Wednesday, December 16, 2009

heart words.

If you know me, you know that I am a girl who is brimming with words. And yet, at this moment in time, my words sit inside of me, unformed. My words dwell in silence, in my heart, in the realm of pure feeling. And when time has passed and they begin to take shape, I know that my words will tumble and spill and rage forth from my heart and mouth and fingertips.

Monday, December 7, 2009

motivation.

Eating a bowl of cereal and drinking coffee in the kitchen. No lights are on, and bright gray is streaming in through the window. Today is cloudy.

The thing that I am most trying to do at this moment is motivate myself. I did a 3-mile hike over hilly terrain on Thanksgiving weekend, but since then, I have not once tried to run. Can I train for a half marathon in 11 weeks time, which is what I’ve got if I actually begin this week? I think that I can. Can I train for an event without a team of people as I have in the past? This, I am less certain of.

So I’m going to finish my bowl of cereal, finish my coffee, and make myself go to the Y to walk on the elliptical. Which is not a run. I know. But it is a start.

Whenever I am trying to motivate myself to do something I really want to do and also really don't want to do, this is the song that gets stuck in my head. Hope you feel as amused as I do.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

counting sheep.


My dog is snoring on the couch (where she is not supposed to be, but I am a poor enforcer of the rules). Her head is propped up on a pillow.

I am on the couch awake at 1:30 a.m. for some reason I cannot determine.

Eventually I will write a little about Thanksgiving camping (which, in a nutshell, was awesome).

Eventually I might write about the one moment when I thought of my mother and thought I might lose it and thought Thanksgiving would be ruined (I did not lose it, and Thanksgiving was not ruined).

I will finally, in a week or so, have more to say about this little teaching gig and the way it's been a total mind fuck. Here is the abbreviated version: Mon: Teaching today rocked! I love my students. I think I am a good teacher. Wed: Teaching sucked today. I hate my students. They hate me. I am a terrible teacher. Mon: Today I think I was more effective communicating the fundamentals of writing than I imagined was possible. Wed: I was completely ineffective and incomprehensible. Mon: My students are lame. Wed: My students are amazing. Mon: I envisioned myself hurling books at the entire class. Wed: I envisioned the entire class hurling books at me. Mon: I fantasized about walking out of the room just after tiny sharp daggers shot out of my eyes. Wed: Every single student seemed like the most wide-eyed, charming human being today.
An entire semester of teaching schizophrenia.

In a week or so, my house is going to look like a Christmas wonderland. I have decided.

In about 3 weeks I will get to go to Baton Rouge, and I am psyched beyond belief. I still don't know the dates we'll be there. I do know exactly what foods I'll eat, exactly which friends I'll see and precisely where I am going to go to give myself time to write.

Soon, I will immerse myself in writing fiction, reading fiction and training for the half-marathon.

Soon, I will have something to report about half-marathon training.

For now, I just need to get through my last classes. I just need to find a moment to clean up my disgusting house. And most immediately, I must find a way to fall asleep.

My eyes are so sleepy; but my mind is so restless and awake.

Today, I was grateful for the cold weather and rain. They made me feel happy.

Please, please, let me fall asleep. Please let me fall asleep remembering how happy I felt walking through the rain.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

adventure.


*Glass negative from the Library of Congress Bain collection. Dated 1910-1915

Me + C. The dogs. Tent on the Colorado river bank. 3 mile hike to waterfalls.

Turkey breast pounded flat, rolled into logs and stuffed with made-from-scratch herb/cornbread stuffing, cooked in skillet. Mashed potatoes. Gravy. Homemade cranberry sauce. Oven roasted brussels and apples with blue cheese and bacon. Rosemary bread.

Cold night.

Hot fire.

Pie. S'mores.

Vino.

The milky way.

Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

more on revisions and submissions.


Note to self: Never make grand proclamations like "I finished revising something, and it kicks ass." The second such a proclamation is made, you will re-read and wonder what the hell you were thinking. You will think, This does not kick ass. This sucks.

Friday, November 20, 2009

revisions and submissions.


Dear folks at The Southern Review,

My next submission is in the mail to you and three other journals, and it kicks ass. I feel certain.

