Friday, December 19, 2008


I've been revising a short story, and I'm going to submit it to a few journals. I've never posted any of my fiction on this blog. But here goes. P. 1-3 and a section of p. 14 of an 18-page story.

From "Search and Rescue"

George’s stepmother kept like an unwilling refugee in his house in Baton Rouge. It had become controversial in the news to call them that. None-the-less, George Landry Jr. felt she was his personal refugee.

Eula Mae Landry was eighty-two. She had not left the safety of the Arabi Park Trailer Estates in ten years, not since her second husband, George Landry Sr., had passed away.

At George Jr.’s urging, Eula Mae’s live-in son Carlton drove Eula Mae up from Arabi to Baton Rouge with her two dearest essentials – a photo of herself at sixteen, full moon mouth half smiling as it exterminates candles on a sheet cake, and Beatrice, her chatty white cockatoo. In Eula Mae’s moss green Chevy Impala that lacked air conditioning and radio, Carlton and his mother waded through ten hours of rain and evacuation traffic to make the eighty-mile trip.

Eula Mae clucked her tongue against her teeth and patted her brow with a cotton handkerchief. “Lord, Carlton. Betsey’s gonna be a bad one.”

Carlton kept his gaze straight ahead. “Mama, this here’s Katrina. Hurricane Betsey was in ‘65.” The wipers thrashed with effort across the windshield.

“Oooh.” Eula Mae placed her right arm beneath her breasts and tucked them upward. She moved her hand to rest it over her heart. The white handkerchief drooped in surrender between her fingers. “Yes. That’s right.”

Traffic stood still.

“Listen to that rain, Carlton.” Water jack-hammered steadily onto the car. Eula Mae furrowed her brow and blood rose to her cheeks. “Where’s your daddy? Flyro should not be foolin around with Betsey. Better get out fore the storm hits. He’s meetin us up in Baton Rouge?” She looked around, trying to gain her senses. “Is that right?”

“Mama, this here’s Katrina. Hurricane Betsey was ’65. Daddy passed in the storm. You married George Landry Sr. in ‘77. Remember? We’re headed to his son George Jr.’s now.”

Carlton unbuttoned the second and third buttons on his work shirt. An Exxon patch was affixed to his front pocket just below a patch with his name stitched on it. He wiped sweat from his upper lip. Rain sprayed through cracked-open windows in the back, and mist condensed on the vinyl seats.

Eula Mae clucked again. “I wanna get home soon.” The woman turned to her bird. “Be-Be, Eula Mae wants to go home.”

“Cluck. Eula Mae wants to go home,” the bird mimicked. The wetter Beatrice became in her cage, the louder the bird squawked her discomfort from the back seat of the car.

That night, reasoning that his stepbrother should have a turn with her, Carlton deposited his mother for good with George, and he proceeded to Alabama to stay with an old high school buddy. George stood under the cover of his carport and smoked a cigarette while Carlton backed down the driveway. Carlton stopped the Impala and stuck his head out of the window. “She gets upset, show her that old photo. Likes to think she’s sixteen.”

“You comin back in a few days?”

“I’ll be back once the hurricane’s passed. Sure I’ll have to get back to work in the next few days.”

George, a fifty-six year old emergency search and rescue worker, had married at 20, divorced at 28, and lived alone ever since. He taught courses at the Federal Emergency Training Institute housed at the state university, and he spent evenings alone. The occasional explosions at one of the area’s oil refineries or grain elevators were the most catastrophes he’d experienced. Sometimes, a year passed without crisis. He supposed this was a good thing.

On the day after his stepmother and her cockatoo began perching in his ranch-style house in an old white-flight subdivision in Baton Rouge, Katrina hit New Orleans. Wind gusts blew through Baton Rouge, splitting oak trees and tearing shingles from roofs. His own water oaks were spared, and it seemed Katrina wasn't so severe after all.

Enjoying the calm that followed the hurricane, George and Eula Mae sat on his porch barbecuing hot dogs and listening to cassette tapes through an old battery-powered jam box while, in New Orleans, the levees broke. “Expect Carlton will be headin back soon and ya’ll can make your way home,” George told Eula Mae. Electricity was out and phone lines were down. They didn’t hear about the flooding until a day later when George received a text message saying he would be responding in the Ninth Ward. Be prepared to leave at dawn, his supervisor had written.

P. 14

George walked inside and returned with a whiskey and the photo. “Amit, why don’t you run on home for now.” Lines grew from the corners of George’s eyes, fanning out over his temples, tracing history like arpent lines. George’s tired blue slits met Amit’s chocolate eyes. Amit’s eyes were like the boy’s eyes, and George remembered:

“Deformed monkey goes in the luggage compartment or you leave him behind,” the officer had told George. “You have two fucking options.” New Orleans had been ominous. Hundred-year-old live oaks and Canary Island date palms splayed against the neutral grounds, diminished like anorexic bodies. Where water receded, the city had been smothered in a toxic gumbo – soot, mud, overturned cars, engine oil, sewerage, rat and dog carcasses. A thick odor hovered in the humid air; it was the unforgettable, unbearably hot smell of death. The clearest sound had been men in shrimp boots sloshing through the thick gray-brown liquid. Caved-in rooftops of sunshine-yellow shotgun homes and melon-colored Creole cottages jutted from the slush. Headlamps strapped to hard hats glared into worker’s faces – the lamps acting as silent sirens beaming into each man’s eyes. Before giving the boy up to the officer, George had hugged him. He had hugged him once and set his gloved hand over the boy’s head in prayer.

George kneeled beside his stepmother now. He pried her hands off of her face and tilted her head up to look at him. “Eula Mae. It’s gonna be all right.”

Beatrice clucked in a kind of stutter. The sound penetrated George’s ears.

George spoke over Beatrice. “Eula Mae. Look here. Everything’s gonna be alright.” George picked up the paper towel and dabbed her eyes and cheeks. “You look real pretty today, Eula.” He pressed the drink against her palm, wrapped her hard fingers into a grasp around the whiskey glass. “Go on, sip on this.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Things you are learning in your MFA program.

1. There is not nearly as much time to write as you had hoped to have.

2. You do not want to become an English professor, steady an income as it may be.

3. When you are in a group of MFA students (males and females) and also a few non-MFA strangers, and the strangers ask, “So what’s Big-Shot-Writer like? Does he really hit on students?” Before you can answer for yourself, the boys will inevitably jump in and say, “He DID, but now he’s married to a hot blonde 32-year-old.” They add, “Have you SEEN his wife?” Then they guffaw and chortle.

4. It eats at you a little each time, because it’s as if your own classmates are saying: Female students, you can’t trust a word he says about your work.

6. Another way to look at it is, "The girls are lucky. At least Big-Shot-Writer pays attention to them because of their tits."

5. Yet another way to look at it is, “Aren’t we lucky we’re dudes, because at least we can take it seriously if Big-Shot-Writer tells us we’re fucking geniuses."

7. Big-Shot-Writer never says this, but in CASE he says it, you will all know what he means according to your sex (either: good job, or, nice ass, as if you can't have a nice ass AND write well).

7. When the boys announce Big-Shot-Writer’s marital/hit-on-students status, they first sound mildly critical, disappointed. But only mildly and only at first.

8. The thing is, all the boys want to become just like him asap: National Book Award recipient, then Pulitzer finalist – 60-something and married to a hot young blonde.

9. MFA students shun blogs. They do it quietly, like they are librarians chastising noisy teenagers sitting around a study table.

10. This does not surprise you one tiny bit, as you shunned blogs before you ever wrote your own, or read any, for that matter.

11. If anyone keeps a blog, it’s like some dark and dirty secret.

12. Any asshole can write a blog. It takes a real writer to write literature.

13. Students who shun blogs loudest probably have about twenty different blogs bookmarked on their computers, and at one time, they tested out their own live journal or type pad account.

14. The thing is, you don’t really give a damn if people think less of you for keeping a public blog. Sometimes it is an excellent, non-literary, venting device.

15. You don't trust writers who are cat people, and you don't trust writers who don't drink booze (unless they're recovering). Usually, these people are one and the same.

16. You still want only to be a writer, by profession not hobby. One who earns a living.

Monday, December 15, 2008

city in my mind.

When I looked back at what I’d set out to do in 2008, this is what I found:

The weather inside of myself has been changing. 2008 will be about embracing adulthood, but also embracing what is at my core, rather than telling myself that what is authentic to my core is childish or unrealistic. 2008 will be about finding the balance between joy and melancholy. It will be letting creative productivity and my social-self (myself as a friend) be the pivot on which I balance my life.

Sheesh. Maybe my head is in a completely new space, and I can't relate to that girl. Or maybe I am still working out some of those things subconsciously.

So, goals for 2009. Right now it is these things:

1. Improve my vocabulary. (Notice that I've added two different Word-of-the-Day applications to this blog.)

2. Read more. (I can't remember when I became so lazy about reading, but I think it fits somewhere into the time period between landscape and architecture.)

3. Develop and stick to a journal submission routine. (I didn't submit stories to one single journal in 2008. I'm not beating myself up, because I did spend a lot of time pushing out drafts. But it's time to turn drafts into final versions, and further, it's time to get those final versions out to journals.)

4. Stick to a writing routine. (I suppose it will largely involve revisions, but I've also got to plan in time to work on new stuff.)

