Because July 4, 2014 Is Just Around the Corner

The Fourth of July is one of self’s faaaaavorite holidays, for many reasons:  the red, white and blue!  The parades!  The picnics!  The fireworks!  The summer heat (if a parade takes place in less than scorching weather, it’s not really a parade, in self’s humble opinion)! The crowds! The mood!  The retro rock music!

In honor of this year’s holiday (which falls on a Friday, thus making the weekend a three-day, which means everyone — those getting away as well those doing staycations — is in a mellow mood), the Wall Street Journal asked six Americans — a potter; a world-champion swimmer; a novelist; a fashion designer; a CEO; and a performance artist for their own particular takes on the concept of “Independence.”

Here’s what the novelist, Richard Ford, has to say:

Independence contains the seeds of drama — the very thing a novelist is looking for — because it always implies independence away from something.  It also confers consequence on a person and a complex sense of interiority, which are also things that novelists are interested in.  But does it confer strength or powerlessness?  That question is part of the American narrative.  A month before my novel Independence Day was published, I threw out the ending and wrote a new one, which we used, in which my protagonist, Frank, is standing beside a Fourth of July parade as it marches down the street and feeling the urge to join in.  Whether or not I knew it before I started the book, I knew then for certain that the real virtue of independence was the degree to which it allows you to join the human race, rather than stand apart.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Room 3: Button Factory, Temple Bar, Dublin

Lest dear blog readers think self is losing her wits, she blurred these photos deliberately, to give an effect of — mood?  Energy?  Transience?

The setting was the Button Factory, in Temple Bar Music Centre, 4 Temple Bar, Dublin.

Self is riffing off this weeks’s WordPress Photo Challenge:

SHARE YOUR TAKE ON THE IDEA OF ROOM — it could be an actual room in your house, a favorite gallery in your local museum, a cubicle at work.

Last Set of the Night:  Jaime Nanci Barron & the Blue Boys Getting Ready to Set Up

Last Set of the Night: Jaime Nanci Barron & the Blue Boys Getting Ready to Set Up

The audience at the Button Factory listens with rapt attention.

The audience at the Button Factory listens with rapt attention.

The Magic of Music and Midnight in Temple Bar

The Magic of Music and Midnight in Temple Bar

Why, self muses, is this bar called the Button Factory?  Having been in Dublin for a wee bit, she knows it is because, in all likelihood, the place did indeed use to be a button factory.

Her B & B is near Ballsbridge.

The local supermarket is called Spar.

The street itself is called Lower Mount Street.

The saloon on the corner of her previous B & B, in Inchicore, was called the Black Horse Saloon and in fact that was the name of the actual stop on the Luas (tram) line.

Some of that nuance and pungency must have worked itself into her writing.  The stories she’s written here in Ireland are:  Spores, Toad, Residents of the Deep, Breeder.  She likes!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Twist 3: The Stone Lintel’s Close-Up

The stone lintel self passes almost every day, in the garden between the farmyard cottages and the Main House of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, is now ready for its close-up:

What is this mysterious thing?  And what is it doing on the grounds of the Tyrone Guthrie Center?  Who made it?  And why?

What is this mysterious thing? And what is it doing on the grounds of the Tyrone Guthrie Center? Who made it? And why?  Her musings about it remind her of her musings on the mysteries of Stonehenge.

Self thinks it is a very good thing to do an artists residency in a rainy place — such as a boggy island like Ireland — because one is given so much incentive to stay indoors.  And since everything else is so far away (like movie theatres, like newspapers, like television), one perforce has to exercise the utmost resourcefulness to keep oneself entertained.  And, in self’s particular case, that means concocting convoluted (yet entertaining) narratives involving ships and voyages and science and spores and changeables and hedgehogs and Commons and bongs and elephants and imaginary cities.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Gratuitous Annaghmakerrig Selfie (Because What Else Is There To Do When One’s Written for Four Hours Straight)

Hello, dear blog readers!

This is for all the people in California who might be missing self right now!  While she cools her heels in this most amazing, green, rainy, fascinating corner of Ireland — Newbliss in County Monaghan!  Where there are absolutely NO ghosts or banshees, but where there are a most intriguing flock of wild swans.

Regarding said swans: five are a unit; one is a definite black sheep, because it is always off by its lonesome. And this one “lone wolf” swan is definitely a creature after self’s own heart, because it is always bottoms-up in the lake, or has been, the last four times self has seen it.  There must be very delicious food in the lake — or at least, an ample supply of pondweed and tadpoles.