Truly,
Herpreet

On writing in general, while I have not been entirely productive this semester, I did sit down yesterday, push my students' essays aside, and write for myself. I made progress on the story about the boys. Today, the shoving aside of essays was repeated, and I revised like a maniac. The brief writing stint yesterday (2 hours), and the hours of revising and submitting today have put me in good spirits. I hope that as I turn my attention to grading essays, these spirits will not be crushed.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

november list.



1. Songs that make me think of my mother and make me cry involuntarily whenever I hear them.
"City of New Orleans," Willie Nelson
"Country Roads," John Denver
"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause," Bobby Helms (I know that is weird. But memory is a strange beast. Luckily, this song doesn't get much air time, and when it does, it's Bruce Springsteen's version.)

2. Song that reminds me of my mother and makes me laugh involuntarily whenever I hear it.
"What I Am," Edie Brickell (It's not a terribly interesting story, but it's an interesting quirk.)

3. My sleep is full of strange dreams lately.
I cannot remember them, except in broad painterly strokes. I wake up and the whole picture is never clear.

4. C.'s birthday is next week.
Boy, are we getting old. Maybe not old exactly, but entering the threshold of middle age? We used to be nothing but young. How did this happen? When did this happen?

5. Thanksgiving made me cry on the drive to school last week.
For my entire life, this has been my favorite holiday. Lately, my whole body fills up with tension and chills and general ickiness when I think about Thanksgiving. What I figured out in the car is that, at least for this period of my life, Thanksgiving will remind me of a time when the ground seemed to crack open beneath me. One day, when I can focus on all of the positive changes that such shifts in the earth brought, maybe I will like Thanksgiving again. For now, it only makes me feel the same kind of sad fear that I felt a few years back.

6. I am not nearly as teary a person as this entry makes it seem.

7. Last night, I had one of the worst eating fests I've had in a year. Maybe even longer.
I ate almost an entire cheap frozen pizza. I commanded myself to STOP when there were only 2 slices remaining. But then I ate 1 and 1/2 pieces of pecan pie. I had a glass of wine. I felt completely disgusting.

8. I ate like a teenager because I was also watching bad TV and, most significantly, procrastinating what I needed to be doing. Grading essays.

9. Even though I had crappy food and crappy TV night, I took the dogs on a 1 and 1/2 mile walk during the day.
I have never walked them along the Town Lake trail, and they looked ecstatic the whole time, tongues hanging out, stupid grins on their faces. They have not had a walk like that in months. Neither have I.

10. Thanksgiving weekend, I am going to begin training for the half marathon.
I also think I binge ate yesterday because I was feeling like I needed to shovel it all in while I could. The nice thing about training is that after about 3 weeks, I stop craving anything sweet and bad. I crave vegetables and salty snacks and a lot of water. I am also looking forward to having a little muscle definition in my legs and arms again.

11. Today, I am going to shower and dress and go look at some art. And then. I will grade essays.
The goal for today: finish 10 essays in no more than 5 hours. 4 hours would be even better. I think I can. I think I can. I am not saying that with much conviction, by the way.

12. General insight of the month: I am not so thrilled about turning 35.
I remember friends freaking out about 25. And then about 30. I have never been anything except excited about a birthday. I guess freaking out about a birthday had to catch up to me at some point. Freak-out-ness, welcome to my life. And F U.



Thursday, November 12, 2009

good, bad, ugly, and non sequitur.


Yesterday, I woke up to stories about Veteran's Day. Then I played a goofy 30-second segment from NPR in my class. Something about muggers in Wisconsin (Nebraska?) who apologized to their victim after they went through his wallet and saw he was a reserve officer.

Now that I live in Texas, there are a lot of flags flying alongside the interstate over the distance of 26 miles between school and Austin. Driving home from school, I counted all of the flags at half-mast because of the shooting in Fort Hood. And I got irrationally teary. I have a student who just went to a military ball because her boyfriend is being deployed. She's 18. This hits me the wrong way, and that's all I know to say about it.

The weekend.
Will be a grading fest. Which means that by Saturday night, I will lose my shit, cry inexplicably because I will have slowly begun fixating on every aspect of my life that is not ideal and/or on any personal goals that seem, in the midst of reading 40 freshman essays, one-after-another-after-another, unattainable.

I will try to remind myself before the grading begins that this week I have had a lot of writing ideas. I don't care for the term writer's block, but I have certainly felt something like that. Is there a synonym I can use instead? I will try to make one up before I go to sleep tonight.