5. Stick to an exercise routine. (blah. I just read an interview with Tina Fey, and I got so annoyed with the writer/interviewer. She spent HALF of the article obsessing over Tina Fey's weight loss. Fey once was 5'4" and weighed close to 150 pounds. I GET it - why it is such an issue in her industry, but at the same time, I really don't get it. Not on any deep philosophical level. I get that, psychologically, we are a totally warped nation. Being 2 inches taller than Fey, and having pushed 150 myself, I have to say - I didn't look THAT big. I didn't feel like my healthiest self, but I also didn't look like a monstrosity. Like, no one would've covered their eyes when I walked into the room. What is wrong with us, America? Great big sigh. Who knew this goal would spin me into a rant.)

6. Complete another triathlon. (See above rant.)

7. In general, structure and schedule my days. (See all of the above.)

I can’t think of any soul-changing goals right now. I’m feeling fairly well planted in the ground. The biggest challenge I can think of, that I am too chicken to even put on my list right now, is to get an acceptance letter from some journal or other. I would really like that. But I understand that it also means I've got to be disciplined about revising my work and about sending it out.

I feel really boring laying this all out, but I’m sort of happy to be boring in the moment.

Okay. I am letting myself copout. I better list the publication thing.

8. Get an acceptance letter from a journal in 2009. (There is only so much I can do to achieve this. A lot of it is not in my hands. But I guess at least half of it is in my hands.)

There's one more. I guess this one would be soul changing for me, but I'm slightly terrified to write it down. We thought, when we sold our house, that we'd budget a portion of money to take a trip this summer. A really wonderful trip overseas. I REALLY REALLY desperately want to travel for an extended period. I'd be satisfied to have two months. I want to go to India with my husband. And I want to just see part of the world together as two young and married people who don't have a tremendous amount of responsibility. I thought we'd budget some of our house-sale money for just this trip. But I didn't know we'd be eating away at that money in the face of an incredibly tough job market, in which c. has not yet found a full time job with an architecture firm. And this makes traveling more and more unlikely. But here you go:

9. Travel to India this summer.

Now, do I round out my list of goals with a number 10? I guess this isn't a goal so much as a desire.

10. A wish a dream a perfectly valid dream. I'm really hoping that my husband finds a job. Not just any job (b/c he is working part time right now), but something that fits him and that he fits. An architecture firm that he'd be happy to wake up and go to each day. That's my wish. I guess I've got to work on visualizing this, thinking positive thoughts about it, putting forth crazy amounts of energy to that end. Same as I did when I wanted to get into grad school. Same as I did when we were trying to sell our house.

The thing is, I can see inside of my head exactly what my life looks like. And I'm trying my hardest to focus. To get myself to that place. When my mom died, I started to see it, like some kind of city in a sno-globe, the place I'm supposed to live in, the life I'm supposed to lead, person I am supposed to be. If I tell the truth, there's nothing about what I'd hoped for in 2008 that doesn't still stand - that I'm not still self-consciously pushing toward. A little bit nearer to there each day, each year. Here I come 2009. Head more in the clouds than I'd wanted to believe.

*lovely sno-globe by walter martin & paloma munoz.

SONGS: Road to Nowhere and Once in a Lifetime, Talking Heads (enjoy the videos below; just press 'pause' on the playlist player to the right)

Friday, December 12, 2008

four white herons and other lasting images.

A list today.

1. I went on a run at Town Lake, and after, as I was walking to cool down, I spotted four white herons on the water. It reminded me of home. The landscape here often reminds me of home, and this makes me happy and moody at once.
2. Andrew Bird was my running partner, but I realized that I'd like an actual human running partner. Which means I've come a long way, because a year ago, I was terrified of running with another human being beside me - afraid I would slow someone else down and also appear to not have a handle on my body.
3. I have a paper due at noon tomorrow, and I've so far, found endless ways to procrastinate.
4. Right now, I am drinking hot coffee and eating peppermint, which helps me remember that Christmas is around the corner.
5. I want to improve my vocabulary. A friend suggested "Word a Day." I think I'll add it to my blog.
6. It's the end of the semester, and I'm just about ready to reflect on it at length. But after I turn in this paper.
7. On Wednesday, I had one of the best days I've had since I moved to Austin. It involved a spontaneous road trip, a disco cowboy shop, and friends.
8. I'm beginning to set goals for 2009. Calling them resolutions seems self-defeating. I don't resolve to do anything, but I can certainly set a goal and try like hell to achieve it.
9. My dad's wife is finally in the US. I am a little weirded out. I have a step mother, who my sister called "dad's companion" last night. This is the most surprising thing to me: I feel happy for my dad and happy for her, but also really sad for her, because, as my sister also said last night, "She left her whole life behind." Isn't there something romantic in that? A woman leaving her whole entire world so that she will have companionship? So she won't die lonely?
10. I don't mean to be, but I am a pretty sappy, sentimental type a lot of the time.

SONG: Hearts of Oak, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

Sunday, December 7, 2008

c. and I had grand work-out plans the other day. We went to bed early, woke up at 5:45 a.m.,

Friday, December 5, 2008


SO. Natalie accepted my challenge (which in fact she suggested in the first place). She also started up a blog, aptly named I CHALLENGE YOU!, just for those who wish to partake. Something else I am so happy about.

Here are a few comments I received on the last post:

From Cristin:
Can I be a part of this public challenge? Even if I don't have a blog? I have fallen off the wagon BIG TIME since the wedding. And spending 4 (glorious) days eating in Louisiana has put me over the edge.
Do I have to start a blog? Because that will just be one more thing for me to procrastinate doing and then I'll do even more nothing than I do now.

YES, you can be part of the public challenge, and NO, you don't have to begin a blog, because Natalie already started one.

From Kevin (who is fellow cohort in the invention of new games):
Yes, I'm totally up for a challenge. I'm gonna need one, too, the way I've been eating and slacking.
If you need me to help brainstorm on how to convert this into game form, then I'm game (haha, ohgod).

OK, Kev, let's get going on it. Any suggestions for how to play? We should continue this discussion on I CHALLENGE YOU!

Are you two serious about this? Kevin - Do I invite you to participate? Cristin?
I'm pretty excited about the bloggercizing.

*Note the photo borrowed from the Shaq Family Challenge website (no stealing here)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

i gave myself a motivational kick in the ass.

Today at Town Lake:

7 min-appx 1/4 mile warm up walk

10 min-1 mile run

5 min-1/4 mile walk

10 min-1 mile run

5 min 1/4 mile cool down

So, what's that: 2 3/4 miles? That is the most I have done since June I think.

OKAY MISS NATALIE!!!! I am hereby issuing you a public challenge!

My goal: 2-4 miles of cardio 3 times a week (and also to get back to being able to do do 2 consecutive miles! sheesh.)
What is yours??

Monday, December 1, 2008

back story.

The whole trip made me tired this year, before I even arrived. Thanksgiving.

My mother died two years ago, and my father remarried one year ago. I think he remarried in October. But it could have been September, and it could have been November. And that I can’t recall and don’t have any desire to recall, well, I don’t know what that says about me, but it remains the fact. (Right now I am being, what we call in school, an unreliable narrator.)

His remarriage happened like this: abrupt. He was in India on a trip. What I understand is that he had spoken with my mother’s sister, asking her, essentially, for her blessing to move on. Really, I think, he was asking for her to understand that he must. Then his brother posted an advertisement in the matrimonial section of an Indian newspaper.

He met the woman twice, I think. She is many years younger than he is. I learned he was getting married via email. The irony of it, though it is of little magnitude, is that I’d quit my job a few months earlier – that summer – in order to pursue writing full time. The first short story I wrote was about a widower who places an ad on an internet matrimonial site. It’s not so ironic. I knew my dad had been speaking of remarriage. I knew he would not date in the western way of courtship. But I wrote a story in which a matrimonial ad comes to fruition. I tend to write about my fears. I play them out in fiction. Just in case. A few months later, I had a step-mother.

I think my friend marcie had just killed herself, and I was devastated. I know she had just killed herself. Her death came on the heels of the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death. She committed suicide by hanging herself. I have needed to write this down. To see the words on paper. I have an uneasy time admitting hard truths to myself. I have a hard time saying things that are or have been that I need to admit. Sometimes it is my own desires and feelings I cannot admit. Sometimes it is basic truths. Marcie hung herself. And this year, when the anniversary of that hanging passed, I tried not to remember – but how could I forget?

I almost had a fit when I received my dad’s email from way off in India. My husband may have thought I was loosing my mind. When I let myself stop to think of it all, I thought I was loosing it. I wanted nothing more than to stay out until 5 a.m. every single night like I was twenty years old. He just let me alone to do what I would do. I wanted to be as far away from who I was, to forget every part of myself, to forget all of my grief, to not process anything real in the world.

In the daytime, I was rigorous, scheduled. I woke up early. I exercised – even completely hung over, I made it to the gym, worked out, and spent the day re-hydrating. At home I got to work writing. Eventually, I got some part time jobs. Personal assistant to a poet (though she preferred to call me her intern because I suspect she had a complex about writers having assistants). Researching and writing a report for a landscape architect. Freelance writing for a local magazine.

When my dad first emailed that he’d be getting married, my sisters and I had all emailed him back asking him to slow down a bit. We, or at least I, thought he was holding off. One Saturday, as I was walking marcie’s obituary up to the local newspaper to turn in, I happened to call my aunt, my mom’s youngest sister. She delivered the news: So you’re dad’s getting married tomorrow. I felt my insides curdle.

