Saturday Morning, Reading Poetry

Reading, in River Styx, a poem by Albert Goldbarth (who, self learns from reading Contributor Notes, “has written over 20 books of poetry” –  reading that makes self feel like an absolute slug).  Poem begins:

That Was the Year

of the salad of aluminum foil and iron filings,
Then the salad of hope in a cool sauce

The first line makes self think of a TV show she watched with hubby several nights ago:  a new series, starring Rufus Sewell (evil Duke or Prince who slapped Jessica Biel in The Illusionist) as an investigator or FBI agent who specializes in investigating para-normal activity (only the nth reincarnation of Fox Mulder in “The X-Files”).

The case involved a whole community where people presented with electrocution-type burns.  Rufus’ character decides there’s something about the skin of the victims that is intensifying electric charges –  one victim died when he stuck his key in the ignition of his truck and the car battery drained him completely of life, or something to that effect.  Anyhoo, when Rufus looks through the microscope (so he must be some kind of scientist), he sees metal filaments growing in the skin of said victim, and determines it is some kind of virus.

Self keeps asking hubby, Is that possible?  Metal is not a living thing!  How can it grow? (If anyone should know, it should be hubby, for his degree from Stanford was in Materials Science and Engineering).  But hubby only nods sagely and says that it is possible.

Self is still not satisfied and keeps watching.  Apparently, some research lab was experimenting with this new material that, yes, could be introduced into the population via skin, and there was a freak contamination of one of the scientists, who then spread it to the performers at a strip club near the lab (Of course, this strip club was a heavy favorite of the scientists –  ha ha ha!).  Then the virus/metal/skin got transmitted to all the other bar patrons, and then to the families of the bar patrons, and so forth and so on.

Got that, dear blog readers?

And it turns out that the bad guy was a male colleague of a female scientist who was so jealous of her that he was constantly sabotaging her samples by exposing them to radiation, which made them mutate, which skewed all her findings.  But, in the course of x-raying the samples, this man himself acquired the virus, but a very non-lethal form, since he was the “ground zero” so to speak, but he did spread the virus to everyone else in the town.  And then there was a freak electrical storm, and 40 people in the town presented with electrocution burns.

Whew!  What a story.  Since watching the episode, self simply can’t get it out of her head.

Okey-dokey, having gone on that very long digression, self feels it is only fair to share with dear blog readers the rest of the first stanza:

sweetened with mother’s milk and topped
with the plumage of chimney storks. And after that,
a slaw of remaindered books. Then next, the year
of mysalad.com. So many. Some, you’ve barely
nibbled at. Others, you’ve grabbed in your hands
and swallowed in swinish glee. It comes
from “salt”; who doesn’t come from salt, as witness
the tear, and the laboring brow, and the tang
of our sexual broths. The dictionary also says
“an incongruent mixture: HODGEPODGE.” That’s
familiar, here, age sixty; every day a little
too much to digest; too old to turn over a new leaf.

    – from “That Was the Year” by Albert Goldbarth

Oh, self really loves the poem! Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Short, Short List: NYTBR 22 February 2009

Through a very strange aligning of circumstances, self finds herself not teaching at all this summer.

When was the last time this has happened?  Six, seven years ago.

Is this a sign?  Let’s hope so.

Is this a change for the better?  Or for the worse?

Only time will tell.

In the meantime, self decides that it’s better not to worry her head over such matters.  Let hubby worry about the finances, for heaven’s sake!  Isn’t that why she married a Stanford engineer?  (Ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!)

Today, it pleased self enormously to give hubby a call in the office (It was 3:42 p.m.) and inform him that she had just successfully submitted an NEA fellowship application.  No happy happy joy joy yet, for self has the feeling all that angst, all that drama, all that wild excitement, nervousness and anticipation, will come to a screeching halt in November or December, when the list of annointees is released, and self will find there the names of people she knows, who the selection committee has determined to be more talented or promising than she (As for the promising part, she knew long ago:  she has no promise.  That’s why she spends more time blogging than writing).

But, anyhoo, let’s get down to the business at hand!  Which will be dispatched in just two minutes, because after perusing the NYTBR of 22 February 2009 very, very carefully, self finds only three books she is interested in reading.  Here’s the list:

(1)     After reading Leslie Garis’ review of Johanna Reiss’ A Hidden Life:  A Memoir of August 1969:

  • an earlier memoir by Johanna Reiss, The Upstairs Room
  • Reiss’ A Hidden Life:  A Memoir of August 1969

(2)     After reading James Wilcox’s review of playwright Marisha Chamberlain’s first novel, The Rose Variations:

Marisha Chamberlain’s The Rose Variations

*    *    *

Oh, and another thing, dear blog readers?  Self has just discovered that brother-in-law’s apartment in New York has no wi-fi.  How can any parent with three teen-agers get by with no wi-fi, self wonders?  An unkind remark by niece G comes floating into self’s brain, but she quashes it.  Will it even be worth it to lug laptop along?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

February Is Almost Over!