(After his mother died, Jude stopped loving ice cream. -I thought of this the other day, it goes with my story about the boys. Oh those boys. They don't know if they want to be told in 3rd person or 1st person.

Idea 2 of the week: I worked at Abercrombie, and she worked at Abercrombie. In the mall? But we never worked there at the same time. Hahaha. This cracks me up. I got the idea from a cousin who shall remain nameless, but I told him right away I'd be using it. I think it will be a funny story. I love when that happens. Occasionally it does.)

Finallly, C. has 2 pieces in an event at the East Austin Studio Tour that begins this weekend. So. That's a happy happening.

Now back to 30 Rock. Grr. In spite of the fact that Padma Lakshmi is guest starring. HATE her.

Friday, November 6, 2009

what do you think? why do you think what you think?

The semester has been overwhelming, so I don’t know where to begin with reflecting upon teaching my first two classes. Some reflections have to do with my own personal strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. Others have to do with the classroom environment and the quality of students. I guess it is easiest to talk about ‘others’ first – so I’ll begin with what I’ve noticed about students.

***
Many students are pushing against their own social class. They have been raised as working class Americans, and for them, college is a next step up. Sometimes, I hear other instructors claim that students "don't belong" in a college setting. But in my view, there is no more concrete way to observe the abstract "American dream" than to interact with these very students in a typical public university system, to witness students unconsciously scratching against the only world they know. I just wish that these young Americans would push themselves to actually become conscious of their predicament.

On a personal level, I like each and every one of my students. I even like the students who for some reason or another make me crazy (they skip class, they are obstinate for the sake of being obstinate, they are not as engaged as I would like them to be, etc.). There are students who remind me of myself at a younger age; there are student who I admire for how different they are compared to who I was at their age; there are students who are genuinely funny, sincere in ways that only eighteen, nineteen and twenty year-olds can be; there are a few students who are trying desperately to push against the ideologies they have been raised with, and I admire their budding awareness and questioning. Each person holds his/her own charm, and I guess I am easily charmed.

Because I like the students, I am also easily frustrated when they blow off my class, when they don’t keep appointments, when they roll their eyes at comments I make, statements I repeat. One student skipped a class, and my feelings were hurt. C. reminded me of all the classes I skipped as a freshman and sophomore. “Your feelings can’t be hurt; you did the same thing.” Point taken.

More generally, and more importantly, I feel stunned by the fact that, when they are asked to think creatively and analytically, so many of them are handicapped. They freeze up. They read essay prompts, and they are quick to state that the prompts are not clear or don’t make sense. In reality, the prompts do not spell out every last item that belongs in the paper. The prompts are not an instruction manual or a recipe. The prompts sometimes ask them to deal with large issues, and to define the very narrow approach they will take to address that larger issue. Earlier prompts simply asked them to draw relationships between texts and real-life experiences: How is the situation you read about in someway similar to an experience you have had? In what ways does it differ? They freeze. The prompts seem unclear because they’ve never been asked to problem solve in this manner.

I don’t think most of them understand that writing an argument- first defining their own argument, and then building the argument on evidence is a critical type of problem-solving, an actual skill that they will need to possess in order to process political rhetoric, policies and laws, in order to judge whether policies and laws are too far removed from ‘real-world’ experiences. Many of the essays read as a string of opinions that sound dogmatic and conditioned, and when they are asked to provide evidence, it is nearly impossible. When they are asked to keep their evidence relevant to a specific point, this is also a challenge. When they are asked to explain why a point is significant in some larger context, many cannot even think of where to begin or how to do so. They want to say, for example, immigrants learning and adopting the English language over their first language has more gains than losses, because a person gains more. But what gains? What losses? They freeze.

I often suspect that their prior education has done little to prepare them to think critically, to problem-solve, to question the face-value of news stories, of films, of music, of literature – of any and every text with which we are all confronted on a daily basis. Instead, it is as if they have been conditioned to look for precise, unchanging formulas, as if the world operates on constancy. When I observe the lack of curiosity about the world, or rather (because the curiosity is there; it peeks through bashfully) the years of conditioning that have made it seem unworthy to hold and explore curiosity, I feel, not sad, but scared. Who has stripped you of your sense of wonder? Who has told you to hold firm to beliefs and laws and systems without also exploring other beliefs and laws and systems? I want to ask. Where is your sense of wonder? Unleash your wonder.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

shitty.