Somewhere in those out-of-body, out-of-mind months, I made some very dear friends. Girls I still love and miss and crave in my life today as I am here in Austin, TX continuing to try to be a writer. And somewhere in those months, I also came to appreciate my old friendships in a new way.

I want to say it again. I thought I was losing my mind. But I guess it’s all a lot to take in. I had quit a career to pursue something creative and intangible; I was grieving a mother and then a friend and then trying to wrap my brain around having a stepmother young enough to be my father’s daughter, who doesn’t speak English and who, most importantly, is not my mother. I was so fucking pissed off at every single person and event and emotion. That is the thing I had the most trouble saying or admitting. I wanted to claw at walls, at lawn grass, at gravel, at myself. I was also being reborn in a way.

In school we’re not supposed to give our characters’ back stories if we can help it. It makes the narratives weak, I suppose. But here is some of mine. Strange jumble of 2007 and 2008. This year has also included: turning 33, training like a mad woman for a triathlon, getting into grad school, selling a house, starting an MFA program, moving.

Now it is the latter part of 2008, and I’m in Austin, TX. I went home for Thanksgiving, and I guess it sent me into a tailspin of remembering and reflecting. My father’s wife has finally been granted a Visa. Maybe that's what really sent me into a tailspin. She comes to the US in 10 days. My ears burn. My face burns. I have only spoken with her one time over the telephone, but my stepmother becomes real in 10 days.

When I walked into the house the night I arrived for Thanksgiving, the first thing I saw was an empty leather chair, the seat crumpled by the ghost of my mother, crumpled by her void. Later, there were photographs on walls and shelves. My dad is going to have to take down photographs of he and my mom. Remove his own back story to make space for the present action.

I brought a blanket home with me, one my mother knitted. First thing I did when I got back to Austin last night is curl up inside it. While I keep writing, keep working on my own moving forward, I’ll swallow the lump in my throat and be happy that he is alive and not the pale shadow of a man he seemed after his wife’s death.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

five minutes. 4:20 p.m.

OBSERVED: Lanterns on a tree limb.

There is a tree beside the lake. White lanterns and gigantic snowflake cutouts hang from its limb; the limb itself hovers above the water. Across the lake is a hill, and on the hill there are houses at the tippy-top, and other houses that step down all the way to the lake shore.

You think that it is Christmas every single day in these homes that make a grand stairway to the water. You think the paper snowflakes- bigger than life, and the ghostly paper lanterns that hang on the limb on your side of the lake must be on that limb year-round, decorations to remind people across the water: It is Christmas for you. There are gifts for you. Your life is a sacred holiday, even in August or September, even on the eve of death.

Someday, you think you might fold a boat out of paper, origami big enough for you to sit in, whiter than the lanterns and snowflakes. You might sail across to the other side, climb the steps of the hill- as long as it takes, live a delicate life. At night, you'll become a glowing spec on the hill. You don't know what you will think when you look across the water at the lanterns then - themselves glowing at night.

Maybe the map of your life will all be out of paper, an intricate cut-out, a tangle of routes as individual as one single snowflake.

Monday, November 17, 2008


When standing before a large crowd to read:

1. Imagine everyone is naked, and every single body in front of you is hideous.
2. Pretend you are Meryl Streep accepting the Oscar, and the audience is full of seat-fillers.
3. Tell yourself that the bodies in the folding chairs belong to five year olds who are on heavy doses of Benedryl
4. Annunciate.
5. Look at out occasionally at these fat-bellied, naked, drugged five-year-olds.
6. Just never look them in the eye.
7. Speak to them like you are Princess Di waving to all of London - look sincere, but don't pause to make eye contact with individuals.
8. Shoot whiskey before you begin. But not too much.
9. Remember when you were five and you stood at your kitchen stove pretending to be the chef on a cooking show - you are instructing a group of viewers. You know more than they know. You have secrets to cooking success.
10. Project.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

return to fat city.

Since I lost twenty pounds and completed two half triathlons, this has happened: I’ve stopped running (last time was around the 3rd week in August and I could barely do a mile), I’ve stopped swimming, I’ve stopped biking, stopped going to the gym where I paid someone to make me workout. I’ve stopped doing even my super easy stretching routine. In short, I’ve let myself become lazy again; I’ve allowed the chaos of everyday life get in the way of scheduling in this time for myself, my body, my wellbeing. You know, the whole mind, body, spirit thing.

My belly that, granted, still had a bit of a paunch even at it’s flattest and tautest, is expanding back to soft and doughy. The fat’s not in my face again, and it hasn’t worked its way back up to my arms (not they ever became svelte - but they were gaining a hint of definition). It’s thighs first, stomach second, then arms, then face; that’s how fat sprawls against my body. Where did my motivation and discipline disappear? Because, when the workouts are gone, so is the charge of adrenalin, the sacred feeling of greater sanity, and a fear mollified – that I will not become sickest, saddest parts of my mother. Diabetes. Triple-bypass surgery. Exhausted. Occasionally depressed. Massive stroke. Mini strokes. Chronic shortness of breath. All these things I never want associated with me.

The body is a kind of mystery. Sure it’s been studied, experimented upon, medically examined. But it is a kind of mystery to me. This morning c. and I went on a bike ride. I was like the big bad wolf, but less powerful - huffing and puffing and blowing my own lungs out. This body – how is it that only last July, riding my bike with c. from home to downtown Baton Rouge for the fourth of July, he commented that I was leaving him in the dust – that I could ride faster, more easily? Four months later, and five miles riding, I huff and I puff and I blow my own air, heaving to get it back, to regain what healthy felt like. Because, really, strangely, healthy isn’t the way a body looks so much as it’s what a body can do. At least, this is what I think - what it felt like is still so clear to me.

I’ve dreamt about running lately. I’ll let you know when I wake from a dream and put on my running shoes and make my way around Town Lake.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

sucky blog entries.

My blog entries have really sucked lately. I can’t seem to focus on any one thing right now. I’ll try to expel many thoughts in a series of short entries, so I can get back on track with some decent entries. So, readers, here you go! Below, FOUR brand new entries in one day.

PS - where are you my commenters? I need you. You're important to me. You help me. I LOVE you people.

PPS - FINALLY. A new song. Beast of Burden, Rolling Stones.


I wonder if the pleasure of Thanksgiving died with my mother? I was flipping through a magazine yesterday. It was full of Thanksgiving recipes and photos of holiday dishes. As I looked them over, I felt nothing. No joy. No anticipation. My mouth didn’t water. I didn’t want any of it.

This will be my third Thanksgiving without my mom. The first time around, my family was at a beach house in Virginia Beach. We scattered her ashes and ate and fought and cried.

Last year, I stayed home, angry at my dad for having remarried before I was ready for him to remarry. Instead, we had people over for dinner. We had a bonfire in the backyard. Everyone ate too much and drank too much, and we were satisfied. But earlier, as I dusted glass bottles lining my fireplace mantle, I had cried. Sobbed. I had called my sister to say how I missed my mom. How I wished it didn't hurt so much to remember her.

Looking at food in the magazine yesterday, I wondered what else I could do on Thanksgiving besides gather with my family, eat off of plates I have loved since childhood, argue over how to cook the gravy? What else is there to do?

I realize it now. Thanksgiving is always going to be an aching. It will always represent an absence. A void I never want to acknowledge.

Sometimes I still talk about my mother like she is here, alive. It is always a slip of the tongue, natural and real as the weather, the color of my eyes. Something like, “My parents.” Then I self correct, “My dad lives in Raleigh.” I don’t have the gumption, the self-honesty, to acknowledge or explain the correction.

Right now, I don’t want Thanksgiving. I don’t want voids and absence when I am supposed to be full.

the ballot is cast.

Last night I set my alarm for 6:30 a.m. with the crazy idea that I’d wake up, dress, have some coffee and be the first in line to vote. It’s good to have high expectations.

The alarm went off and I hit snooze. At 8:50, I was stretching and yawning and yanking my body upright. I dressed. I brushed my teeth, washed my face, grabbed my voter registration card. I drove to a coffee place because I couldn’t convince c. to wake up and make me some coffee (Yes, I’m spoiled that way, and it’s something I’ll tell grandkids about, mine or other people’s).

Then I drove to the school where I thought I was supposed to vote. Wrong place. The man directed me to the right school. I drove there.

As soon as I entered the neighborhood, I had this glee swell up inside of me. My windows were down. The air was cool. Someone was strolling his kid down the street. The houses were charming and friendly instead of intimidating. I want to live in this neighborhood. I want to always vote in this neighborhood. Somehow, even with its xeriscaping, it reminded me of my favorite Baton Rouge neighborhoods, reminded me a little bit of home and security. Everything wasn't exactly what I'd hope for, but it still felt good and right.

When I pulled up in front of the school and parked, “Beast of Burden” played on the radio. I sat and listened. Then I stepped out of my car, walked up to the building and I voted. It felt really good to vote. Why is that?

After, I got back in the car, and there was a news clip playing. A woman being interviewed was saying how she was abstaining from voting because she didn’t believe either of the candidates would do what they said they would. Then the news story moved on to discussing votes for 3rd party candidates.

