On Longevity and Other Matters

Self knows this: there’s nothing better than coffee at 7:49 in the morning. The icon for weather alerts that self installed on her desktop is blinking, and when self examines it she sees there’s a severe weather alert for (holds her breath) San Luis Obispo, California (!!!). And here is the confirmation that son, like self, has genius intuition: because he’s 3000 miles away this morning, in New York City.

Today hubby has to work and soon self will go to Safeway to get soft drinks and the New York Times, and who knows what we’ll do this evening but there are already two bottles of Moet and Chandon chilling in the fridge.

Self’s looking over latest newsletter from the Center for East Asian Studies at Stanford. It’s been over 20 years since she got her degree, and she notes with interest the places where the recent graduates have gone or will be going, and here’s an abbreviated list:

Dept. of History, Chapman University; Linguistics, Cal State Fresno; Political Science, University of Alberta; Political Science, National Chengchi University, Taiwan; Political Science, UC Berkeley; Sociology, Texas A & M University; Japanese, Wesleyan; Dept. of Foreign Affairs, Thailand

On the Faculty News page, self sees the names of two professors she studied under and who she presumed had long ago passed on to the great beyond (but no, such is the longevity of Stanford professors — both are still very much alive and kicking and in fact have just published books) :

    Michael Sullivan, from whom self took three courses in Chinese painting, has just published Modern Chinese Artists: A Biographical Dictionary (University of California Press)
    Makoto Ueda, professor of Japanese, has a book forthcoming from Stanford University Press: Concealment of Politics, Politics of Concealment: The Production of “Literature” in Meiji Japan.

Furthermore, in April of 2007, Prof. Daniel Okimoto of Political Science was awarded The Order of the Rising Sun, one of Japan’s most prestigious honors. And Michael Armacost, whose wife Bonnie is one of Dearest Mum’s closest friends, has received something else called The Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, which award was presented to him by no less a personage than Emperor Akihito, at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

And then here is a picture of dear old fun-loving professor Susan Matisoff, who looks exactly the same as she did when self was in grad school (which leads self to surmise that having a Stanford professorship is probably the cheapest way to ensure absence of wrinkles), and she is surrounded by these other professors who self has known:

Tom Hare, now at Princeton; and Beth Carey, former Assistant Director of the Center for East Asian Studies, who wrote a book on geishas which self thinks was infinitely better than the one that was made into a movie (because Carey’s book was true), and who also translated the novels of a Japanese mystery writer whose name this morning completely escapes self.

And then, finally, in alumni news:

    Chris Armacost moved to Tokyo.
    Amy Borovoy published The Too-Good Wife: Alcohol, Codependency, and the Politics of Nurturance in Postwar Japan (University of California Press, 2005)
    Sabina Chen became Executive Director of the Chinese Culture Center in San Francisco. (Congrats, Sabina!)
    Shari Epstein became Dean of Academic Affairs at Dharma Realm Buddhist University, which is in “The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas,” which contrary to self’s expectations is not in Nepal or Tibet or any other place in central Asia, but is conveniently located near the city of Ukiah in northern California.
    Robert Corrigan became head of the Man Group in London, which is in charge of awarding the Man Asian Literary Prize. (!!!!) — Darn, if self had only known Rob would end up there, she would have made sure to engage in more idle chit-chat with him in hallowed corridors of the Stanford Quad.

Self now needs time to digest all these various surprises.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Walking the Dogs in the Cold: Sunday, 30 December 2007

First, a news item that has just come to my notice: Victoria Beckham aka Posh Spice had her designer clothes stolen Dec. 20 from a dressing room in Germany. (And the reason self knows is because someone googled “clothes stolen” and landed on self’s blog, so self herself tried the search, and voila . . . )

* * * *

There is a poem I love in Louise Gluck’s Averno. By coincidence or maybe not, it’s called “Landscape,” and begins:

    The sun is setting behind the mountains,
    the earth is cooling,
    A stranger has tied his horse to a bare chestnut tree,
    The horse is quiet — he turns his head suddenly,
    hearing, in the distance, the sound of the sea.