Oh my God. Some days I wish I could just stick my neck in a noose. (No worries. Not literally. I promise.) Straight up. I had the shittiest day. S.H.I.T. day.

It started off poorly, but my office mate tried to give me a pep talk (reciprocation for the days I try to give him pep talks). We try to encourage one another, but I have no idea if we are ever successful. It's always a good effort on both of our parts. This, followed by a horrible class for which I had nothing but good intentions. (Followed, miraculously, by an unexpectedly amazing class). And then. Discovering that my car had been towed for the first time in my life. Getting to the towing lot only to realize I did not have my car keys with me. Slightly earlier, a disgusting meal of 2 southwest spring rolls after I'd only eaten a bagel and cream cheese and nothing else sometime mid-morning.

Today sucked. TODAY SUCKED.

I am 100% doing the half marathon. That is the best news I can offer up. And one kid said he looked forward to coming to my class. That was reassuring. Can't please everyone all the time. But there's always someone who's pleased I suppose.

Night.

Friday, October 30, 2009

think i can.


The Little Engine that Could was one of the stories I most loved as a child. I must have been doomed to a life of always trying to, at best, finish. In recent years, it feels like I've been doing a pretty good job of finishing. So maybe in the next few years I will focus on accomplishing my goals with a greater degree of competitive spirit.

I am 98.777% certain that I am going to train for and run the Mardi Gras 1/2 Marathon that takes place in NOLA on February 28. I think I can. I think I can.

I spoke to a friend about it today, and she sent me a 12-week training schedule. This year the Mardi Gras run is going to be part of a larger event called Rock 'n Roll Marathon series. The series includes bands playing live music at every mile marker. SO. It sounds kind of fun, right? New Orleans? Music? Being in shape again just after my 35th birthday? Running with a friend on her 35th birthday? Training with another friend who's birthday will have passed in December? The only thing that could make it more fun is if Mardi Gras fell right after, but no such luck. I guess I will take what I can get.

Let the training begin. In November. For now, I am going to focus on just getting out to run at least once a week, maybe twice. I THINK I CAN.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

late at night.

Last night I dreamt of my mother. I remembered the dream as I was driving to work. "Hey Jude" started playing on the radio, and suddenly the dream returned - not the memory of images, but instead, memory of an intense negative feeling. And then the images came to me. Nothing I feel especially interested in sharing for now, except to say that I dreamt of my mother, and it felt as if she was real and present.

The radio said that today (or, technically, yesterday) was St. Jude's Day. St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes.

I cannot sleep lately. So here I am at 1:11 am. Make a wish.

I am leaning more and more toward training for the half marathon. Is that crazy? Possibly. No promises yet.

Friday, October 23, 2009

wants and considerations.

Things I want lately:

1. New clothes. I have not purchased new clothes since May, and those were purely for my India trip. The goals of those clothes were comfort and coolness (as in temperature).

2. Not to have to grade essays.

3. To be able to finish this story about the boys so I can move on already.

4. Two new pairs of boots. I can see them in my head, but I can't find them in any stores. And I couldn't afford them if I could find them; I'm certain.

5. More time to write and time to start a garden (I always want to do this at precisely the wrong time of year, but technically, I think fall is the right time).

6. More money.

7. To own my own house again. Boy do I miss that.

8. A weekend getaway to NYC to visit with girlfriends and just be somewhere else.


Things I am considering lately:

1. Training for the Mardi Gras half marathon that takes place in NOLA in February. Is this something I can do? Is it something I WANT to do? I don't think I have it in me to enjoy running more than 5 miles at a time.

2. This is making me consider the possibility of training for a 10 K instead. But I love the idea of going to New Orleans to compete. And the NOLA one takes place on my friend's 35th birthday (and she'll be there running).

3. Right now, as I write, I am leaning toward option 2. 10K doesn't set a bunch of alarms off in my head.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

more letters to famous people.


Dear Spike Jonze and Dave Eggars,

You disappoint.

Spike Jonze, I had all the faith in the world in your artistic integrity and vision. I believed that you would create a film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are that would be fiercely magical. I believed that you would not compromise with studio executives pressuring you to "make accessible" what should have been a work of, perhaps not brilliance, but at least, focused, intentional inventiveness.