I felt a little disgust rise inside of me. Maybe it’s really un-democratic of me, but it’s what I felt. I’ll feel more disgust with all of those third party voters and abstainers if McCain ends up in the white house.

Eight years ago, I voted for Ralph Nader because I was so utterly dissatisfied with my options. Today, I realize how myopic my own thinking was at the time. Today, I think it’s myopic to vote purely on deeply personal principles. I wonder what to make of myself? I heard the woman on the radio today say that she thinks McCain and Obama are the same vote. Eight years ago I thought Gore and W were the same vote. Myopic. That’s what I think now.

Today, I look back, and wonder – what a different situation we might be in if Gore had been president when 9/11 occurred? What an entirely different state of affairs may have ensued.

Casting a vote ought to be far from selfish, far from myopic. Voting for a president is considering and weighing in on the big picture, the majority of people, larger belief systems, larger principles.

It’s good to have high expectations. But sometimes, simply getting a task done without complete failure is the best there is - the thing to be happy about. If we're lucky, there will be surprises along the way instead of dread and shock. I hope one day I will move into that perfectly imperfect neighborhood.

Here is the best I can do at articulating my thoughts at this moment.

tim o'brien.

My workshop with Tim O’Brien was on Halloween. Leading up to it, I was excited like a kid. Then on the day of, thirty minutes before I was supposed to leave for San Marcos, I went into full-neurosis mode.

I had a dress picked out, one that I love and feel comfortable and confident in. I knew I was going to wear it. I have a pair of black tights that I wear with it. Two weeks earlier, I had pulled all of my tights out of a drawer and hand washed them in the bathroom sink. Pink ones, white ones, cream, brown and black. Clean tights.

When I put my tights on under my black dress and looked in the mirror, the tights looked navy blue. I had on a pair of mustard yellow shoes. Are my tights blue? Do I own blue tights? I went to my drawer and dug around trying to find the BLACK tights. No sign of them. I walked back to the mirror. Am I hallucinating? I must be. My shoes must be making the tights look blue. I walked into the living room prepared to leave. I made a comment about how my black tights must have faded when I washed them, and my classmate who was waiting patiently said, “Oh. I thought they were blue.” Then c. agreed, “I thought they were blue too.”

YOU DID? Does it look BAD?
k.: No, I thought you did it on purpose. Your bag is blue.
c.: It looks fine.
Me: Shit.
The thing is, I sort of agreed that in an odd way, the blue tights with the black dress and mustard shoes actually looked allright. Notice, I said, "in an odd way."

But. Panic ensued. I tore them off. I put them back on. I tore them off. Put them back on. Who knows how long this went on (we were late leaving town). Finally, the tights were on, and we were in the car. My stomach was rolling around inside of me. I announced: “I’m really nervous. I didn’t realize I was nervous until I had a meltdown over my tights.” We parked the car, and I stepped out. Just before I closed the door, I said, “I can’t were these tights.” They came off for a final time.

k.: I so knew those things were coming off again.


Tim O’Brien arrived. I tried to guess his age. 67? 72? I'm sure you can look it up on line. He wore a baseball cap. He seemed smallish and approachable. He sat at the table and kept a pack of cigarettes in front of him like they were a timer set to go off.

He began with the other guy’s story. Tim O’Brien knows what he’s doing. That is the first thing I thought. I guess he should. I mean, Pulitzer nomination and all. But you never know. A lot of writers lead crappy workshops. Not him. It’s actually really focused, really precise. He pays attention to the details in your story. A few times I was looking at the guy whose work was up for crit, and he seemed shaken.

On the back of my story I’d written 3 headings: Point of View – Location/Geography – Past/Present Tense. I knew that these would be my biggest issues, and I was preparing to take notes in these areas. I was dead on. Tim O’Brien honed in on these problems right away. Somehow, me knowing these things are not working, and me trying to figure out the solutions on my own is easier. But this is my 12th draft of the story, and when Tim O’Brien began pointing out these problems, I had an internal crisis: How can I not have figured out how to make these things in the story WORK? Tim O’Brien thinks I am a complete IDIOT.

I felt like I was going to cry for the first five to seven minutes. That’s a bit uncharacteristic for me in a workshop. I am usually really good about dissociating from the story right away so that I can listen objectively. So. Yeah. I was really nervous, and it all hit me at once with the stupid blue/black tights.

Then I had this silent moment: Herpreet. Pull it together and listen to what the man is saying. He obviously knows what he’s talking about. Just like that, I set my ego aside and started to listen.

When we went for drinks afterward, I felt a little shell-shocked. I asked the other writer if it had been hard for him. Standing with his too-perfect posture, he lied: "No. It wasn't bad." I wanted to scream: "I SAW your FACE. It looked like you were going to cry a few times. I SAW you." I didn't. I just silently stared at his shoulders until I could picture them slouching.

Someone said, "Well he liked the story." I said, "He did? When your work is up for critique, and you’re sitting there silent, nothing seems obvious except how terrible a writer you are. I asked the guy to repeat what good things Tim O’Brien had said about my story.

I’ll only share with you the one compliment that I actually remember. There is a scene in which the main character is in a bar talking to some random dude. She gets drunk and they have sex in a phone booth in the bar. It would be really easy to write that scene like it was in a soap opera or a romance novel, really easy to write it badly. And I have revised it a million times to remove the melodrama and the cheesy-ness. I do remember That Tim O’Brien said, “The author did a nice job with that bar scene when they slept together.” Then he paused. “Or whatever. I guess they didn’t sleep together, but had sex in a phone booth.” When he said it, I did exhale inside of myself, release the concern that this one scene would come off really cliché. It didn’t. That’s not to say there aren’t other cliché moments in the story. There are – but they’ll be easy to fix.

So. There you have it. My first workshop with Tim O’Brien. Next time, I think I’ll wear tights. Blue ones.

red stick.

I DO miss Baton Rouge. I miss her. My freshly painted yellow porch swing. Heading to the Chimes for cheese fries and to Chelsea’s for fried green tomatoes and shrimp remoulade, and also for running into people who I actually know - familiar faces. I miss my friend a. and her front porch and living room – the way they embrace a person. I miss my friends l. and c. and their dogs and their back yard and drinking whiskey with them while we gossip. I miss being around girls who wear make up and heels without necessarily being 20 and in a sorority. And the way I can go either way without feeling awkward. Jeans and sneakers on friday, heels and a dress on saturday. (Why are the girls older then 21 in Austin and San Marcos so resigned to anti-fashion?) The swamp red maple tree in my back yard, whose leaves I’m certain are a burst of yellow right now, and in a few weeks they’ll spread a rug over the grass that will glow. I miss walks in Spanish Town with my friend r. – who isn’t in BR anymore anyway. I also miss laughing with her terribly. I miss the porch at Perks – all of its gecko lizards scurrying, turning from brown to green. I miss the sight of banana trees and I miss the overwhelming color of spring green spreading flat and far out all around me. A vast carpet interrupted by a muddy brown thread of twisting water.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

200 young people. part two.

I am an instructor’s assistant for a pre-1600 world literature class.

The week before school began, we had to go to an English department faculty meeting. The dean of the English Department announced that freshman English classes are capped at 21 students. To enable this cap, the trade-off is that sophomore literature happens in large lecture courses consisting of 200 to 400 students.

My class has 200 students. So you understand, I am an IA for a “small” class.

A couple of weeks ago I graded 120 in-class essay exams. The instructor I work for was nice enough to take 80 of them herself. Before the grading began, I did five, my instructor did five, and we met to compare, to ensure that we would grade consistent with one another. We also came up with a grading rubric. Sounds fair. And it was as fair as it could be.

But as I poured through badly written essays to essays that seemed to be written by nearly illiterate students, I came to the conclusion that, at a fundamental level, there is nothing fair about 200-student literature courses.

As an undergraduate, I was a lazy student. I was lazy for a lot of reasons. I lacked confidence in my own intelligence and in my ability to compete with “good” students. I was busy stretching the bounds of “independence.” Could I go out every night of the week? How would it impact me? I wasn’t necessarily making the connection that poor grades were a consequence to me personally.

In large classes, I was one of the students who sat in the back and hoped not to be noticed. I remember my own angst as a freshman and sophomore. I didn’t really get my act together until my 3rd year of college, and by then I’d screwed up so much that I needed 5 years to graduate instead of 4.

As I graded essays two weeks ago, I felt my heart at once sinking and wanting to leap out to each student. Would it be possible to meet with them one on one? To explain to them how to keep up with the readings, how to listen in class – how to decipher the “important” information, how to take good notes, how to study, how to write an essay, how to analyze subject matter? For that matter, how to balance fun and work and several classes with professors who all have different expectations? Of course not.

Part of the problem is in the hands of administrators. It is simply not okay to shove students into classes like a herd of sheep or cattle. This is not fair to instructors (who can’t give kids the individual attention they deserve), and it isn’t fair to students. At that faculty meeting, the dean also announced the university's push to increase enrollment. He praised the English department for meeting this demand. Now that I'm an IA, I wonder what right the department has to bring in more students when it can't adequately serve those it already has.

At 18, 19, 20, most people are too inexperienced, to new to self-autonomy, to understand that a college education is, in this country, a commercial transaction. It is a product that students, or their parents, purchase. For some it is a cash transaction, and for many others it is paid for on credit – borrowed money that will take years of life to return. If they’re in classes with 200 or 300 or 400 kids, they’re not getting the highest quality product.