Her short story “Spores” is shaping up quite nicely.  She’ll be getting it ready to send out, soon.

Two days ago, she began writing another one called “Residents of the Deep.”

It is raining again, boo boo boo.  Ireland’s such a bog.  But self loves it and its boggy, temperamental ways. And why not? In what other place could self receive lessons in how to “artistically” curse?  Curses sound 10x better in an Irish accent than in an American accent, self swears.

Self on the 2nd floor of her farmyard cottage

Self on the 2nd floor of her farmyard cottage

And here the chef’s name is Lavina, which reminds self of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, and also of that Avox in the Hunger Games trilogy.  Oh, this is such a bloody, cursed land, beset by dreams.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.




Where Oh Where, Self Wonders, Are These Voices Coming From

There are at least six books lying open on the desk self has baptized as her exclusive writing area.  It’s a glass-topped table above which hang two square paintings.

Everywhere she travels, self designates one particular spot as the spot in which she does all her writing.

The system works pretty well:  it’s like being in an office.  The desk is her equivalent of a work cubicle.  She has conditioned herself not to do anything but write when she is seated at this desk.  It’s a trick she acquired after reading about Pavlov’s dog.

Today, she began writing a story that begins (the voice is not her typical writing voice, must be the influence of Annaghmakerrig):

As for the crew, I can profess with the utmost sincerity and conviction that no captain could have wished for a more trustworthy and stout-hearted companion than the late Lieutenant O’Neill.  He fought a long and hard battle with dysentery but eventually succumbed, six days into our crossing of the Indian Ocean.  He leaves behind a devoted young wife and a son not yet two, both of whom were at the dock to wish him Godspeed on the day of our departure from Southampton.  In my long years of voyaging, never had I experienced a day as black as the one when we consigned Lieutenant O’Neill’s body to the embrace of the sea.

See what self means about “different from her usual”?  She wonders if she can strong-arm one of the residents into reading it, in that inimitable Irish brogue.  Because when she reads aloud what she has written, in the solitude of her farmyard cottage, she isn’t sure she quite pulled off that hat trick:  it is very hard indeed for a Filipina to try channeling Three Years Before the Mast.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.



Status Report: 2nd Saturday in Annaghmakerrig

Csilla Toldy, a poet from Hungary who has lived in Ireland, in a small village north of here, for the past 10 years, went home this morning.  We exchanged books.  Self hopes to visit Csilla at her home, after she’s done with her residency.  (Csilla means star in Hungarian. Isn’t that a beautiful name?)

A bunch of new people came, and one moved into the cottage right next door to self’s.

Self is still on the Jhumpa Lahiri short story collection Unaccustomed Earth, which is the book she brought with her from California, three weeks ago.  At this rate, she’ll still be reading it when she leaves the Tyrone Guthrie Centre.

She’s read four stories so far (They’re really, really long.  About 50 pages each.  More like novellas than short stories, really.  They unfold — at a stately pace.  By the time self gets to the end of a story, she’s forgotten what the main characters’ names are. Self never had this problem with any of Jhumpa’s books before).

But she’s reading so many other things besides.  And writing at an absolutely crushing pace. And sleeping and eating well.  Hallelujah!

Today she worked on The Forest, a story that she’s received encouraging rejections for.  Editors say they liked the voice.  She got an idea for a new ending, after reading Marcus Cumberlege’s poetry (from his book, Running Toward a New Life, which so far doesn’t seem to be in stock anywhere — not, at any rate, in any Dublin bookstore.  She’ll try London book shops next)

In the evening, she decided to do laundry — a somewhat redundant activity when no one cares who you are or what you look like.  This is an artists’ retreat, after all!  But she really felt she ought to start applying some standards, or she’d be spending all week in her pajamas.

So, off she went to the laundry room.  To read while waiting for her clothes to dry, she brought along Roxane Gay’s novel, Ayiti.

Roxane is the editor of PANK magazine, which just published self’s story Seeing.  Self met her for the first time at the AWP Book Fair in Seattle, a few months ago.

Her novel opens in very telegraphic scenes.  Self read at a breezy pace until the section called “Things I Know About Fairy Tales.”  And there, in the laundry room of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, she found herself so wrapped up, so absorbed, so — anguished, really.  In a way she hasn’t been, for a long time.