The movie's compromises vibrate on screen like neon day-glow. Who is this film for, adults or children?

James Gandolfini as Carol takes the viewer so far out of the movie that one cannot begin to appreciate the cinematography and costume design- two of the movie's stronger elements. Other overly-recognizable voiceovers, in combination with the odd human-naming of the creatures, are equally intrusive. Viewers should not be distracted by trying to identify famous voices or trying to make more "real" the beasts of dreams and imagination. Viewers should be swept up in and completely believe in the magic of the wild things and their kingdom.

Setting the first part of the film in 2009, though this classic book was written in and illustrated in the 1960s, also fails to match some of the movie's latter vision. (I'm still convinced that you had a clear vision at some point.) The last two-thirds of the film stay visually true to the book while also bringing it to life in new ways - that is part of the task of mastering this adaptation. The 1st third, in terms of tonal quality/lighting and set design, disorients those of us who sat several times through a trailer that promised warm, muted browns, yellows, greens and grays, and promised the director's full attention to interpreting and constructing the book's time and place. The white scenes are beautiful: the chaos of snow flying, the shrieking of kids at play-war. But, among other scenes, there is the misplaced pop of a Hannah-Montana-esque bedroom set design that jolts viewers out of the understanding with which we entered the theater.

The 1st third of the movie should have taken cues from your ex-wife Sophia Coppola's film adaptation of The Virgin Suicides and Ang Lee's adaptation of Rick Moody's novel The Ice Storm. Even Sam Mendes's American Beauty would have served as a more fitting reference. Saturday morning Disney corporation sit-coms are an ill-fitting point of reference if one is to masterfully adapt this classic, well-executed and well-loved picture book.

Max Records, the little boy who played Max, gave a strong performance considering the script he had to deliver. This brings me to my final qualm.

Dave Eggars, what is going on with your screenplays? I first became skeptical after I saw Away We Go. The director and editor should have cut the over-written scenes.

In Where the Wild Things Are, the tacked in 2009 teen-speak, the one-liners and rudimentary slap stick jokes make it seem that a sitcom with a laugh track has landed inside of the movie the way Dorothy's house landed in Oz. Your script offers Max's back story: he is a child dealing with his parents' divorce, his sister's adolescent angst and a few bullying teenagers. The revelation of Max's history should have, and could have, been more gracefully and lovingly executed. Yet, one feels no love behind this script; one feels only the distinct pull of the dollar.

In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield calls his writer-brother who has gone off to California a prostitute. What is your hourly rate, Dave Eggars? Please, get back to writing for the page and from the heart. I beg of you.

The crux of the problem with the entire film, including its script, lies, not in the fact that filmmakers adapted a 10-page picture book, but rather, in the original question of audience.

Is this movie intended for children? Or is the intended audience adults who hold in our hearts a special place for the book Where the Wild Things Are? Is the film an opportunity to sell future video games and other commercial merchandise? (I suspect that this is what studio executives imagined.) Or is the film an opportunity for adults to revisit children's stories and to newly examine darkness that often lies beneath and within picture books? (I suspect that this is what Jonze originally envisioned.) As it is now, the movie-version of Where the Wild Things Are neither succeeds in provoking adults who handle adult problems to exit theaters deeply empathizing with their children and the muted complexity that creates and saturates children's worlds, nor leaves adults to admire and desire the vibrant coping mechanisms with which children deal. If it is successful at all, it succeeds at artfully riffing on Mrs. Doubtfire - creating a feel good film for the entire, comically dysfunctional American family.

The screen version of Where the Wild Things Are leaves me pondering how disappointing the film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz would have been had it been made in today's cinematic climate. What would it be had studio executives asked filmmakers to make The Wizard of Oz less scary and more commercially viable?

While I am let down by this film that I had anticipated so enthusiastically, at least I am reminded of the relevance of the book form. There is relevance in possessing tangible pages to turn, reading words and images that speak to one's own mind's eye, spark one's own inventiveness, and allow a human being to delight in and believe in far off kingdoms that hold magical healing powers and ultimately, remind us of the loving safety-even through instability-that is home.

bloat.

This morning I looked in the mirror, and I saw tired, fat and not cute at all.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

i prayed for a touchdown, and the lord scored one.


In addition to their personalities, my students' essays are teaching me a great deal about their belief systems.