If these kids are anything like I was – too intimidated to ask questions, too baffled by the transition from high school (where I wasn’t confident as a learner to begin with) to college, too new to navigating freedoms to effectively balance fun and responsibility, then they’re going to find themselves in financial and knowledge-based debt.

What do they do – these middle to working class kids whose parents are just glad to get them off for a higher degree – for whom tiny, liberal arts colleges are no option? What is fair?

In spite of my inadequacies as a student, I always loved to read. I always loved my English classes. If my university had decided that it was in my best interest to learn about literature among an ocean of other faces – I would have drowned altogether. I know this. My love of the subject was not enough, given the trials of growing up, to anchor me in learning.

How many of my 200 students are sinking in my instructor’s and my classroom? How many of them used to love to read, but are now burying themselves at the back of the amphitheater style classroom because ancient texts aren’t what they are accustomed to reading. How many are afraid to speak, afraid to be noticed, most importantly, afraid to say, “I don’t understand what I read. I don’t understand how to listen for what is important in a lecture. I don’t understand how to get excited and engaged in a classroom of this size.”

How many young college students are astute enough to ask, “Am I getting a raw deal? Am I going to spend forty-years paying for mass produced, factory-made lit courses? Do I deserve something more for the product I’m purchasing? Should an education be better?”

In my high school civics and free enterprise class, we had to make a budget. We had to pretend we were out in the real world working and living and paying bills. I never factored my student loans into my budget. I certainly didn’t give myself a hypothetical husband and his student loans. Now I can look back. I can see that in many ways, I made a poor purchase (on loan). In many ways, I went off to Target, a step up from Wal-Mart and better than the Dollar Tree. I got what a lot of people got.

There were better options, but not necessarily an equitable means to access those option.

Standing in front of 200 students twice a week, trying to assist my instructor to the best of my ability, I feel ashamed of this country. It sounds like a dramatic statement. I know that it is dramatic, but it’s no less true. How did we come to the conclusion that people of economic privilege are entitled to a better education?

It seems to me that state universities have the unique challenge of providing the absolute highest quality instruction possible. I know. Failings happen at the elementary, middle and high school level. I saw this clearly in the essays I graded. A university can’t necessarily turn miseducation around. But it can make an effort to provide better. 200 to 400 kids in an amphitheater is not the starting point. I know this too.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

200 young people. part one.

Mr. Hamilton had a circa-1970 shit-brown colored shirt with a mustard-yellow reindeer pattern on it. They were tiny abstract reindeer, so we spent whole class periods trying to decipher if, in fact, they were reindeer at all. They could have been dogs, gazelles. I remember them as reindeer. The garment was one among the handful of outdated collared shirts in his weekly wardrobe rotation.

He began every sentence with the word “now.” Now, what we gonna do is… On the first day of tenth grade civics/free enterprise, he handed out a syllabus. A stack of ditto copies (I think we still called them that) – Now, take one, pass it back, traveled up and down our desk rows.

Picture fluorescent lights. Picture unruly kids. Sixteen. Middle class. Mostly white. Mostly suburban. Jansport backpacks collapsed at our feet. I remember never having had enough sleep, always feeling exhausted and bored. Listen - the sound of papers shuffling through our tired hands, passed indifferently like playing hot potato with a cold potato.

Picture Mr. Hamilton, hair just short of an Afro. Head-to-toe brown polyester, a too-wide mismatched tie. Big white grin. Smiling eyes. Halo of cologne. Throw in one gold tooth for good measure – maybe that’s a fabrication, but only maybe.

It was important to the man to look sharp. Presentable. You could just imagine him leaving the house each morning, kissing his wife’s cheek on the way out the door, and then: Baby, I look good, don’t I? A wink in her direction.

His accent was distinctly black-Baton Rouge. If you asked him, Where are you from? He would have answered, Baton Ru-jga. I don’t know the best way to spell that out. It rhymes with something in-between Peugeot and ‘Could-ja,’ as in, ‘Could-ja do me a favor?’ Radio announcers on AM blues stations take it to the next level: “Listen up, Ba-Rou! We playin’ all the good tunes ta-day.”

Once, he told a story about, When you see them ole people goin ta play that bango on Satta-day-

Play what? I asked.
Bango? Stifled giggles emerged around me.
Bango? Mr. Hamilton looked at me like he didn’t know what foreign country I’d just stepped off the boat from.
BINGO. A classmate piped up.
OH. Bingo!
Yeah. Bango! Whatchu think I was sayin’? And the lesson continued.

Mr. Hamilton called us “young people.” Now, Young people. And he wrote exactly as he spoke. After the syllabus went around that first day, he had us read it aloud.

Alright, you, what’s yo’ name?
Okay, Capri. Take the first paragraph, and the person behind you take the next one.
I announced: Now, young people, this is your civics and free enterprise class. This is not a joke.
The person behind me took paragraph two. It began, Now, young people.

Hearing him commence every single lesson, thick with anecdotes, Now, young people; the absurdity of having a teacher write exactly as he spoke; the irony of our young-selves accurately addressing one another as “young people” – the humor did not escape us. But Mr Hamilton took himself seriously, this sit-com character teacher of ours.

I met my friend cm in that class, and we tried our best not to lock eyes when he spoke. We tried, along with everyone, to hold back our laughter as each of us recited from one of his hundreds of handouts: Now young people, listen here. This week we gonna learn to make a budget.

He interrupted the reader: You all think you wearin’ your clothes fa’ free? You think yo’ parents just pick those off a money tree? You think I got these fine clothes here without plannin’?

Looking back, I wish we’d done call and response. Here is a revision:

You all think you wearin’ your clothes fa’ free? NO SIR.

You think yo’ parents just pick those off a money tree? NO SIR.

You think I got these fine clothes here without plannin’? UH-UHNn.

The gospel according to Mr. Hamilton.

Later, still making his point about the importance of a budget, he asked: Tell me somethin’. What is the mark of a su-sessful man?


C’mon. You see a fine-lookin’ man ridin’ round in his Cadallac on Sunday afta-noon. What you think? You think, ‘There go a suc-sessful man.’

Mr. Hamilton, don’t you drive a Cadallac?

His eyes lit up. He straightened his back. Matter-a-fact, I do.

And we all busted out, no longer able to contain our laughter.

It wasn’t his intent to entertain, but we were entertained none-the-less. Maybe on some level he knew what he was doing. Maybe he knew he was semi-ridiculous. That if he walked in like he’d stepped off the set of Welcome Back, Cotter, we’d perk up. Maybe I’m grasping. I’ve thought forever that I never learned a thing in Mr. Hamilton's class. Seventeen years later, I like to think I must have picked up some lesson, if not about civics and free enterprise, about life. But civics and free enterprise is life for us Americans, isn’t it?

I’ll let you know when I figure out what I learned. I have faith there is something.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

rocking out in austin.

How long it has been? I’ll take time to catch up so that I can get back to blogging as usual. (And hopefully, soon, I’ll also catch up on my long-neglected emails.)

Last weekend was the Austin City Limits festival. c. and I had purchased tickets the second we knew we were moving to Austin. Thank goodness for the boy’s insight, b/c we would’ve been WAY too broke to get tickets once we moved.

Of the bands I was lucky enough to REALLY see and listen to, here are the best shows I caught: David Byrne (David Byrne, you ARE the Talking Heads, and much more – internal dialog when I saw him), Drive By Truckers, Erykah Badu (BAD ASS and completely gorgeous – that’s the internal dialog when I watch her), Neko Case (Go on, tell me you don’t think she’s that great. I will talk you in circles until you are a believer.), Foo Fighters (How did I not know that I liked you before this? c.’s observation: “You’ve got to be some seriously good musicians to cover a Who song without ripping it to shreds.” Have I ever mentioned how the boy loves The Who?), Louix XIV, Delta Spirit (unlike it’s name would imply, from San Diego; I’d never heard them before.), Beck (Okay, dream fulfilled, so I’m throwing him on this list, but, as competent as he was, and as happy as I was to hear some of his old stuff, he seemed so bored up on stage. And as if he was doing us a favor by performing.)

By far, the VERY BEST SHOW that I saw the whole weekend, the best live show I think I’ve seen in years, was The Raconteurs. Sometime while it was happening, I had this internal moment of recognition: HO-LY SHIT. Then, there was no other conscious thought. I was dancing like a crazy banshee. Their performance keeps snapping back to my memory, and every time, I’m conscious of the fact that, watching them up on stage, I felt like it was ME who was up there rocking out. Vicarious never felt so good. c. commented, “That’s what a rock show used to BE.” Pause. “So I’ve been told.” And so we have. Today’s photo is me and a friend who was in from Savannah for the festival. We are moving like crazy people while the rest of the crowd stands completely still. c. found this to be rather funny. What was wrong with them??

We rode bikes to and from the festival, it was way less crowded than Jazz Fest, there were no one-hour, or even 30-minute, lines for food or bathrooms, and there’s hand sanitizer outside of the port-a-pottys.

One night on my way out, I guess it was around 10:15 p.m., I ran into a group of people who were walking down to Barton Springs to dive in for a swim. They told me I should come swim. I didn’t, but was we were riding the trail alongside the water, I could hear the inevitable, joyful splash of bodies colliding with water followed by playful hollering. It all ended on Sunday night. Our friend from BR (who stayed with us), went home on Monday; our Savannah friends flew back to Georgia.