Tomorrow is another Symphony Night: self and hubby have been anticipating this one for weeks, for the performer is violinist Anne Sophie Mutter (who self has heard was quite a bombshell — in addition to being a violin genius!) Last year, hubby and self watched a concert by a 30-year-old French pianist, thin as a reed, who also happened to have written a bestselling novel in France (!!@@) which fact had self, of course, gnashing her teeth in awe and envy.

The big decision is about where to eat: It’s our fourth concert of the season, and the previous places we’ve tried are

  • a small kebab place, busy with young people and families, on Hayes.
  • Citizen Cake
  • Hayes Street Grill (which had, hands-down, the most fan-TAS-tic french fries self has ever tasted: after she finished one small bucket, self felt like asking for another one)

Self tried making a reservation for Absinthe: she was informed that the next opening would not be until April.

If the forecast wasn’t for rain, we’d try places further afield. Oh well!

Today, self has to submit her NEA application. She pretty much did an eensy-weensy-miny-mo selection of 30 pages to submit. She chose her two favorite stories, even though one of them is un-published (Self lives for danger).

In a few days, self is going to New York. Her brother-in-law is going to be in Brazil, but her youngest nephew, the one who is wait-listed at Georgetown, will be there. The last time self was in New York was summer of 2006, with son. This blog was one month old. She was teaching on-line at UCLA Extension. She would read student stories in the mornings, and in the afternoons go with son to museums or bookstores. One day, she and son lined up at TKTS and bought tickets to a Martin McDonagh play (the guy who directed “In Bruges,” which so far has been self’s favorite Colin Farrell movie), “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.” Son discovered the Strand and fell in love: he’d spend hours there, while self parked herself across the street, at Max Brenner, and stuffed herself with chocolate and peanut butter crepes!  Son lost his wallet, he couldn’t remember where, but a businessman picked it up on Park Avenue, saw the driver’s license, and had his wife mail it to us.  The wallet had tire tread marks and had no cash (of course), but the license and various photographs son had treasured were still there.  Son was so overjoyed that he asked self to mail the couple a box of See’s chocolates.  They responded.  If son had truly and for all time lost his wallet, that trip would not now have the aura of nostalgia self is at this very moment giving it.  Thank God for the kindness of strangers.

Upper West Side, August 2006

New York, Upper West Side, August 2006

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Oh, What a Gorgeous Afternoon

Self took the li’l crits for a walk (their first walk of the week, my bad!). She bought a trellis from Wegman’s, on which she hopes to twine a clematis (as soon as it warms up a little more). And, in a true feat of organization and forward-thinking, she’s already figured out what to make for dinner: Belgian Beef Carbonnade, which is a truly fab stew (that, come to think of it, she hasn’t made for years) which involves beer, vinegar, lots of celery leaves and onions, parsley and garlic.

In addition, this morning, self finally coaxed herself into beginning the process of applying for a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (NEA website says she’s already waited too long: deadline is Mar. 5, and applicants are encouraged to apply at least 10 days early). Self had to resort to all sorts of tricks to even bring herself to the point of deciding to apply. Here are some of the reasons she used to shore up her resolve:

  • If self waits much longer, self will be dead.
  • There is no application fee.
  • In spite of the fact that just figuring out how to register took self hours, she had better do it this year, when she isn’t (by some miracle) teaching. Imagine if she had to check papers, teach a class, and figure out how to download Acrobat 8.1, merely so that she could read the application instructions! She would be so stressed her hair would turn white!
  • Notification will be made in December. Which means self will not get the bad news until the very end of 2009.
  • If self wins, maybe she can finally put money down on a new car.
  • If self wins, people will be very impressed and she can probably wheedle them into doing her a few favors. In fact, she can probably live off the glow of annointment for a whole decade. (Self figures she’ll probably be too old in 10 more years to have another go. This is her one, her only chance — ha ha ha ha!)

Self better get back to filling out those gazillions of forms. Stay tuned, dear blog readers.