A woman returns to her native Haiti with her husband and son, gets kidnapped and held for ransom for 13 days.  Afterwards:

When my kidnappers were satisfied that I had been properly bought and paid for I was cleaned up, shoved into the back of the Land Cruiser, and dropped off in the center of an open market in Petionville.  I stood there in what remained of my shirt and my filthy jeans, my feet bare, my hair a mess.  My hands were in my pockets, my fingers clenched into tight fists.  I stood there and waited.  I tried to breathe.  I was not broken.  I remember these details more than any others.  Around me, men and women haggled over chicken and vegetables and water and cornflakes and radios.  I was invisible, until I wasn’t — until I heard my husband shout my name and run towards me with a group of men I didn’t recognize.  As Michael moved to embrace me, I stepped back.  His expression, in that moment, I also remember.  “You’re safe now,” he told me as if he understood the meaning of the word.

Self’s heart shattered into little pieces after reading that, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.


The Moral Decline of One Young Man

As far as possible, on this trip, self wants to focus on Irish writers.  She’s at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, after all.  And she’s surrounded by books by Irish writers — in the Main House, in her cottage.

She stumbled across a pocketbook named Grace Notes and Bad Thoughts, by John Kelly (Dublin: Martello Books, 1994).  It opens thus:

Of a man’s first disobedience there is much to be said — and perhaps the best place to start is the day I boked all over Joseph Haverty’s “The Blind Piper” in the National Gallery of Ireland.  It was one of those sudden bokes that catches the boker completely by surprise — if I’d had even the slightest indication that such a Vesuvian boke was on the cards I would not have been standing in front of Joseph Haverty’s “Blind Piper” with my mouth open.  It stands to sense.

Like a sudden and violent dig in the ribs, it was a sharp elbow in the very cage itself.  Clutching at my side with both hands, I doubled over with the kidney pain of the whole affair and out came a terrific rush of air — expelled with such a hellish force that out with it came the mother of all bokes — a ferocious geyser of a crop-spraying and psychedelic boke.

For the non-Irish readers of this blog, a boke, self eventually figured out, is a barf.  Vomit.

After reading aforementioned scene, self was delighted to insert a puking scene in one of her own stories.


Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.



3rd Thursday of April 2014: Tired (But Not Overly So)

Hey, hey, people, it’s been a long day, and self is sitting in front of her computer, tired.

One thing she is so happy about, this year, is that her garden is so — fecund.  That’s the only way she can think to describe it.  Plants that haven’t thrown off a bloom in years — like her Sheila’s Perfume — suddenly have big, fat flowers.  Her oldest clematis, a montana rubens, suddenly has growth lower down on its gnarled, woody stem.  And the wisteria she thought she’d killed is luscious, winding over the falling-down trellis, almost choking off the old wood.

Self checked out a site called Grey Magazine, and loves it.  It seems to be a magazine about Italy, which is probably why she bookmarked it.  But as she scrolls to the bottom of the page, she sees other things, like an article about the Reykjavik Fashion Festival (There’s one country — Iceland — she’d love to visit one day) and a review of a production of Bohéme.  And there’s a fabulous, absolutely fabulous picture of the actress Charlotte Rampling (still a knockout).

Well, all this musing started because she sat down at her desk, read a new piece on, thought of something, wrote it down, finished it — bam, bam, bam.  It’s just one page, but self thinks it is fabulous.

Self thinks all her pieces are fabulous.  That is, she thinks they are fabulous right after she finishes, or thinks she has finished.  The feeling doesn’t last long, so she might as well enjoy the right now.

This new one-page flash fiction takes place in a future universe.  It’s called “Memories of Trees” and is so angst-y and self loves it.

She remembered that when she spoke to Zack’s class last Monday, one of the students remarked that her story “Mayor of the Roses” and her story “Thing” — one set in a small town in Laguna and the other set in a dystopian future universe (Self swore she would never use the word dystopian again, especially after gazillions of reviewers used it when reviewing Hunger Games:  Catching Fire, but she is forced to admit that it certainly is a very effective word, and anyway her fiction really is DYSTOPIAN, she’s not trying to be clever or anything, just really really honest) — seemed to have similar themes.  Self’s first reaction was to go:  Oh no!  Because she hates thinking of herself as being so transparent and predictable.  Which was not a useful line of thought:  no one who’s predictable can be fabulous.

After much perusing of the newly re-designed Daily Post,self finally realized that it still has the links to other people’s blogs, a feature she thought had been lost.  With the old layout, she would click on “Post a Comment,” and all the people who had posted on the week’s photo challenge would then appear on a list of links.  Self would methodically move down this list, looking at each blog.