On September 30 (the following Tuesday), our bank account was down to $3. There was nothing left to spare on our three maxed out credit cards. But things tend to fall into place just when they’re supposed to. Tuesday is the day we CLOSED ON OUR HOUSE in the red stick! So-long 263 Westmoreland Drive. You were a good house, and we loved you. But we also loved waking up on Wednesday morning and seeing tens of thousands of dollars in our checking account. We paid off all three of those credit cards that had been run up as we juggled fixing up our house, moving expenses and living (jobless) over the last three months. After, we looked at the bank account, and STILL there were tens of thousands of dollars. I have exhaled slowly and audibly and with complete relief many, many times since October 1st. Now we’ve also got money for the down payment on a house, and we’re going to be searching around like crazy people to find a home that feels like ours in Austin, TX.

Feeling good and rich for the first time in a long time, c. went off to his first job interview in Austin on the 1st. He also heard from the firm that is his number one choice that day. They want to interview him after Oct. 10 (b/c they’re pushing through getting a big project complete until then).

On Thursday, Oct. 2, we flew to Chicago to attend a wedding. My longtime friend cm got hitched. It deserves its own telling, so I’ll save it for another entry. But in short, it was a perfect wedding, and I am so happy for her.

Yesterday, when we left Chicago to fly home to Austin, we felt like we were flying off to another vacation. But no, we live here. We live here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

How Tight the Spaces Feel by Herpreet Singh

From Sweet Tooth, October 2008

Sometime in the middle of July, I was sitting at Perks reading
The Advocate and came across an article stating that the Red Stick
Farmers Market had instituted a ‘no pet’ policy. No major incident
instigated the dog ban, so I am left wondering: Is Baton Rouge just
too type-A to allow itself to actually thrive?

According to the article, the policy has been instituted because
of the growing ‘volume of people, extreme heat and increased
number of dogs. . . .’ BREADA (Big River Economic and Agri-
cultural Development Alliance), the organization that oversees
the market, deemed this combination of factors unsafe for both
patrons and their dogs.

Often, when I have visited both the interior Main Street
Market and the Red Stick Farmers Market, I have lamented how
tight the spaces feel. The morning I brought my visiting sisters,
brother-in-law and niece and nephew to the markets, we became
so claustrophobic that we needed to leave before we ever ordered
breakfast. But trust me, it wasn’t dogs infringing on our space.
The tight feeling exists because the markets themselves occupy
physically constricted spaces.

The Main Street Market, in which small eateries and gift
kiosks operate, perhaps has little flexibility to remake its public
space. Given the building’s layout, patrons are limited to move
about through what is essentially a narrow corridor. With the
patronage the two markets now attract, this original design poses
a problem that should have been caught before it was ever under
construction: it isn’t crowd-friendly.

Outside, the Red Stick Farmers Market kiosks line both sides
of N. 5th Street, creating a pedestrian corridor that mimics the
indoor market. While this set up may have worked in earlier
years, the farmers market’s popularity has grown. This popularity
is a good thing. But, why is the market still confined to one small
city block? Has the church that abuts the market been asked to
release its parking lot for a few hours each Saturday to nurture
and support a fantastic community event (one that helps our local
economy, our environment and our nutritional health)? Consider-
ing that the Main Street Market occupies an entire city block, is
it impossible to grow the farmers market two occupy two streets
onto which the Main Street Market opens?

The point is that a more fundamental space issue needs to be
addressed than that presented by the presence of dogs, and the
safety issue ties directly to the space issue. In fact, I would argue
that a ‘no pet’ policy actually detracts from the welcoming com-
munity atmosphere the market and its customers have success-
fully built over the years.

Banning dogs from an open-air market may seem incidental,
but the act signifies Baton Rouge’s quintessential and perpetual
predicament. Each time local decision-makers, businesses, or
residents take a couple of steps toward developing a more vibrant
community, a place more appealing to the constantly-talked-about
‘creative class,’ and simply a more fun environment for the young
families that seem to be moving away, we take two steps backward.

The ban reminds me of when Tsunami first opened its doors.
The rooftop patio it leased from LSU was wildly popular, and
every night it was packed with people of all demographics.
Admittedly, the crowds became a safety hazard, but the patio’s
popularity was not a bad thing. The university took the most
extreme approach to managing the crowd; it required Tsunami
to stop serving liquor on the patio. It is as if there were no middle
ground solutions to speak of – requiring a couple of bodyguards
or bouncers, limiting the number of people allowed on the patio
at once, etc.

That there are now two dog parks in Baton Rouge is great.
It’s fantastic that the Red Stick Farmers Market is thriving. It’s
wonderful that Baton Rouge continues to make strides forward.
I just worry that our advances will not synchronize and provide
momentum for a critical mass of quality-of-life infrastructure.
For example, a dog park opens, the farmers market bans dogs.
Just as there are state birds, flowers and songs, if the city of Baton
Rouge had an equation, it would be 1 + 1 – 1 = 1. Subtracting, or
reigning in progress before it gets out of control, tends to be our
type-A standby. If we ever changed it to 1 + 1 + 1 on into infinity,
we might not know what to do with ourselves.

LINK TO STORY: How Tight the Spaces Feel

Friday, September 26, 2008

proclamations of love.

This is the night I fell in love with Austin, TX. With his bike rides and music and cool evenings.
This is the weekend we are going to have our perfect just-like-in-the-movies date. It has already begun.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

five minutes. 11:50 a.m.

Nothing observed or overheard. Just a sentence that came into my head while, of all things, I was peeing: I will build you a mountain. This was really more like 15 minutes and not five, and maybe it is the early scraps of some story to come. But hell, maybe so are any of these five minute writings.

I will build you a mountain.

That’s a lie, and you know it is a lie. But when he says these words, avalanche inside your heart, your gut. Part of you just crumbles away. And you know you will never get it back, no matter how you cling. The hopeful part of you that is stuck in 8th grade reading Seventeen Magazine and wishing before bed each night that Peter Lucien will finally notice you. When are you going to be worthy? Thirty-six. How old do you need to be?

Damn it. It is under a tent with a sky screen, beneath a bed of stars, looking up. Pack of cayotes howling in the distance. Equally relaxed and on edge, listening for the sound of bears, even in your sleep. You should have picked a spot further from the water, further from this cluster of evergreens. This is when, this is where, he speaks these magic spells. Always. He is a bear, right beside you. If you would wake up.

He will never love you like this when you are someplace real. Wyoming is not real.

At home, in the bar in Lafayette, there will always be women. Prettier than you. Younger. The ones who are shorter than he, the ones whose waists synch inward and whose hips blossom outward underneath house dresses from 1950. They bought them in a thrift shop down the way. They paint on shocking red lipstick, brush loose translucent powder over soft pale faces. And that is all the make-up they need. They twirl, swirl, whirl. From stage, a fiddle player winks at them while they move. Singer croons like he is singing love songs in French only to them. Triangle pings every so often, hurts your ears. Even you would kiss those puffed lips. Even you.

He does it all the time. Every kiss, you crumble a little more.

You don’t want to know how many there are. How many middle-of-the-nights, when he stumbles home to you, he’s been kissing some 24-year-old first. He is drunk. You pretend he is picturing you when he’s kissing them. You have to believe this.


I sometimes wonder, when I come out of writing for an extended period, an hour, two, three, how I can live so far inside of my own head. How can there be so many inventions churning around and charging out of my fingers.

I’m working on a story, and I know that in the story I’m going to kill the little girl. And as I write her, she is so sweet and so charming and so undeserving of death. But she’s going to die. With each saccharine word that shows more and more who she is, my heart sinks into my stomach in a sick way. A mourning way.

I need to go off by myself and walk off, or think off, or sweep and dust and clean dishes to wash off all of the images of this made up child who is going to die at my fingertips. But there's a bigger story I'm telling, and the little girl has to die to tell it.

Am I so cruel? Writing her makes me want to cry.

Monday, September 22, 2008

five minutes. 5:09 p.m.

OBSERVED: Man in tight pink t-shirt with fake boobs underneath. On another day, same man in girl’s cheerleader outfit, no fake boobs.

“My mother told me not to be so gruff and dirty. I was six and I’d spit on the ground the way I’d seen some of the other boys do at school. She had sighed when I did it. ‘Embicile behavior. No peein’ on trees, no spittin’ on sidewalks. Is that clear?'”

Lola Can, who used to be Louis Campbell, sets his iced tea down on a concrete picnic table, scroll ornamentation cast along its circular edge. He adjusts his boobs. Double D. “My GOD. Womanhood is difficult. If my mother taught me anything.” He takes a drag from his cigarette.

Lola’s voice is not effeminate. It is as manly as the Adam’s apple that bobs in his throat when he speaks, as the fifty-four year old wiry gray hairs curling over his arms and legs like an unmowed lawn.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

five minutes. 12:25 p.m.

OVERHEARD: So, have you shot your girlfriend yet?

“So, have you shot your girlfriend yet?” Daniel Paul didn’t really want his older brother to shoot Cicely. Most of the time. He didn’t even believe in owning arms. But he thought that Charlie could do better. No. Deserved better.

Cicely was a champion dart player in the local dart playing circuit. It was her claim to fame in the small town of Dandelion, MS. Shortly after Daniel turned 21, Charlie took him out for a night of darts. Charlie turned out to be pretty good at stabbing the bullseye. The brothers began playing in competitions two local bars hosted.