Yesterday my husband walked the dogs without me. Today, he was heading out the door with them when I said, Wait.

It was cold. The Christmas decorations in our neighbors’ leaf-strewn front yards were starting to blink on. Gracie, propelled by some compulsive fury, pulled and tugged hard at her leash and I could barely restrain her. A man came up and asked us if we had seen his dog, a small black Chihuahua. Regretfully, we shook our heads.

Gluck’s poem continues:

    I make my bed for the night here,
    spreading my heaviest quilt over the damp earth.

As soon as we walked in the door, I fed the dogs. Afterwards, they headed straight for their pillows: they’re now, both of them, in deep slumber.

Husband seems at a loss. Perhaps it’s because the weekend is finally over? We didn’t know it before the walk but now that we’re home we know it. He sits and looks at the TV and then wanders off to the bedroom and I can hear him moving around in there, arranging things on his desk. On the TV Matt Damon as Jason Bourne points a snub-nosed handgun at a dapper man in a dark suit. There’ll be a fight scene soon, one I look forward to seeing again.

And here’s Gluck again:

    The sound of the sea —
    when the horse turns its head, I can hear it.

    On a path through the bare chestnut trees,
    a little dog trails its master.

    The little dog — didn’t he used to rush ahead,
    straining the leash, as though to show his master
    what he sees there, there in the future —

    the future, the path, call it what you will.

Stockton, California, 1948: Anita F. Bautista

I was 15 years old when I got married to a handsome manong, a farm labor contractor who was also a musician. Every night during the asparagus season, he played the saxophone with the band at the Rizal Social Club. We had one son and our marriage lasted 20 years.

    — Anita F. (Navalta) Bautista is the vice president of the Stockton chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society. She writes about her personal experiences for their newsletter. The above quote is from her personal essay, “Love in the Time of Taxi Dancers,” in the October 2007 issue of Filipinas Magazine.

Can You Get Your Money Back for a Wedding Cake?

That is the question that is uppermost in self’s mind this evening.

It was a very lazy day, dear blog readers. All self did, other than worry about son’s whereabouts, was respond to an e-mail from the journal she sent a story to yesterday: Since your story was not in an acceptable format, we were unable to open it and therefore it has been declined. Boy, that was quick! Read the rest of this entry »

Quote of the Day: Pablo Neruda


    by Pablo Neruda
    Translated by Alastair Reid

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let’s not speak in any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

    from the Neruda collection Extravagaria, translated by Alastair Reid (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2001)

On This Chilly Thursday Morning: NYTBR 16 December 2007

Today’s horoscope says: “This is not a good day to throw your money around.”

Self’s first words to hubby this morning, delivered as he is brushing his teeth, are: Benazir Bhutto was assassinated yesterday. (And, self has been listening to the Today show for 10 minutes now, and there’s still no information on the assassination, news of which self picked up on the internet)

Self must have been knocked out, for she slept for eight and a half hours straight, a record. Neck aches exceedingly (therefore it must be cold), and the dogs are milling about, waiting impatiently to be fed (as self usually feeds them the minute she gets up).

Self still groggy, but here are the books self is interested in reading after perusing the (rather thin) issue of the 16 December 2007 New York Times Book Review :

(1) After reading Siddhartha Deb’s review of Nadine Gordimer’s new short story collection, Beethoven was One-Sixteenth Black :

These previous books by Gordimer:

    The Conservationist
    Burger’s Daughter
    July’s People
    Why Haven’t You Written? Selected Stories, 1950 – 1972

(2) After reading Jennifer Gilmore’s review of Esther Freud’s new novel, Love Falls :

    Esther Freud’s Love Falls
    Esther Freud’s first novel, Hideous Kinky

(3) After reading Mark Kamine’s review of Madison Smartt Bell’s homage to Baltimore, Charm City: A Walk Through Baltimore :

Madison Smartt Bell’s Charm City: A Walk Through Baltimore

Brrr, Brrr, Brrrrr . . .