With the re-design, self couldn’t find a button for “Post a Comment.”  Only today did she realize that the links still exist, although in a very different form.  All self had to do was scroll down to the very bottom of the page, where there is a gallery of squares.  Clicking on one of these squares immediately brings one to a blog post on the week’s photo challenge.  In other words, the links are so much more visual now.

OK, so here’s what self has lined up for next week:  She will board a plane for London.  She will arrive in London.  She signed up for a tour of Stonehenge, which takes place the day after her arrival.  Jennie Lewis’s new poetry collection, Taking Mesopotamia, is having a reading at the British Museum on April 27, and self has tickets for that.  Then, she’s the guest of Joan McGavin for a few days.  Then she flies to Dublin.  Then she sees FATHER HASLAM, who she hasn’t seen in 20 years.  Father Haslam has asked a fellow priest, Father McCabe, to drive her to the Tyrone Guthrie Center.  She will then be in a self-catering cottage in the Tyrone Guthrie Center.  There is wi-fi, so she will really have to wean herself off Facebook.  Then Penny arrives in Dublin.  Then self clears out of her self-catering cottage and takes a long train trip to Cork, where she’s booked into a magnificent Irish country home that serves four-course dinners every night. Then she loses her passport so she can’t go home and will have to stay another couple of weeks until she gets a new passport.  She’ll live off Irish ale and get fat.  She won’t be able to squeeze into an Economy airplane seat, so she’ll just have to be bumped up to First Class.  She will live happily ever after.


Self wrote a short short of speculative fiction called “The Forest” and has been getting some nice rejections, like one from The Chattahoochee Review that said they liked the voice.

That’s something.  It’s a strange story.  About twin boys who keep lobbing tennis balls into the narrator’s backyard.  One day he decides to talk to them so . . .

Self decided to do some research on saving the huge stands of trees that once grew all over the California coast.  Believe it or not, dear blog readers, this is connected to the story.  Thank God for Google.


And the first thing on the list is self’s own favorite food to ingest:  COFFEE.

But, it’s OK to ingest “shade-grown, organic coffee.”  Coffee is really a shade plant, and self knows this because, in the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, self saw a coffee plant.  In fact, here’s a picture:

Arabica Coffee Plant, San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park

Arabica Coffee Plant, San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park

But according to, “many farmers now grow it in full sunlight, with a heavy dependence on pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers.  They also chop down rainforests, destroying bird habitats.”


“Cheap burgers are environmental assassins,” says Logan Strenchock (What a name.  Almost as bad as Plutarch Heavensbee), “Central European University’s sustainability officer.” And self has super-high cholesterol so she really shouldn’t be eating beef anyway.


According to the article, which by the way was written by Katherine Martinko and posted on the day before Valentine’s Day, “Palm oil is used in half of all packaged food sold in the U.S., particularly cookies, crackers, and soups.  Palm oil is the largest cause of rainforest destruction, resulting in huge swaths of Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests being bulldozed in order to plant palm oil trees.”


“Bluefin is a popular choice at high-end sushi restaurants, but their numbers in the oceans are dropping fast.”  There’s a link to an article on Japan’s insistence that the fish isn’t endangered.


“It kills bees, reduces biodiversity, drives heirloom crops to extinction, and requires excessive processing to transform it into high-fructose corn syrup, another ingredient found in processed foods (which should be avoided anyway because they contain palm oil).

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Four Days After New Year’s (2013)

Self has decided to post an excerpt from Don Alfredo & Jose Rizal, published in Sou’wester, 2007.

Much thanks to Valerie Vogrin for publishing the story. It’s still one of self’s favorites, one of those stories that come in a rush, one of those stories that need to stay inside for a long time while you search for either the courage or the recklessness to set the words down:

When I started to do research for the story, there were things I discovered about my great-grandfather that bothered me.  For instance, I discovered that he had more than one wife, the youngest a girl of 14.  And he was uncommonly cruel.  He tried his best to hide the fact that there was a strain of indio blood in his family, and he would beat his darker-colored servants mercilessly.  He died mysteriously, perhaps a victim of poisoning.

You see, my cousin said, we are related to the National Hero of the Philippines, Jose Rizal.  The one who was shot by a firing squad, at Luneta Park, in 1896.

As Jose Rizal stood before the Spanish firing squad, accused of being a renegade and an underground solidarity worker, George Dewey was entering Manila Bay.

Like what you’ve just read?  Go to Sou’wester!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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