Self Just Wants to Say

. . .  that “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” which self just finished watching yesterday (instead of going to “Knowing” —  ha ha ha!  And it turned out to be the No. 1 box office movie of the weekend!), is a great Woody Allen movie.

But, what’s a Woody Allen movie anyway?

Self confesses she stopped being a fan after the movie where Martin Landau gets away with murder.  She did see “Match Point,” on the enthusiastic recommendation of Stanford niece (who is so smart that self also allows her niece to guide her on what the “It” literary journals of the moment are, with the result that self ends up with many many many anonymous rejection letters, from the likes of The Virginia Quarterly Review), and hated it.  Haaated it!  Imagined Woody leering all over Scarlett Johansson’s nubile bod.

Thank God, though this movie stars Scarlett again, it is actually rendered interesting by:  (1)  a voice-over by a man who is not discernibly Woody Allen; and (2) the presence of a brown-haired actress, the “Vicky” of the movie title, who radiates wicked vulnerability, and made self root for her, every frame of the film.

Self liked the movie so much she thinks she’s going to watch it again today.  Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Self’s On-Line Creative Writing Class Still Has a Few Slots

Dear Blog Readers,

Self’s upcoming UCLA Extension Writing Class, The Essential Beginnings:  An Introductory Creative Writing Workshop in Fiction, still has slots open.

Please tell your friends:  it’s five weeks of intensive writing and talking about writing and workshopping and in general just intense (on-line) engagement.  I have always loved the on-line workshop, the freedom (as well as anonymity) it gives you.  Self means:  at least, when people read your piece in an on-line class, they have no idea how you look, right?  So whatever impression your physical appearance will have made (whether positive or negative) is taken out of the equation, and people have to go by what’s on the page.

Self has always loved these classes.  For five weeks she gives her students her un-divided attention, and she’s rewarded, always rewarded.  It never fails:  one or even several students discover they like —  no, love —  the writing process.

Class begins April 1.  Program rep is Corey Campbell.  Her contact info:

(310) 825-0107 /

P. S.    Self’s next class, immediately after this one, is another five-week “Essential Beginnings,” but for non-fiction (memoir and other forms of creative non-fiction)That one begins May 13 and runs to June 17.

There Must Have Been Voices in His Head

The most famous suicide in literary history is in the forefront of self’s mind at the moment, because of this news item floating around the web today:

  • According to the Times of London, the son of poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes killed himself (no date given)

How self’s students used to swoon over Sylvia’s poetry.  Self suspects it had something to do with the poet’s dramatic end.  There were two children:  were they asleep upstairs when she did the deed?  Time seemed to have stopped, as far as the family was concerned.  No one thought anymore about the two. Who took them, who raised them, what kind of people they grew up to be —  no one spared a thought.

But here they are, conjured, alive and breathing, in late middle age.

The boy grew up and moved to Alaska.  He lived alone, he never married, he never had any children.  He was 47 when time stopped for him, as well.

47!  How did he escape notice all these long years, while his father was making his mother’s name by publishing post-humously the poetry that would make her famous?  While his father continued to live in England and reap accolades?  What drove this man to Alaska?  Where it all ended, apparently a few days ago.

There was another child, and now self learns her name is Frieda.  Sole survivor of the storm that was Sylvia and Ted.  Self hopes fervently that Frieda’s life has been good —  or, at the very least, placid.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Brain Cloud, Saturday: Rain, Gardening, Pasta for Dinner, and Further Musings on BATTLESTAR

Planted again today. Little cell packs of Scabiosa, $3.95 a pack, from Wegman’s. Their little blue flowers are supposed to come out in the summer. So, by that time, when self will be well and truly sick of not-teaching, the blue flowers will be a salve.

Son text-ed: his last exam is over. A feeling of great relief washes over all concerned.

Did a little writing today, got all excited, decided to dash off immediately to a contest, then realized the contest was not for this incipient novel that self thinks is so great, but for short stories. So she’ll have to go back to those, and look over them, and see if any are worth putting together in a collection. Then she’ll have to make sure she’s within the contest word limits, and — well, it all seems just too complicated for a Saturday evening.

Dinner was pasta primavera: self threw into the pot every vegetable she could find in her fridge: tomatoes, onions, zucchini, green and red peppers, parsley. Noodles were a pack of fettucini hubby brought home from Safeway the other day.

Self still musing over last night’s Battlestar Galactica finale, and she took a look at some blogs that talked about it, and quite a number of people were dissatisfied, one blog in particular accused the show’s writers of resorting to that hoary old technique, “Deus ex machina.” But self thinks the show’s creator had it right when he told an interviewer, “The thing about this show is, what’s on the screen is always so much better than what’s on the page.” In other words, who knows how the whole thing hung together, but the fact is that it hung. Self thinks it was because of the characters, their individual stories, which, when taken all together, resembled some grand space opera. (Is that a new genre? Space opera?) Self thinks we won’t see the show’s like again.