It is cold this evening! Just before dinner, self and hubby made a dash to Safeway to pick up more Duraflame logs. Self suddenly remembered: It’s Spare the Air Week! “So what,” hubby said, “I’m freezing.”

For this Safeway run, self was dressed thus: in sweatshirt, sweatpants, coat, woolen muffler, furry socks, and sneakers.

Everyone else she saw in Safeway was in parka (a number with furry trim) and/ or Ugg boots. Self is contemplating getting herself a pair.

Today is also the first day of son’s vaunted cross-country trip. He and two other buddies from Cal Poly (including Nick the evangelist) plan to make it to New York City and back, by January 5.

Son left for Vacaville (where he is meeting up with the other two) at 9 AM this morning. At 5:30, self decided to give him a call.

“Where are you?” self asked.

“Far, far away,” son said.

“And where exactly is that?” self asked.

“Vacaville,” son replied.

Self practically shrieked, “Vacaville???”

“We’re just getting ready to leave,” son said. “It took a while for us to get our stuff sorted out.”

“So what’s your first stop?” self inquired.

“Oklahoma,” son said. “Ooops, gotta go.”

Self’s next call was to hubby. “They’re going to make their first stop Oklahoma,” she says.

“What?” hubby yells. “Do you know how far Oklahoma is?”

Well, self has to admit that she only has the vaguest idea of where Oklahoma is (which of course did not impede her at all from attempting to write a novel last year that was set in Oklahoma . . . ).

“It is 1500 miles away,” hubby says.

“Ohhh,” self says.

“I’ll bet you anything they won’t get farther than Las Vegas,” hubby says.

And, self thinks, that’s probably not a bad place to stop.

Read the rest of this entry »

Self Experiences Stillness

Last night we took son to see National Treasure in the old Century Park cinema on Bayshore. The theatre was packed, self had never seen so many people in a movie, not in a very very long time. We had popcorn, and self got an extra bag and divided up the popcorn (The popcorn at this theatre is the best of all the theatres in the Peninsula, self doesn’t know why. And they never scrimp on the butter). It is always fun to watch Nic Cage (who self is sure dyes his hair now), and of course Diane Kruger is there for male eye-candy. But Helen Mirren went along for the ride, playing Nic Cage’s mother (and self is always amazed at how this woman manages to exude sexuality, even with the facial wrinkles that she doesn’t bother covering up with Botox), and it was loads of fun (for the parents, that is; self saw a number of little kids, six or seven years old, sleeping).

So, with that ritual of our holiday over, son took off to see his old friend Kenny. He got back at midnight, just as self was finishing the last of his laundry. Then, he stayed up packing until 3 or 3:30, and self was up with him, helping him fold clothes.

Weather’s absolutely gorgeous today. Son is gone. Helping him load up his car, writing down reminders and phone numbers for him to call in case of emergency (during his cross-country drive), and letting him choose from self’s stash of maps, occupied most of the morning.

There’s a stillness in the house now, and though self had thought she would run errands today, perhaps she won’t.

Will self write a story?

Will she watch a movie?

Will she garden?

Will she walk the (snoozing) dogs?

Will she sweep/ dust/ mop?

Or will self simply continue reading The Economist, in which she read this morning that “Women have not escaped the kitchen; it has come after them”?

Son’s spring break plans are still inconclusive, but he said he probably wouldn’t be going home. Self said that he should just go and have fun. Niece G always goes somewhere for spring break: Belize, Bermuda. Self thinks it would be wonderful for son to do the same.

Self now peeks into his room and is surprised to see that he’s straightened up quite a bit: his desk and his bookshelves look neat and tidy. Someday she’ll have to decide what to do with the 60-inch K’Nex rolling ball factory that he built when he was 10, or with his soccer and karate trophies, or with the stuffed animals he won from Great America. She doesn’t have to decide right now, though.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

The Hokusai Anthology of the One Hundred Poets

Son gave self the above-named book for Christmas! A new translation by Peter Morse and printed by George Braziller. Self dropped by Books Inc. in Mountain View with son last week and saw the book on display. After picking it up and glancing briefly through it, self put it back when she saw the price: $50. She didn’t even notice son watching her, he usually heads straight for the science fiction section and she is sure she didn’t spend more than five minutes looking at it. Son has the most uncanny intuition about what she would like for Christmas!