“Desire Under the Elms” Redux

Dear blog readers know that when self was in Chicago for the recent AWP Conference, she managed to squeeze in two plays. One was at the Steppenwolf: “The Seafarer” Read the rest of this entry »

Obama Addresses the Nation

Self is poised in front of her laptop while keeping one eye on flat-screen HDTV, where our Prez is addressing the nation on the deepening economic crisis. He says we are going to emerge stronger from this debacle! Yeah! Self, too, believes that with all her heart! Even though, on the car radio today, she heard the news that the San Francisco Chronicle lost 50 million dollars in 2008 alone and was struggling for its very existence (What is a world without a San Francisco Chronicle? For that matter, what would this blog be with no San Francisco Chronicle to quote from?  Can’t the Chron apply for a grant from some outfit like the Gates Foundation? )

But, Dear Prez says, “This is America! We don’t do what’s easy! We do what’s necessary!”

YES YES YES!!!

(Self thinks dull green is a horrible color for Nancy Pelosi, but unfortunately the woman is positioned directly behind Dear Prez so self can’t help but look at her, every time she lifts her eyes to flat-screen HDTV.  Camera cuts away for reaction shot from Hillary:  in contrast to Speaker of the House, Hillary looks absolutely fab in hot pink.)

Self has been sleeping so, so well since getting back from Manila (In Chicago, she never slept, but that’s another story). She thinks that this is due, in no small part, to the fact that she will Read the rest of this entry »

Well Said, Dislocate Editor

Self returned from AWP Chicago with a new crick — this time in her left elbow. What was the cause? Was it lugging all those books back and forth from the Hilton to the Palmer House?

She’s still reading blogs about the AWP experience. Here are some musings from Dislocate (which began with observations on a writer’s essential “alone-ness” : “while we stress the necessity for our own writing of cultivating curiosity about the world beyond ourselves, we write — physically, literally — alone”) :

Sometimes this aloneness, especially for those writers who don’t have the luxury of teaching in or attending M.F.A. programs, or working in publishing, or whose work is as of yet unpublished, can transform into a poisonous loneliness. We rely on our imaginations to ply our trade, but those imaginations—exhausted by craft—can fall short of providing us with a sense of community and kinship. In the echo chamber of our head, our work—not just the writing itself, but the work of writing—starts to ping back and forth, sending out a resonance that sounds eerily like why bother or who is this for, anyway? We lose faith.

So going to A.W.P. felt a little bit like going to worship. There was something of the prayer service in the vast gilded halls full of people nodding in unison as Stuart Dybek articulated his theory of urban animism, or as Antonya Nelson talked about the power of omniscience. The Hilton, a stately old-time affair on Michigan Avenue is the Hilton—the first hotel in the family’s empire. I found myself feeling that its crystal chandeliers, plush muffling carpets, elaborate murals, sweeping staircases and grand foyers served as a sort of tangible imprimatur of the worthiness of our enterprise—as if the lovely, and yes, old-fashioned, setting not so much elevated the conference or what it stood for, but provided a reflection of it that we so often are unable to see.

Although self had to spend her own money (about $600) and she isn’t truly attached to any institution (since she only teaches part-time), it’s emerging now that it was a good idea she went.

Thank you, Luisa, for dreaming up the panel that pulled self to Chicago, after three (rather lonely) years spent writing in her little house in Redwood City.

She never knew that the Chicago Hilton was the Hilton: the first, the ne plus ultra.

She didn’t go to any after-parties, not even to the one of Post Road (though she was very glad to have met Ricco Villanueva Siasoco), which co-hosted with Bomb. Two very cool magazines, and she missed it (feeling rather overwhelmed).

She even missed Stuart Dybek and Antonya Nelson.

Self’s AWP was a very quiet, very private affair. But she still learned a lot. For instance, about “little” magazines (with big voices) like Dislocate!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Student Paper: A Stanford Tale

Professor Valerie Miner invited self to speak to her Women’s Studies class at Stanford.

One of her students ended up writing a paper on self’s Mayor of the Roses and the poetry of Brenda Hillman.

Professor Miner thought the paper was so good that she decided to nominate it for an undergraduate writing prize.

Naturally, many other Stanford professors nominated their own students for same prize.

Guess whose won? Can’t you just tell, dear blog readers?

Happy happy joy joy, happy happy joy joy . . .

Oscar Notes

Hugh Jackman can sing!

Penelope Cruz, self loves you and believes the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress was waaaay overdue!

“Milk” won for Best Original Screenplay –  YEAH!!

Heath Ledger won, DUH –  you didn’t need to be a genius to figure out this one!

One of self’s favorite movies of 2008, “Man on Wire”, won for Best Documentary!!!  And Philippe Petit, bless him, was there in person to join the film-makers on the stage!

Kate Winslet won –  and although self admires this actress enormously, she was very underwhelmed by her gown (from the back, the one-shoulder thingie made her shoulders look too broad, in self’s humble opinion) and doesn’t think she will ever watch “The Reader” (though the book is now on self’s list of “must-reads”).

