The Future Is Here, and a Creature Sighting

It is a gorgeous day but it started out chilly and you sat in the living room reading the San Francisco Chronicle (an article about Navigenics, a Redwood City company that is directed at consumer DNA testing) and you thought: The future is here.

But apparently no one believed you, because no one looked at the post, and so you decided to go outside and see what was up in the backyard, see which plants were blooming and what-not, and you believe you saw the same squirrel you saw early this morning, stretched full length, its back legs on a branch, its front legs grasping the (supposedly squirrel-proof) bird feeder. The squirrel grabs mouthfuls of seed, and now you recall that the bird feeder is supposed to drop, closing its feeding spouts, whenever anything as weighty as a squirrel tries to jump on its little perches, but the squirrel just keeps grabbing mouthfuls of seed, and Gracie (who metamorphosed into an almost unrecognizably obese and slothful creature while self was in Tel Aviv) is not inclined to go outside, and finally you get very annoyed after watching the squirrel for about 10 minutes, and you shout something at the top of your lungs, and you go outside with your laptop, and you decide that what you really need to do is write more.

(Time passes)

In the afternoon, around 3 p.m., you began to feel an ineffable craving for a Keanu Reeves movie and/ or a coconut cream pie and, figuring that the Keanu Reeves movie would be cheaper (and probably better for your figure) than the pie, you wended your way to decrepit old cinema off Bayshore, there to discover that the 3:25 show had Spanish subtitles, which you found to be a terrible distraction, since the movie is practically one long F— you! rant, and so you decided to return at a later time, and now the problem was where would you find the best, the most delicious coconut cream pie on the Peninsula?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Eavesdropping

On TV: Law & Order: CI (not the Vincent D’Onofrio team, the other one)

Female Partner: Where is your husband?

Rich Woman in Evening Gown: He’s doing what he always does. Writing.

(Self: ha ha ha ha ha)

Chris Noth: We need to speak to him.

Rich Woman in Evening Gown: You can’t. He’s writing a series of short stories about the desolate and forlorn.

(Self again: ha ha ha ha ha)

* * * *

For your edification, dear blog readers: fascinating photo captions from the April 21, 2008 issue of The New Yorker:

    On p. 110: Eleven billion elevator trips are made each year in New York. Otis Elevator estimates that it transports the equivalent of the world’s population every five days.
    On p. 97: SHOWCASE “Family Tree” (2000) by Zhang Huan. The artist asked three calligraphers to write on his face for one day.

Stay tuned.

The Weekend/ This Morning

On the way to the Mountain View Farmers Market, you pulled up to a Chevron just off Shoreline, and even though you still had a fourth of a tank of gas, you paid almost $50 to fill up.

You were afraid of spending too much at the Farmers Market, but you couldn’t even get close enough to the bread or the tomatoes to be tempted.

You did not feel like seeing: “Prom Night”, “The Forbidden Kingdom”, or that “Sarah Marshall” movie, and you might have wanted to watch “Where In The World is Osama Bin Laden,” but you didn’t feel like driving all the way to the Aquarius Theatre in Palo Alto.

You found yourself wishing you could write like Beth Alvarado, especially after reading her story, “Comadres in the Kitchen” : “Say, if someone were to come upon her and kill her, it could happen, or if she were to get in the car and just drive. That’s what she meant by aloneness; at the moment of death, it wouldn’t matter who was standing around your bed. The people in your life would be like saguaros: shadowy figures, standing guard but fading, unable to hear you.”

This morning:

You wished you knew more about what goes with what. Such as what, for instance, would go well with a deep purple blouse, and whether how you dress for class affects how students perceive you — for instance, whether wearing something with ruffles makes you look “girly” and insubstantial, as opposed to wearing a suit — and whether, in the end, it matters.

My Dead Chinese Professors: A Dream

My dead Chinese professors sit at the foot of my bed, crying.

What’s the matter? I ask.