This is how they laid eyes on Cicely.



Oh my goodness. I didn’t mean to neglect my blog for so long. I am doing all the things you do when you are in grad school. Reading a lot. Writing a lot. Grading freshman papers. Trying to get to know my classmates better – all of whom I like so far.

My first workshop went well, and now I’m working on two different stories. If I can pull together three or four really good drafts by the end of the semester, I’ll work on revising them over the break and having them to submit to journals during their spring reading period. This feels really doable.

The two stories I am working on are for my next two workshops. The first is on October 31, and the second will fall later in the semester. In my workshop class, I only get two workshops all together. The one on Ocotober 31 is a terribly frightening added bonus, and it doesn’t take place in the safety of my class. Rather, my story is submitted to every MFA student in the department.

Tim O’Brien teaches workshops every other year. The year he doesn’t teach, he comes in to do 3 workshops in the fall and 3 in the spring. You have to sign up to get one, and it’s first come, first serve. So on Halloween Tim O’Brien is going to workshop my story. I’ve heard he is fairly harsh, actually, that he will rip you to shreds. At the end of one student’s crit two years ago, he said that although the story worked technically, etc. he couldn’t help getting to the end and asking, “Who cares?” Ouch. I’m trying really hard not to give him a ‘who cares’ story. Especially because the workshop is open to everyone in the department to observe and take part in.

Okay. I’m feeling incapable of writing any worthwhile entries right now. A lot is going on, but I guess I’m digesting. Or still chewing. So I’m going to ask you to humor me for a while until a blog comes to me. For now, I’m going to use this space to do five- minute writing exercises.

I’ll give myself a topic, an image, a line I’ve overheard someone speak, and just free-write for five minutes. I expect that some of it will be really bad, but I won’t edit. Which is why you’ll need to humor me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

shut it.

Internal dialog today on the shuttle ride home: Listen shithead. Wake up for a minute, I need to show you something. See that guy over there? The one sitting like a gentleman and not like he owns this space. Come on dude. It’s a commuter bus. A shared space. Not your mama’s fat living room couch. And you are infringing on my goddamn space. Close your fucking legs.

Days of sleeping on a couch (30) and on a yoga mat (2) on the floor (urban camping) – over. The U-Haul with our millions of too-many belongings and trailing an old ’78 truck behind, and my husband who drove the whole mess here.

Deaf football practice goes on across the street, and it’s like a surreal dance. In addition to the silent game, if I stand in the right place in my front yard, I can see the skyline of downtown Austin. Last night, at 1:30 a.m., Chris and I found a 24 hour Mexican bakery and Taqueria a few blocks down the street. Which is good, cause he was hungry, and I was hungry. It smelled like a sugar factory – after the sugar’s been refined.

My first fiction workshop. I’m leaning away from a novel right now and toward a short story collection. What to do? I had to remind myself before class: Who gives a fuck if people like it or not. I like it. And I know it’s raw still. So people need to give me feedback that’s constructive. And I need to hear feedback as constructive. I’m building a story – not tearing one down.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

between home.

Today is September 8, and it marks one month that I've been in Austin, TX. It has taken a full month to move through feeling as if I'm on vacation to feeling that I live here. Truthfully - I still feel a bit displaced. Do I live here?

This morning, I moved all of my belongings out of the apartment I've been staying in and into the house I rented. That alone provided a new sense of stability. Meanwhile, a friend from Baton Rouge called, and she didn't feel like talking about Gustav because, she told me, "it's too much to even try to describe what life is like here right now."

As my blogger friend Alex noted (in a different context), there are not Grandmas stranded on rooftops, so CNN left town. But don't be fooled world, power in the red stick is still out (along with a sense of normalcy) - though it's finally returning in some neighborhoods. My husband got power yesterday. As the city turtle-crawls back to functioning (schools reopen in one week), it also braces for Ike. As I begin to feel settled here in Austin, I feel unsettled because my old home still feels like my present home. Which is to say - I feel like I'm supposed to go back and take care of some things, clean up a mess, check on people.

Oddly, there are some physical assimilations. I have finally stopped sweating like a water wall - the kind of fountain that continuously seeps water down it's surface. I noticed this about 3 days ago. Up until then, every time I went out in the middle of the day - to walk 3 blocks - sweat began pouring, I mean pouring, down my thighs. I was afraid if anyone saw me they were going to think my non-pregnant self's water had broke.

I also told a friend that I didn't have enough hippy in me to live in Austin. But in the midst of all the crazy sweating - I purchased this clinical strength deodorant that you are supposed to put on at night when you go to bed. But I got nervous that it contained a poisonous, cancer-causing amount of aluminum. So to counter it, I bought Tom's lavender deodorant to use during the day. (Yes, it IS illogical to pretend the "good" deodorant can counter the "bad" deodorant. So.) I've only been using the clinical stuff 3 times a week at night - and the Tom's during the day. At first I continued to sweat and smell. But now - I am like a yuppy-hippy - which is to say, lavender-fresh instead of patchouli drenched.

I live in an orange and lime -sherbert colored house now. These colors are very un-me and un-c. There it is in the picture. Somehow, I am really charmed by this sherbert colored house on a hill. I get happy inside when I see it.

The interior is painted colors that I've been describing as what you'd imagine if you walked into a smoothie shop in the Caribbean. But that description has been off. Finally, today, the exact description HIT me. Remember that cartoon, The Littles? Well, when I walk inside, I suddenly feel like I've transformed into a Little in the way the teenagers in Kid Video turned from human to cartoon while driving in their band's van. I become a Little wandering around inside a king-size box of Fruit Loops. I get less happy when I enter the inside of the house, so when c. gets here, we're picking out some paint colors! Less cartoon-land sugary-cereal, and more...something else.

c. and Basil arrive either late tomorrow, or on Tuesday afternoon. I'll have a husband again! - fresh out of the surreal-ness that is Gustav. And it will probably take him a full month to feel that he actually lives here, and that no, he isn't on vacation. But I'm so happy to have him back again - disoriented, sweaty and all.

SONG: My Little Corner of the World, Yo La Tengo

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

cracks and splits.

My mind is cracking open, like an egg.

Baton Rouge took a beating. And our house is one that dodged the punches. Some ways it's been described: Eerie. Navy sky is illuminated by the hospital a block down the street. The hospital glows orange. The sky looks navy. Everything else is pitch black. The only sounds are crickets and a generator running in the house across the street. The generator roars like the engine of a lawnmower. Listen - that groan/roar and crickets together, nothing else.

Once, earlier today, a convoy of ambulances, lights swirling, drove down an otherwise empty street to the hospital. I know this because I asked, if, like during Katrina, the sound of helicopters overhead is present. The sound of helicopters had made Katrina sound like how I imagine war in Bosnia or anywhere else that war is real and not on TV. But, no. c. says it's just convoys of ambulances. And if you ask me, that is also warlike in it's own way - like a funeral procession with twirling, flashing, harsh lights. Reports of people dying in their houses when trees fell through the roof is what c. says. It looks bad, he tells me, and that we are really, really lucky, because so many of our neighbors and friends are not. It is the wind that got us. Terrible high speed winds. Houses split in half, literally split through the roof down to the ground, straight through the middle, by hundred year old live oaks. Water oaks. Pine trees. Pecan trees.

He emphasizes. He says, it will take days just to clean up the mess of our yard, and we didn't even get any damage. And selfishly, or perhaps longingly or simply with attachment, I hoped my two baby cypress trees, newly planted, stayed firm in the ground, supported by the way I'd staked them. But I doubt it. And I didn't want to ask because I didn't want the answer. What's a crooked tree when your house is split in two? Or has a tree leaning against it.

Ruby is lying next to me having a nightmare right now. Wimpering in her sleep, so I can tell it's not a good dream.

I have to workshop a story next Tuesday. I'll be the first in my class to have a workshop (to be ripped apart). And that is really scary. I didn't want to go first, but I didn't speak up soon enough to get a middle-of-semester date. And when I had to pick between first and last, first seemed better. I just began something new - about, what else? hurricanes, ghosts, grieving, chaos, water, drowning. But I can't write as fast as my thoughts come, and so I think I'll not be able to workshop that one until the second part of the semester (I've got to get the piece to everyone by Saturday). Most likely I'll workshop the story that maybe should be a novel, the widower story that got me into school and still needs a whole lot of work.

I got terribly homesick today. Sad in my gut and I felt I wanted to cry and to be in baton rouge. I didn't even know the havoc Gustav had reeked on that red stick. maybe it was a sixth sense. we got it worse this year than we did with Katrina. These are some of the things I know.


I am beginning to think that I may never have a normal night of sleep again in my life. It is 1:30 in the a.m. and I’m WIDE awake. My own fault, I guess. I went to bed earlier than usual.

I met my internet friend for a beer at 3:30, and that became three. I got home at 7:30 p.m. (or was it 7:00?), walked Ruby, ate some dinner (that included spinach and sweet potatoes, because I felt like I needed to counter the beer and burger I’d had earlier), watched TV on the internet, and went to bed at 9:30 p.m. Now I’m awake and sober.

I wonder when I’ll have to stop referring to her as my “internet friend.” As we were speaking tonight, I had a weird vision of myself with her in which I was introducing her to another me and saying to myself (my other self), “This is n., my internet friend.”