Self was happy that Sean Penn won, but he forgot to thank Robin Wright Penn, his wife, she who was looking so adoringly up at him from her seat, almost directly in front of him, tears (of pride?  Joy?  Relief?  Exasperation?  Exhaustion? Or perhaps all of the above?) in her eyes!!!

On a minor note, self thought Angelina’s green earrings (and matching rock –  it was huge, dear blog readers, HUGE!) were fab.  She loved Penelope Cruz’s gown.  She thought that, for the first time in her long history of Oscar appearances, Reese did not look well.  Ben Stiller did a pretty convincing impersonation of a certain crazy ex-actor who recently made an ass of himself on Letterman.  And James Franco and Seth Rogen, in a reprise of their “Pineapple Express” roles, were a hoot.

Lilac seemed to be the color of the evening (Exhibit A:  Natalie Portman; Exhibit B:  Alicia Keyes)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

A Meditation, A Lament: Allen Gaborro’s “EDSA Forgotten”

“EDSA Forgotten” by Allen Gaborro (FilAm Star, February 16-28, 2009)

For most Filipinos, the remembrance of their country’s past has not been much of a useful resource nor a compelling pursuit.  It is a signature theme of our globalized century that the world rotates around economics.  Filipinos have become creatures of this theme.  They know as well as anyone else that the world rotates around economics.  Filipinos have become creatures of this theme.  They know as well as anyone else that economics has been placed front and center on the global stage.  Today’s Filipino, perhaps more than at any other time in Philippine history, has contorted this historical inheritance in the quest for material goods, so much so that a blinding philistinism has set in.

The EDSA I uprising took place twenty-three years ago in what was then, for a few days at least, a Philippines reborn.  Those heady days in February 1986 saw, probably for the first time since World War Two, Filipinos truly united in two noble causes:  the removal of a corrupt dictator to begin the awesome task of rebuilding the republic into the nation that they always thought it should have been.

EDSA I was Filipinos’ best chance in years to right so many wrongs from the past. It was the chance of a lifetime for Filipinos, a chance to wipe the slate clean and to start anew. History it seemed, was finally rewarding Filipinos for their long suffering, for their collective martyrdom, and for their loss of respect in the international community and amongst themselves.

Like the abortive 1899 Malolos Constitution however, EDSA I had an abbreviated shelf-life in the Filipino consciousness. Once everyone came down to earth from the euphoric atmosphere of EDSA, they had to face the daunting Philippine reality that loomed before them. That reality would eclipse the miracle of EDSA I and what its significance was to the Filipino people.

What did EDSA I mean to Filipinos, other than the deposing of a reviled autocrat? In an essay for the 10th anniversary of the EDSA revolt I wrote that the event launched the Philippines “on a refreshingly new course: the nation, once again united under the banner of freedom and democracy, could now be pointed towards the collective goal of improving all aspects of Filipino life. People Power, coming in the wake of an exposed military conspiracy for the seizure of government, became a lesson for all Filipinos, a lesson in both conscience and consciousness.”

In the essay, I added that EDSA I also “represented a new dawn for the common Filipino. With their future all but mortgaged and their existence turned into a reservoir of despair and degradation, the common Filipino folk were shown by the new leaders of the country the tapestry of social and economic reform. People Power helped revive the hearts and minds of the masses for it granted them a hearing for their long-ignored needs and concerns. The masses now discerned a positive meaning in the countless wrongs and deprivations that had been inflicted on them under the Marcos administration. The success of People Power promised to reward their suffering with their rebirth as a proud, liberated, and prosperous people.”

How hollow my observations sound now for Filipinos have squandered the miracle of EDSA I. Since 1986, the Philippines has experienced the historic continuum of growing socio-economic inequality, rampant political corruption, massive levels of poverty, and a host of other intractable problems, problems that should have been alleviated, if not completely solved, by now had the country had any lasting semblance of credible and effective political leadership. Whatever episodes of success have actually materialized in the story of the post-EDSA I Philippines have fallen through the proverbial cracks.

In the 21st century Philippines, materialistic attitudes do the talking. History meanwhile has devolved into a redundant, almost irrelevant feature of Philippine society. For these reasons, EDSA I has been relegated to being a historical afterthought, especially for Filipino youths. Older folks lament the fact that the so-called “EDSA spirit” is barely visible on the radar screen of younger generation Filipinos. These younger Filipinos simply have other more acquisitive priorities than thinking about something that happened before many of them were born.

The more time we put between our present era and that of the seminal EDSA uprising, the more distant the intrinsic value of Philippine history becomes at our own peril. Modernity has taught Filipinos to avoid living in the past. Yet, they can never escape that past until they understand its lessons and implications for the future.

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