshore. Daniel, his brother, and I hiked up on a ridge above our site to enjoy the view.

We also went tubing, which was almost more fun for me, since it required fewer skills.

We floated in the water quite a bit, donning life jackets and just bobbing along at times. The air at midday ranged to an astounding 120 degrees, and the water was a comparatively cool 75. We didn't need towels.

The water was also unexpectedly clear. Little fish darted among the lake weeds.

On our last day, we drove down below Needles and launched into the river proper to float down to a sandbar accessible only by boat.

I was absolutely taken by the bands of color: the middling teal of the water, the deep maroon of the igneous rock that jutted above our heads. Green reeds grew by the river edge and the bright blue sky arched overhead, so you knew by contrast that the water was neither green nor blue but a color all its own. My camera doesn't do justice.

I had an excellent time with Daniel and his family. I never would have wanted it to end, if it weren't for my entire body aching from the wakeboarding...