Professor Liu says, You will never understand Li Po.

That may be, I say, but I have a son who loves Magic Cards and listening to Christian rock and Keith Urban.

While Chinese offered me nothing but books on 18th century market systems and tortuous lessons in calligraphy.

I never could tell if Professor Lyell thought I was good or not. He’d shrug at all my translations, the awkward marks of my pen on the yellow lined paper. Chicken scratch, he was probably thinking. But he never waved his arms and shouted, like some of the other professors did.

You are desecrating the temple of the holy, these others seemed to be saying.

You do not belong here. Begone, rank impostor!

So, why are you at the foot of my bed, I ask? Why don’t you leave? Stand up and walk out of the room?

Then I wake up. I realize I’ve spoken the words in my dream out loud. I feel the echo of my voice, reverberating in that stillness. The stillness of a white and empty room. I get up and descend the stairs. I’m still half-dressed. I go to the kitchen and make myself some coffee.

* * * *

Wherefrom the provenance of such a strange dream, dear blog reader? Self hasn’t a clue. As it turned out, both of self’s professors were rather diminutive in stature (though in person they looked nothing alike, for Prof. Lyell was Irish and had light hair and blue or grey eyes, and Prof. Liu was Chinese and had black hair and black or very dark brown eyes)

Both men did share a rather impish twinkle in their eyes when self visited them in their offices to discuss her papers.

And now self picks up a March issue of The New Yorker and learns that an enterprising Toronto novelist has created a website called

“IdreamofHillaryIdreamofBarack.com”

This is a site where anyone in the world can deposit their subliminal/ subconscious fantasies of the Democratic candidates. And, according to The New Yorker, the Hillary that emerges from the dreams (the collective unconscious, as it were) of people around the world is this:

Hillary “wears bad perfume but good lipstick, has great skin, is often hungry (she likes spare ribs) but has bad table manners, and, when doing the chores (say, cleaning the attic) is fun to be around. She is a dog-lover and an accomplished ice skater.”

Barack, on the other hand, emerges as “a teacher, eight feet tall, with a foul mouth, smoker.” He is “less active — a conduit.”

An example: “I started to write out the letter on the hamburger bun while Obama gave his speech, but with every few strokes the pen would break through the outer surface of the bread into the soft middle.”

A “Saudi woman imagined he was reading a bedtime story to her (classic father-figure role), and a lawyer from Zimbabwe dreamed of being chased by him (the pursuit of justice).”

And a Canadian film critic recalled the image of “Barack eating the votes that had been cast for Hillary like slices of smoked tofu.”

Fascinating, just fascinating.

Self Pulls a Switcheroo: Bates English Courses Replace Gracie’s Visit to the Doctor

Self was browsing the web — hubby deep into Phoenix-San Antonio playoff, but since self likes Steve Nash and Shaq, she’d rather not watch — when she decided to determine the identity of the professor at Bates who teaches her in a course called “Asian American Writers.”

And here is her name: L. Shankar.

And, in the course of self’s investigations, she discovered that the English Department at Bates has exceedingly interesting courses! Here are just a few examples:

    Monsters, Magicians, and Medievalism
    Arthurian Literature
    Asian American Women Writers
    Tolkien’s Middle Ages
    The Brontes
    Frankenstein’s Creatures
    Music and Metaphor: The Sounds in African American Literature
    African and Diasporic Ecological Literature
    Shakespeare: Race and Gender
    Dickens Revised
    The Literatures of Women of the African Diaspora

And here are the courses in the Department of Women and Gender Studies:

    The Politics of Pleasure and Desire: Women’s Independent and Third Cinema and Video from the African Diaspora
    Women and Russia
    African American Women’s History and Social Transformation
    Voice and Gender
    Blood, Genes, and American Culture
    The Decorated Body
    The Body, Liberation, and Medieval Mysticism
    Goddesses and Goddess Worship in India
    Performance, Race, and the Body
    Race and U.S. Women’s Movements

If self were 25 years younger and inured to the cold, she would enroll in Bates, just for the opportunity to take any or all of these courses!