I talk to much. This is another thing I thought about while I was downing too many pints and talking to my internet friend (if you're reading, sorry I talk so much). Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with three of my classmates. We wandered Austin. I thought I talked too much then too. But maybe all writers talk a lot. Probably, I’m just justifying.

I began a new story two days ago. Actually, I got an idea after I re-read my blog entry beginnings, and all of a sudden I was writing a story, ideas coming faster than I could type. I had to interrupt myself writing the actual story to jump to the bottom of the page and just type out the ideas that were swirling around. In my head it already has a name: The Drowning Season. It is going to be as sad as all the others. One day I’ll write something funny. Or at least funny and sad, John Irving style. But for now, everything is just heavy and sad with endings like poison. It’s the best that I can do.

It is strange and exciting to meet other writers. I like it. I really like the people in my program. I really like my internet friend n. who’s not in my program, but over at the Michener Center. Writers. I’m surrounded by writers all of a sudden. Other people who make shit up all the time. Create people and conflicts in their heads. Or rather, on paper. Or a computer screen. Sometimes, after I finish a story, I feel so bad for my characters, I have to just cry. I wonder if they cry about their own endings?

Someone in my program said that after he met two of our professors, he thought maybe he wasn’t crazy enough to be a writer. You are, I thought. Yes you are. I can tell. I didn’t say it aloud. We all seem totally normal and oddball at once.

The same person asked if I use humor in my stories. No. Why?

You seem like you would. You’re pretty funny.

If only he knew how flattering that was. And untrue. I didn’t bother correcting him. I ruined the compliment by fumbling around trying to explain that occasionally I get lucky and write some funny instance, but that I can’t consciously set out to write something funny. [Like, last summer, a story in which a five-year-old asked to be a heroin addict for Halloween. A what? Her mother had asked her (as in, come, again?). You know, a drug addict, her child had said. And then there is a scene where they go trick-or-treating, and people at their doors say, What are you, sweetie? And she holds out her arms with drawn-on track marks before answering sweetly, a homeless junkie. I didn’t set out to write that, but after I did, I thought it was pretty funny.]

I didn’t share this example with the classmate, but inside I thought, I’m funny? Then I confirmed, I AM being funny, lately, aren’t I?

Okay, maybe I’ll try to sleep some more.

Sunday, August 31, 2008


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Two years ago, on August 28, 2006, I was in an airport flying home. My mother had died. I was numb and shocked.

In the airport, news channels flashed stories about the one-year anniversary of Katrina. The footage, the mere mention of Katrina, gave me a stomachache. At home, at work for the past year, I had been immersed in post-Katrina and post-Rita. To see and hear mention of it all around me on this day after my mother’s death, it created a kind of muddy, toxic emotion.

Last year, we’d been spared. No major hurricane activity. But we held our breath for the entire season. This year we're reminded we worried for a reason.

My mother’s death and hurricane season will always be the one and the same now. Season of grieving, death, water, fear, chaos, ghosts. I realized this the other day.

Baton Rouge, on the east side of Gustav, waits, according to my husband, for winds and rain. We hope nothing will damage our house. This timing. This terrible timing.

Yesterday morning he drove down to Cocodrie to help prepare his parents’ camp. But what can one do? The camp is six feet above water, and the surge is expected to be twenty feet. It could be a total wash, he told me. Literally.

In my life, I have loved hurricane season. Gustav is the first event that has made me feel like a foreigner away from home. I keep thinking, I should be in Baton Rouge now, with everyone else, not here, in Texas, watching what’s happening like a spectator. I should be home – getting fatty Doritos and gallons of water and bottles of whiskey and a deck of playing cards, trying to convince c. to play with me – that this is the one time of the year he has to indulge my desire to play cards (he won't, but I'll have the cards anyway). I should be on my porch swing watching the wind, or lying on the couch because I’m afraid of lying in my bed and having a tree branch come crashing down through the ceiling into the bedroom, believing that that is no way to die. What the hell am I doing in Texas, anyway?

If I was home, I would make basil juleps instead of mint. I'd miss my mom while the wind blows crazy under a dark sky. I'd experience the eerie adrenaline frenzy (a concoction of anxiety and excitement) with everyone else. Dude, I’m a Baton Rougean. Not a Texan.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Sitting on a tall wooden stool, I watched my mother across the kitchen counter. My legs dangling and wiggling impatiently. Her giving the pan time to get hot. She held her fingers under cold running water, then clasped fingertips together before thrusting them apart once, a few drops sprinkled over the pan. Water sizzled at first contact, and the oil was ready for frying onions. Me, for all the minutes before, asking endlessly, Is it ready yet? Can you fry them yet?

No. Not yet.


You'll see. I'll show you.
Poof with the hand, like it was a magic trick. My eyes growing big and happy each time.

I can smell the smell of frying yellow onions. Like caramel if it was savory and not sweet. I can conjure it at any moment the way I think sometimes I can conjure her. Or the smell of lily of the valley perfume, which is as good as her, if it isn't the same.

Day of beginnings. This is the day, two years ago, on which she died. Shifted our lives. Lives of the family that I love. Into new roles. New ways of seeing one another. New ways of comforting and loving and missing and sharing and remembering.

This is the day on which my life turns a new path, both feet marching in one direction. A shuttle ride onto campus. My first time standing before a classroom of 200 college sophomores to be their professor's assistant. Tomorrow, my own classes. Life of a writer commences. Or had it already? It is my mother's mandate, is what I think, to reorder my life.

All those evenings working over a hot stove. Telling her talents with the flick of her fingers. Occasionally wishing, tired from the day as she cooked, God, please let this child learn my example of quiet. Years later, maybe wishing the reverse, that I was still that tiny chattering girl asking question after question after question, impressed by small wonders and the magic bigness that was my mother.

I've been remembering her. Feeling grateful that I sense her presence in my life at every turn. Today is not a day for sadness, though I cannot help feeling sad for her absence - for the way, when I want to touch her skin, I feel the air. But here is the day to remember and begin and remember and begin, remember and begin.

We loved. Still we love her.

SONG: Country Roads, John Denver

Saturday, August 23, 2008

can ya dig?

turn up the volume. unless you're working or take offense easily. otherwise, enjoy.

dare ya not to dance.

SONGS: My Dick & Jane Fonda, Mickey Avalon

Friday, August 22, 2008

what i like about you.

I have been in Austin for two full weeks now. A friend asked me what my three favorite things about Austin are so far, and in that spirit, I decided to make a list. But I can sum up my impression in a couple of sentences. I've noticed that pervasive in the culture here is an overall creative spirit, a general friendliness and a laid back attitude. I've been excited to come across so many people in Austin who have successfully made their way by pursuing their own passions and arts - after all, it's still Texas, and that means there is an "I can kick your ass and make my own way" attitude.

If that doesn't say enough about the city, here are a few particulars I've picked up on.

1. Dog friendliness. This city is swarming with cafes and shops that welcome pet owners and their hounds of all sizes. Most rental listings for houses, apartments and condos, explicitly announce, “Pets welcome.”

2. Swimming holes. It’s true that I haven’t been swimming yet. But I am excited just knowing that I have countless options – Barton Springs, Stacy Pool, Lake Travis. I know there are even more, and most of these are spring fed water wonders.

3. The radio. Austin touts itself as the “live music capital of the world.” But what I’m noticing is this: Shops, restaurants and coffee shops all pipe in astoundingly better music than any place I frequented in Baton Rouge. It makes the whole experience of being in a place so much better. Even the local NPR affiliate plays good music. Not that smooth jazz crap you hear in BR on NPR.

4. The presence of sidewalks, crosswalks, cross signals and bike lanes go to good use – it pays to be bike and pedestrian friendly. There are cyclists everywhere and pedestrians all over.

5. Local retail. I can barely stop myself from stumbling across locally owned and operated restaurants and boutiques and groceries. I’ll let you know how the farmers market is after I’ve visited.

6. Cowboy boots. On people’s feet. People’s feet of all ages and sexes and fashion sensibilities.

7. Good vintage and thrift stores selling some really well cared for, well-presented stuff, including great clothes and furniture.

8. Live music. So I haven’t been out to hear any music, but I already know from looking online, at the local free weekly and from listening to the NPR affiliate that when I do have a night out, all I have to do is throw a stone, and I’ll find a good to decent band playing.

9. A new topography. There are hills. Very pretty hills. And even though the two times I’ve been out running and the one time I had to trek to San Marcos’s campus, I was cursing the hills, I’m pretty ecstatic about the change.

10. Mass transit. I won’t have to drive 30 miles south to San Marcos. I’m taking the shuttle down. It’s got wi-fi.

11. Amy's ice cream. Because it tastes so ridiculously fattening, and because I don't get overwhelmed trying to choose from a million different flavors. There are just 10 or so, and that works much better for me.

12. Style. People in Austin wear their personalities. I've seen such a vast array of styles - some I like, others I don't. But it makes me feel like I've stepped out of a black and white movie into a color flick. I'm excited about dressing myself in the coming years.

13. Even though I’m not in Baton Rouge, and even though I’m told that the summer has been particularly hot and dry, I’ve experienced some really wonderful rainstorms. I’m watching one out of my window at this very moment. And, maybe that is what I’m most thankful for just now.

I'm happy to be here in Austin, TX.

SONG: What I Like About You, The Romantics