Their papers reiterate that football is king in Texas, and the Friday night lights hold a special place in many of their hearts and memories.

Jesus also has quite a presence in my classroom. There are Baptists. There are Methodists. There are Catholics. There are the Young LIfe kids. There are the ones who have gone on missions to Africa and Mexico. Does this mean that there's good karma in my classes? Do karma and Jesus mix? I hope that all of these kids will pray for me to keep moving toward my goals in life. Maybe I should ask them.

In all seriousness, my next story will be called, "Jesus was a Football Player from Texas." He was, you know.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

sex, drugs and rock 'n roll.

I am testing out this phrase. Is a timeless classic that provokes interest, or is it simply a cliche? What do you think? Sex, drugs and rock 'n roll. What comes to mind when you hear these words? Nostalgia? Cliches? Expectant delight?

After a Saturday of toughing it out in the rain and mud at ACL this weekend, moving from stage to stage listening to this band and then that, getting drenched in the process, my husband declared, "'I'm over this Woodstock shit." I laughed. But only when we were back at the festival the next day walking barefoot in pudding-like mud. That's when I remembered his old-man pronouncement.

Phoenix and Heartless Bastards were worth all the water and mud.

Bah. Sex, drugs and rock 'n roll.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

brainstorm list.

The boys have names: Drew, Neil, Jude

Neil has a sledgehammer. It is his mother’s, and she keeps it under her bed “in case.”
Ambulances have pulled up to his driveway late in the night.
When it started happening too often, his father left.
Neil’s violence looks like bullying. It looks like menacing that he laughs loud about.
Neil seems like the leader, but he is mostly following Jude’s quiet lead.

Jude has the liquor and weed, both stolen from his dad’s stash.
Jude has forearm muscles that blue veins bulge from.
Jude has tan skin and a blond bowl cut.
Jude has lines of skin that convulse over his forehead when he is concentrating.
He is substantial.
Jude’s anger looks like survival, but the boy has no self-awareness.
In any other circumstances, he would be a good person.
Jude is a natural leader.
Jude has a father, but his mother hung herself.

Drew has a camera.
Drew has his dad’s discarded Playboy’s.
Drew has a mom.
Drew has a good life. This is what it looks like.
Drew is quiet, but less quiet than Jude.
Drew is scared of his own anger. He will not touch the sledgehammer. He will not destroy a house until late in the story.
Drew doesn’t know how Jude’s mother did it, but he imagines scenarios.
Drew’s father is the construction manager for the new neighborhood coming up.
Drew’s mother cheats on his father. But everything looks normal.
Jude and Drew both keep secrets.

The boys ride skateboards at night.
There is the sound of urethane wheels grinding against black asphalt.

In Jude’s garage there is a ping pong table, a dart board, a stereo, an old couch, and old rug, an oak-like coffee table with chips that reveal particle board.
There is one window. Half of the ceiling is dry-walled, but half is not. The room is always damp.

In Drew’s dark room, there are chemicals, a thin wire from which photos hang clipped by clothespins, and his dad’s rescued Playboys buried beneath National Geographic magazines stashed at the bottom of a photo processing supply shelf.

The Vietnamese are moving into Live Oak Acres. With their fishy smells and foreign vegetable gardens.
A black family moves in next door to Drew’s house.
The pecan grove that is the edge of Live Oak Acres is leveled and now bears only the name: Pecan Grove Estates. This will be a gated community. It is the 1980s.
The news thinks that the Vietnamese teenagers are destroying the construction site.
Drew's dad thinks it is the Vietnamese teenagers.

A family photo will fall, crash down so that glass shatters.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

sick day.

My plan today is to work on a story. A story that I started writing last semester and I just cannot seem to complete, no matter how badly it is the story I wish to tell.

I am sick today, which is irritating. No, I do not have the swine flu. I do have a sinus infection, sore throat and a massive headache that makes staring at the computer screen unpleasant.

This morning, I took some medicine, fed the dogs, ate some cereal and got back in bed. I woke up because of a weird nightmare. Two strangers were at my screen door asking me if I could help them. I had a bad vibe and I held closed the screen door latch. Then I saw a man in a hat and sunglasses walk across my yard. He was holding a gun. I knew if I let go of the latch to get to my phone and call 911, the couple at my door would charge in. I woke in a panic, wondering if my front door was gaping open.