Laura Miller of Salon, self so disagrees with you about the show’s ending: self thinks the idea of bringing the characters to an Earth in which the rather primitive inhabitants look Neanderthal but prove to have exactly the same human DNA as the Battleship survivors (thus making them suitable for copulation and the propagation of the human race, as Baltar so helpfully points out!) is just brilliant!

(Self now evidently in the mood for sci-fi: she persuaded hubby to go with her to see “Knowing” tomorrow, even though she just read a terrible review of it on Salon. But, as the same reviewer loved “I Love You, Man,” which The New Yorker just panned, self thinks odds are that she’ll enjoy “Knowing.” Anyhoo, self always enjoys Nicolas Cage. Even when he’s in movies as awful as “Next.”)

Good-bye, Battlestar

Tonight, hubby has ceded flat-screen HDTV to self, and retreated to what used to be son’s bedroom, to watch NCAA games on the small TV there. In fact, self doesn’t even know why she’s bothering to post, since it means taking her eyes off TV screen for the last precious minutes of the show that changed sci-fi forever (at least in self’s humble estimation), Battlestar Galactica.

Yes, tonight is the series finale. Right now, they’re showing last week’s episode, but there’s a countdown clock on the lower left-hand corner of the screen that shows there are 27 minutes left before the two-hour series finale.

Earlier, there were interviews with all the actors, and self was amazed to learn that Jamie Bamber, who plays Apollo aka Lee Adama, actually has a British accent. And that Tricia Helfer, who plays blonde Valkyrie avatar of uber-shmuck Gaius Baltar, had never acted before. And Grace Park, aka Sharon the Cylon aka Boomer, is from Canada. And Indian hottie assistant to Madame President is the daughter of a Hindu priest (or at least self thinks that’s what she said), who was watching in his living room as — self had no idea Hindu priests could have TVs! Not to mention have children! — his daughter performed in hot sex scene with fellow cylon? Gasp!

Oh, how self will miss lines like “Shut the frack up!”

One hot summer day in 2005, self and fab author May-Lee Chai gave a reading at the San Francisco Public Library. Afterwards, May-Lee invited self to have dimsum lunch at Harbor Village in the Embarcadero, where we were joined by her dad. Then we had the wildest conversation about — you guessed it! — our mutual undying, obssessive fascination with this series. For weeks afterward, May-Lee and self would exchange e-mail: Did you watch the last episode? Is so-and-so a cylon? Why does the only known cylon (to date) have to be the Asian gal? Why is it that Asians are always being cast as the duplicitous, manipulative characters? What is it about Asians that — oh, never mind!

Unfortunately, self couldn’t catch most of this season, as she was in Manila in January, and then she was at AWP, and then she was in New York. But at least she caught last week, and saw the characters in Caprica City “before the fall,” and self got a big kick out of seeing Mary McDonnell aka President Roslin wearing a blue ruffled mini-dress and discussing a date while munching on sushi. And Kara turned out to be living with a hot guy who wasn’t Apollo (but was apparently Apollo’s brother), and Gaius was already a skirt-chaser but he thought Valkyrie was a pest until she found his father a nice retirement home, and James Edward Olmos does not look good in a business suit, thank goodness that portion ended quickly.

And now, only 1 minute left to series finale, self bids dear blog readers adieu for the night.

3rd Friday of March, Sweltering

First of all, self would just like to say that she is really, really sorry over the loss of Natasha Richardson, who was so excellent in the Patty Hearst movie, who could have gone the whole “Hollywood glam” route but instead chose her roles sparingly, cared for her family, and died Wednesday, much too young.

Now, then: Today is Friday, and instead of rain (which Ch. 7 weather person predicted would arrive today), the day is sweltering. Self spent the whole morning cocooned in her room, working (aka “writing”). Which makes this a good day.

Last night, self ordered pizza for dinner, using a coupon which had just arrived in the mail, for New York pizza on El Camino in San Carlos. In an hour, a large combination pizza was delivered, and it smelled heavenly. She’d barely taken the first bite when hubby walked in, unexpectedly early. Are the gods smiling on her or what? Who knew that he’d walk in so unexpectedly early and that self would be all ready with a hot pizza?

So, after hubby came home, there were the NCAA games to watch, and it was marginally exciting: self didn’t know any of the teams playing, and the only team she had any kind of vested interest in (Berkeley) was upset earlier in the day.

Anyhoo, yesterday was not a very good day, for self was so distracted at the thought of having to pay $145 to her dentist and having some cavities filled that she couldn’t think. Couldn’t write. Ended up going to Macy’s at the Stanford Shopping Center. Bought an Estee Lauder vibrating mascara wand (Self kids you not: the display on the Estee Lauder counter has that mascara wand twirling like a top: it’s supposedly wonderful at spreading mascara over one’s eyelashes!). As a “gift with purchase,” she received a pack said to be worth $75, but all it contained were: a miniscule moisturizer (SPF 15), a wee lipstick in some bronze-y coral shade, play mascara, and a tiny eyeshadow compact. Hmmph! Self went home, kicked herself and thought that she’d better STOP FOOLING AROUND or she’d end up in all kinds of trouble.