Yesterday

Hubby’s looking over the bills and mutters something that sounds like “$789.”

Self is barely listening. She keeps thinking of yesterday, the Stanford class visit. And what she told the young women in the class: “Marilyn Chin saved my life.” The moment she said it, she knew it was true.

Self graduated from Stanford and the following year she had a baby boy and was working part-time as a medical transcriber in a doctor’s office on Welch Road. Out of the blue, she got a call from Marilyn Chin, who was in the poetry program while self was in the fiction program at Stanford.

At that time, self and hubby were living on the second floor of an old house on Live Oak Avenue in Menlo Park. The landlord was the wife of a Stanford math professor. She didn’t know self was pregnant when she rented it out, but after she got over her initial displeasure, she was kind.

Marilyn came over. She waited while self changed her son’s diaper. Then self put the baby in his stroller and she and Marilyn walked around the corner to the Peet’s that’s on the corner of University and Santa Cruz Avenue. Marilyn told self about a new anthology that was being put together by Calyx, a women’s press up in Oregon. Self had heard of them. Her classmate, Beth Alvarado, had been encouraging her to submit. But self was afraid. She had never sent out a single story, not in all her two years in the Stanford Creative Writing Program.

Marilyn kept saying that she should. And self did have this story. In a drawer of her desk, where else. And she had never given up hope that she could be a writer. Even though she hadn’t written a thing, not one thing, since graduating from the program.

So she sent her story, “Siko,” to Calyx. That’s it. That’s how it began.

Twofer: NYTBR 6 April 2008 & Women’s Studies at Stanford

Self feeling quite content today, dear blog readers — even though weather is chilly again (Will spring never come???)

First of all, she has time to post about The New York Times Book Review (of 6 April). Then, she’s reading a fascinating syllabus — Valerie Miner’s, for her Stanford University course, “Imagining Women: Writers in Print and in Person.”

A few months ago (How time flies!) self received an e-mail from Prof. Miner: she was teaching a Women’s Studies course during spring quarter and wanted to include self’s book, Mayor of the Roses, in the syllabus. Would self be available for a classroom visit?

Would she ??? Would she ??? Of course she would!

And tomorrow is the day. And here, for the edification of dear blog readers, is the Course Description:

This seminar introduces the lively world of contemporary literature through the reading of books by and intimate discussions with authors such as Patricia Powell, Camille Dungy, Marianne Villanueva, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, Brenda Hillman, Jewelle Gomez and Carol Seajay. Each Monday, the class will discuss a new book. On Wednesdays, the writer will speak about her work. Then we will open the session to questions and discussion.

And self wishes to stop right now and thank all those other professors who teach her book:

1. Nona Caspers in the Creative Writing Program at San Francisco State

2. Liza Erpelo at Skyline (whose classes are so fab to visit!)

3. the professor at Bates College in Maine who’s been including self’s work in her syllabus for ages and ages (Self wishes to apologize because she is completely blanking out on the professor’s name at the moment!)

4. M. Evelina Galang (so fab — as a writer, a person, a friend) at University of Miami

5. Prof. Bob Gluck, who invited self to speak to his “Writers on Writing” class at San Francisco State this past February

6. Luisa Igloria (fab writer, fab person, and — just ask her students — fab teacher) at Old Dominion U in Norfolk, VA

7. Paolo Javier, whose students read her book last year and found this blog

8. Prof. Claudia McIsaac at Santa Clara, who had self come in to speak to her class (with D. A. Powell — what a fun day that was!)

And, LAST BUT NOT LEAST, Brian Roley at Miami University in Ohio, who was so instrumental in getting the book published in the first place.

How self wishes you were all here right now, in person, so that she could lavish you with big hugs.