(Last year, he gave self a beautiful bound journal with blank pages and a nice Mont Blanc pen. Self uses up journals so fast that she gets the cheapest kinds, the ones that cost $5 from Target. But this journal was absolutely the most beautiful notebook self had ever owned. She’s saving it up for when she goes on that grand European tour and wants to jot down impressions. And she uses the pen when she has to sign books.)

So, self loves the Hokusai book so much. She remembers a story from her childhood about a fishing village in Japan that built their houses facing away from the sea, because the sea had taken so many lives, and the accompanying woodblock print was by Hokusai. That was how she first heard of him.

Now, perusing the book slowly, self comes across the print for a poem by Fujiwara no Atsutada (904 to 944). The print shows a woman standing before a mighty tree, a hammer in one hand, a nail in the other, a second nail held firmly between her teeth. On the woman’s head are three guttering candles. This is how the text explains the image:

. . . the ceremony of Ushi no Toki Mairi (Praying at the Hour of the Ox — i.e., two o’clock in the morning) is a means of casting a spell on an unfaithful lover. Only women could do it. The woman wakes, dons a white robe, and puts a metal tripod on her head, holding three lit candles. She wears a mirror on her chest and carries a straw doll in her left hand, representing the lover. Her hair is left loose; in her right hand she carries a hammer and nail to attach the straw figure to one of the trees surrounding the temple. She goes to the Shinto temple . . . at two in the morning, nails the figure and then prays to the gods for vengeance . . . It is supposed to be repeated several nights in succession for best effect.

Fascinating, just fascinating . . .

Christmas Morning

# of Hours slept last night: 5 (Good)

# of “bad things” consumed yesterday: 2 (peanut butter ice cream at downtown RWC cinema, while watching tremendously moving Atonement; one Beard Papa chocolate eclair with caramel filling)

Holiday-themed TV viewing last night: The World Wrestling Federation performing live in Iraq

# of presents opened: 0 (Will wait till everyone is up)

Best Christmas wish (from Reine M): “May gravity and lightness play well inside of you.”

Weather: chilly. Self forgot to remind hubby it was “Spare the Air” Day so of course we lit a fire.

No. of major department stores that will open before 8 AM tomorrow: 3 — J C Penney (opens at 6 AM!), Macy’s and Nordstrom (at 7)

News self is watching: KTVU Morning News

In the mail yesterday: a very thin NYTBR, ballots for hubby and self for the California primary (Feb. 5 this year!), and two self-addressed stamped envelopes (read: rejections). The first is list of winners for the Missouri Review 2007 fiction contest (Darn! Self knows she’ll never get into the Missouri Review!) and the second is from The Greensboro Review, for “Dumpster,” which makes self smile, because she’s already placed “Dumpster” (just last week, in fact) with another journal. But what’s really funny is that, a month ago, self received solicitation to subscribe to The Greensboro Review. And she thought she’d better take out a subscription, as perhaps this was one way that GR weeds out its submissions slush pile? By rejecting anyone who fails to respond to subscription invitation? So self mailed in her check, and — voila! Rejection (Form, the most depressing kind) arrives. Self, this goes to show what happens when you try second-guessing tactics of editors at esteemed literary journals!

Things on to-do list today (aside from opening presents, of course): Mass, movie (Choices, ticked off by hubby: National Treasure sequel, Aliens V. Predators sequel, Charlie Wilson’s War)

Most fervent wish(es) for the New Year: that beloved sister-in-law Ying will be fully restored, in health, in serenity; that Dearest Mum finds happiness; that son makes it to the East Coast this New Year’s without mishap (He’s driving cross-country with three friends, starting tomorrow), that self can continue to write, and write well.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

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