Then, she sat down, opened the latest NYTBR, and saw there the name of a person who she met at VCCA, who was said to have written a book in only the three weeks of residency. Much gnashing of teeth ensued. Much jealousy. Much pulling out of the hair. Fortunately, by the time hubby came home, all that was behind self. She had composed herself and was able to give a reasonable facsimile of an ambulatory wife.

This morning, she worked like a demon. The awful thing about working like a demon is: you can work your butt off and still no one will want to publish what you write. Such are the vagaries and insecurities of the writer’s life. That’s why self so much prefers spending time in her garden.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

What Makes This Issue of The NYTBR Special

. . .   is the fact that it contains reviews for two exceedingly interesting non-fiction books.  And, another thing:  Self actually met one of the authors she mentions below, at VCCA in 2007.  Self will leave dear blog readers to guess which one it is.

Without further ado, the list of books self is interested in reading after perusing The New York Times Book Review of 15 March 2009:

(1)    After reading Geoffrey Wolff’s review of Blake Bailey’s Cheever:  A Life:

(2)    After reading Steve Coates’ review of Mary Beard’s The Fires of Vesuvius:  Pompeii Lost and Found:

  • Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 19th century novel, The Last Days of Pompeii
  • Mary Beard’s The Fires of Vesuvius:  Pompeii Lost and Found

(3)    After reading Dean Bakopoulos’ review of Patrick Somerville’s novel, The Cradle:

  • William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow
  • Richard Ford’s Wildlife
  • Leonard Gardner’s Fat City
  • Patrick Somerville’s The Cradle

(4)    After reading Wendy Lesser’s review of Chloe Aridjis’ first novel, Book of Clouds:

Chloe Aridjis’ Book of Clouds

Reading for the Day: Jim Harrison

From The Summer He Didn’t Die, about a Michigan mixed-race Native American trying to raise his two step-children on meager resources while fighting off the mother of all tooth-aches:

Twenty-five years later while gathering his fishing gear on an early May afternoon he knew he was going to fish a stretch of creek that was favored by him and David Four-Feet as a camping spot.  The troubling idea arose when he looked into the darkness of his creel that we are mostly alive in each other’s minds and that we’re only dead when we’re dead to ourselves.  This notion understandably made him reach for the schnapps bottle under the car seat.  The liquor stung the three holes in his gums . . .

Naturally, self reads the story on the day she has to go see her dentist —  aaargh!

Last Post of the Day — Promise!

February issue of Marie Claire has an article on “The Paris Hilton of Russia.”  Since self knows that dear blog readers would want to know all about this hallowed personage, she decides to post a few excerpts from the article before she leaves for her daily library run:

Katia Verber is running late.  That’s not unusual for an It girl in Moscow, where the Soviet-built streets are choked with traffic.  Not helping matters is that the 24-year-old socialite’s It car  —  her mother’s chauffered gold Bentley  —  has just broken down.  “I’m so stressed!” sighs the feathery voice on the other end of the line when I call to check in.  “I’ll be there in 20!”

Two-and-a-half hours later, Katia flies into the Starbucks on the storied Old Arbat Street.

And, as if one hadn’t had enough yet of this twit, a real money quote:

There are two Russias, as Katia says:  One hobbles along, while the other races forward, spending its oil cash with careless abandon.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

The Doctor Also Writes

A list of self’s favorite doctor/writer/heroes would have to include the following:

And here’s a new one, who self discovered just this morning, from an article in the Science section of the 17 March 2009 New York Times.

By 35, Dr. Alice W. Flaherty had led a life of traditional overaccomplishment:  undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard, a Ph.D. in neuroscience from M. I. T., research in movement disorders, articles in leading and neurological journals.

Then, in 1998, she delivered stillborn twin boys.  In the grief that followed, she grew manic:  poetic, metaphorical and long-winded.  She wrote everywhere, up and down her arm, over and under any serviceable piece of paper.  She also wrote more traditionally, producing neurology handbooks, autobiographical meditations and, in 2004, a best-selling book, The Midnight Disease:  The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block and the Creative Brain.

*    *    *    *

The office in which Dr. Flaherty writes is one floor down from her movement disorders clinic at Massachusetts General  —  filled with fossils and masks, neurological instruments pinned to a corkboard, books by Darwin, Mann and Virginia Woolf, posters of seminars and art exhibits based on “The Midnight Disease.”

Letters run up the back of her wrist.  They are one consequence of hypergraphia, the overwhelming urge to write; she writes during manias and edits during depressions (She keeps the illness under control with medication)  Dr. Jerrold F. Rosenbaum, chief of psychiatry at Mass General, says he used to get notes from Dr. Flaherty on napkins.

*    *    *    *

The wrist notes could be on any of a dozen topics.  They may be more thoughts on empathic pain, or about research she is conducting on the side about light boxes and creativity in Harvard undergraduates.

Ah, sun’s out, finally.  Time to go back to the garden.  Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

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