And now, the list of books self is interested in reading after perusing the 6 April 2008 issue of The New York Times Book Review:

(1) After reading Mary Jo Salter’s (fascinating and spot-on) review of Grace Paley’s final book, Fidelity:

    Grace Paley’s Fidelity

(2) After reading Fareed Zakaria’s review of Benazir Bhutto’s posthumously published Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West:

    Benazir Bhutto’s Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West

Strange But True XII: Reading the San Francisco Chronicle (of 9 April 2008)

This is one of those days when self wakes up out of sorts, checks her blog stats and, in a fit of impatience or what-have-you, deletes the previous night’s post. All of this is just a roundabout way of saying that “What Happens When Self Is Alone” has disappeared into the blogosphere.

But, not to worry! There are heaps and heaps of ideas still milling about in self’s brain. Today, since self is reading the San Francisco Chronicle, she’s in “Believe It or Not” mode.

Take this news item in the local news section. A neighbor reported seeing another neighbor bash a man over the head “with a piece of lumber.” This incident took place in the Mission Terrace neighborhood of San Diego.

The man waited until “weeks later” to inform the police of what he had seen.

Police searched the scene of the crime and “cadaver dogs showed interest” in a van, so the police towed it to an impound yard. This was on Jan. 24.

On Feb. 1, police decided to search the van. Inside they found a decomposing corpse. So this time they hot-footed it back to the scene of the crime, but by this time the couple who owned the van, a Richard Carelli and a Michele Pinkerton, had, not surprisingly, absconded.

Then, news reports surfaced that the couple had been spotted in Baja California. A week later, a freelance radio reporter, James Spring, who says he goes to Baja “all the time,” heard that still no arrests had been made.

“They made it sound like Baja was the planet Jupiter,” Spring said.

So Spring had 2,500 “Wanted” posters printed up at his local Kinko’s (If this is beginning to sound rather bizarre and unbelievable — as whoever heard of an ordinary citizen having “Wanted” posters printed up at Kinko’s — self wishes dear blog readers to know that this is an example of what simple American “get up and go” will accomplish. Self now thinks that working at Kinko’s might not be such a bad idea: she could probably gather a lot of story material. That is, if there are more customers like Spring hanging about. So, self stores this information in a file in her head called “Career Change Opportunity” — to be consulted if/when self ever gets truly fed up with teaching)

The enterprising Mr. Spring then loads the flyers in his car and heads down to Baja. He spends two days distributing the posters “at gas stations and police stations on Highway 1.” Finally, in the small town of El Rosario, “about 200 miles south of the border,” a gas station attendant (You mean, self gulps, such a job still exists? Because self can’t remember the last time she’s even seen a gas station attendant) Well, anyhoo, it is extremely lucky that they still have such in Baja California, for this man pointed Spring to a motel a few doors down, and the motel clerk pointed out the wanted couple’s home, where — and this self finds particularly interesting — they were giving dance “lessons to local children for $1 an hour.”

Spring then alerted Mexican police “and Mexican authorities arrested the couple without incident a few hours later.”

The San Diego police were purportedly “so thrilled” (the Chronicle says, with risible understatement) with this development, because they had just been “waiting, waiting, waiting” for a break in the case.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

For Your Edification, Dear Blog Readers

This evening, self finds herself pondering a few choice words from Stanford grads of yore. To wit:

    From Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (class of ’59), who said, “Now, you’re either on the bus or off the bus.”
    From His Eminence John Steinbeck (class of ’23), who said, “I know this — a man got to do what he got to do.”

What insight! What wisdom! Now, how to apply such to self’s own muddled musings?

For instance, self is increasingly of the opinion that teaching is no help to her writing. No. In fact, when self finds herself spending an inordinate amount of time wondering how she can get her lovely students to shut up and do the assignment without whining (and such is her devotion to duty that she is inclined to spend hours and hours pondering such), she thinks teaching is an absolute and positively tragic waste of good writing time.

