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.