So this evening finds self’s thoughts going round and round in circles: Teach or write? Teach or write?

The choice should be obvious. But, alas, hubby is in a start-up. And the economy looks like it is tanking. And gas is now $4/ gallon. And housing prices are falling, faaaallling . . .

Which brings self back to pondering yet another thing about Stanford grads.

In the latest issue of the Stanford magazine, self reads that Randy Hulett (’96), Zander Nosler (’94), and Jorah Wyer (’94) have designed an $11,000 coffee maker. This mother of all coffee machines “allows precise control over every aspect of the extraction process, from grind size to water temperature to brew time. The variables can then be tailored to the particular type of bean, drawing out flavors that would never make it into an average cup of joe. Coffee fanatics hope the technology will increase appreciation for brewed coffee.”

This, apparently, is not a joke, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

On Beginning GEEK LOVE, Beijing Buffet, Draeger’s Blueberry Pie, and Other Delights (Including NYTBR of 30 March 2008)

Jury still out on novel self began reading two days ago: Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love.

Self had not heard of this writer before, but her novel is considered something of a “classic” — among novels with a circus theme, that is. Self read a NYTBR piece in which the reviewer showed off by naming all the circus-themed novels she knew of, and these made up quite a list (Self was suitably impressed).

The book began with quirky voice and unusual syntax. OK. In the first couple of pages, we learn that Mum came from a well-off family, but ran away with Dad because of a yearning for adventure. Then, Mom and Dad colluded by ingesting all kinds of drugs with sole purpose of producing freaky babies, which resulted in Aquaboy, Siamese twins joined at the waist, albino humpback, and youngest child with yet-to-be-disclosed physical aberration.

Wow! How did Ms. Dunn get away with writing that! Self mighty encouraged and is plowing on with great interest.

This morning, self acquiesced to meet Dearest Aunt at some place called Beijing Buffet on South Airport Boulevard. The occasion was Aunt’s second husband’s 70th birthday. So, self wished hubby a blithe “Good Day!” (Hubby makes it a point to make himself scarce at all of self’s family gatherings) and hot-footed it north on 101.

And then self got lost. And self placed four calls to aunt from her cell, and aunt kept throwing out markers like:

    “The Lyons! At Lyons turn right!” So self turned right and found herself back on the freeway, pointing homeward.
    Then aunt said: “It’s at Grosvenor’s Inn! Can you see Grosvenor’s Inn?” Self said no, but she could see a See’s store. Aunt said, “What See’s store?” So then self made another wrong turn.
    Then aunt said, “When you see the gas station, make a right.” And self did so, and found herself on Grand Avenue.

By this time, self was getting might frustrated, and thought she might just stop to get a bite to eat from a place called Galli’s Sanitary Bakery on Grand, which self has heard carries the most divine mango tres leches. Self also saw a Salon called Crimpers Bizarre Salon. She kids you not, that is exactly what she saw on a sign.

But no, self decided to make one last effort, and found herself in Costco. At which point, what else was there to do but to investigate? This was a huge Costco — self means huge! And the fast food section had the feel of an actual restaurant, not the rinky-dink service counter they have in the Redwood City Costco. The signs advertising sodas and pizzas were almost seven feet high. It reminded her of the drive-in from the movie “American Graffiti,” minus the cars.

And then self detected an insistent bzzz bzzz bzzz coming from her bag, and when she realized it was her phone she picked it up, and it was her Tita, begging — no, pleading — for self to make one last attempt.

And so self hurried out of Costco, and made a right turn, and she finally saw Grosvenor’s Inn, then saw a Holiday Inn, then, then — set back from the road a bit, and attached to some nondescript hotel, was a small one-story place with a yellow sign saying, in red block lettering: BEIJING BUFFET. And there were hordes — hordes — of Asian people heading there, whole vanloads.

And when self entered, almost the first person she saw was uncle-who-used-to-be-a-security-guard. And the first thing he did upon seeing self was pull open his shirt and reveal a row of fresh stitches all the way down to his navel. And so that self would not have to eat while thinking about that all through her meal, she opted to sit at another table, this one with Dearest Aunt and the 70-year-old birthday celebrant. And this is what self ingested, all in the space of 45 minutes:

roast duck
fried rice
fried mackerel
shrimp fried in honey
clams with a white topping (tasted like gummy cheese)
fresh oysters
steamed flounder
fresh manggo
fresh watermelon

Hmmm, let’s see, what else? Oh, yes, self learned that one of her nephews, the one with the long hair spilling fetchingly over his eyes, was going to be a father in September. No word about the wedding. “His girlfriend’s Burmese royalty,” one of her cousins informed her.

Then self does what she always does when attending a family gathering: she called son (And it suddenly occurred to her that she’d been calling son rather a lot lately, but — too late! Her finger had already speed-dialed) And self had barely passed the phone to uncle-with-a-fresh-scar-down-his-chest when he suddenly handed the phone back to self. “I dunno, he has to work or something,” Uncle mumbled, and self said, “Hello?” and she heard son say, “Gotta go!” And then self said, “Hello?” again, but there was no sound so she knew that son had hung up.

But that did not at all deter self from eating. And eating. And eating. And then self went home.

And hubby was watching a basketball game, and self saw that Shaq was exerting himself but not getting anywhere, and so she suggested that she go to Draeger’s and bring home a pie. And hubby agreed with that plan of action. So self took herself off to Draeger’s. And was filled with quiet love for this store, where she used to meet son after school almost every day of the week, while he was in middle school and high school. And, since she was in a slightly daring mood, she bought a blueberry pie even though she had never eaten one before.

And then she went home. And now, if dear blog readers are still there, still awake, and still eager for more, she will now list all the books she is interested in reading after perusing The New York Times Book Review of 30 March 2008:

(1) After reading Steven Brill’s review of John Grisham’s latest, The Appeal:

John Grisham’s The Appeal

(2) After reading Pamela Paul’s review of Mary Roach’s latest, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex:

Two previous books by Ms. Roach: Stiff and Spook

(3) After reading Lisa Fugard’s review of Lorna Goodison’s memoir, From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her Island:

Lorna Goodison’s memoir, From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her Island

(4) After reading Liesl Schillinger’s review of Tobias Wolff’s new collection, Our Story Begins:

Tobias Wolff’s Our Story Begins

(5) After reading Christopher Benfey’s review of Gerard Woodward’s new novel, A Curious Earth:

Gerard Woodward’s A Curious Earth

(6) After reading Evan Thomas’ (riveting) review of Max Hastings’ Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45:

Max Hastings’ Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45

(7) After reading Floyd Skloot’s review of Larry Woiwode’s new memoir, A Step From Death:

Larry Woiwode’s 2000 memoir, What I Think I Did

( 8 ) After reading Julia Scheeres’ review of Edward Docx’s second novel, Pravda:

Edward Docx’s second novel, Pravda

(9) After reading Michael J. Totten’s review of Sandra Mackey’s Mirror of the Arab World: Lebanon in Conflict:

Sandra Mackey’s Mirror of the Arab World: Lebanon in Conflict

(10) After reading Barry Gewen’s review of Charles Ferguson’s No End in Sight: Iraq’s Descent Into Chaos (which expands and updates the material he collected for his powerful 2007 documentary of the same name):

Charles Ferguson’s No End in Sight: Iraq’s Descent Into Chaos

(11) After reading Lori Leibovich’s review of Amy Sutherlands new book, What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage:

Amy Sutherland’s earlier book, Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched
Amy Sutherland’s What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage

(12) After reading Nancy Kline’s review of N. S. Koenings’ short story collection, Theft:

N. S. Koenings’ first novel, The Blue Taxi
N. S. Koenings’ short story collection, Theft

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