I am rambling.

I am a slow writer. I am noticing this about myself. Not that I haven’t noticed before. Experiences, ideas, words, they all need to percolate. Then they spill out onto the page and there are too many. But in my slowness, it can take months, a year, before I have enough distance to look at all of the spilled words and decide which ones to wipe up, clean away, and which ones to contain into a little, perfect cup.

On Saturday I spent about 4 hours revising a story that I first wrote about 2 years ago. It used to be close to 30 pages; now it is down to 18 pages. It felt really good to tear out chunks of writing, delete, delete, delete, until the real story was left and all of the fluff was removed. Then I got to work sprucing it up, painting walls. I’m not ready to hang curtains just yet.

I am mixing metaphors. I cannot look at the computer anymore. My eyes are begging.

Friday, September 18, 2009

week of September 13

Sunday
In a fit of productivity that willfully did not involve teaching or writing, I made banana bread and butternut squash soup with roasted garlic and oyster mushrooms that I had sauteed in a white wine butter and shallot sauce. In the soup, they tasted like good bacon. At least, to me they did.

Monday
In one of the least productive conversations I have had in a long time, I gathered that the person speaking to me (my teaching supervisor) believes I am not old enough or experienced enough to logically prioritize my life, and she felt the need to spell out for me what my priorities should be. (Hint: her discussion class about teaching holds a higher priority than actively preparing for the 2 classes that I actually teach and than working on my own writing; my writing... probably is wasting space so high in my own ranking.)

Tuesday
I spoke to my cousin on Skype for 4 hours. It was virtually the first time we have spoken face to face since I was in 4th grade. It was the highlight of my week. I also did some dishes.

Wednesday
I felt like tossing books, heavy books, at some of my students. I think they sensed my aggression.
I also felt like yanking some of my own hair out. Instead, I convinced c. that we needed to go out for dinner.

Thursday
I sat through a 3-hour class in which it felt like the professor had drug a dead horse into the center of the room and we each beat it with our own stick for the duration of class. *See Monday.

Friday
Is here. I am getting my hair trimmed. For starters. I also plan to write.

Saturday
I am attending a talk where an agent/editor will tell me and my peers why the 2 or 3 pages we each submitted to her would not keep her interested enough to turn to the 3rd or 4th page.

I know. Now I am just being cynical.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

i'm only telling you 'no' because i love you.


Yesterday, after I recorded this rejection on my type-A excel spreadsheet, I tossed the paper version. This morning c. dumped coffee grounds on top of it. A couple of hours later, I decided to dig it out of the trash, and this is what I found. Gross maybe, but I also think there's something pretty. It's as if a live oak trunk got superimposed atop of the already superimposed live oak canopy.

Also, notice the words hand-written in red ink. I'm pretty stoked. I liken a positive rejection to: I'm only telling you 'no' because I love you. Hopefully, some other fool will tell me 'yes' about this particular story. In the meantime, I have nothing else that I feel is appropriate to send to The Southern Review. I am going to work on revisions to one story today. It could potentially fit the bill. I mean, the journal.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

september.


According to my Susan Miller Astrology Zone monthly forecast, Mercury will be in retrograde this month. This means:

"miscommunications could cause real problems, so make a concerted effort to be understood. If you are in important talks, keep summarizing what you think the other person has said to you, to be sure you have picked up the right message. No one would ever fault you for doing that."

Does this account for my fumbling, bumbling idiocy today during class? The blank stares that all of my students landed on me at one point?

Does this account for the text-speak email I received from a student? Or, from another student, the email composed of not one, not two, but three run-on sentences?

Also, do you know that college freshmen will snicker and giggle if they see the phrase, "the person who reared you," and they will also not know what this means? Okay. Maybe I would giggle too. I'm thinking about awarding (rewarding?!) 3 bonus points to every student who can adequately argue whether it is more correct to use "reared" than it is to use "raised" in reference to children.

Which is more correct in the previous paragraph: rewarding or awarding? Someone please help me remember.

Do I need to reword this entire entry? Quite possibly.

Monday, August 31, 2009

little wonders.



I know these pictures look like nothing, but look closely - what's captured here has made my day.

I can tell you that the last thing I wanted to do this morning was pull myself out of bed to go to the Y. Well, 2nd to last; the last thing I wanted to do was wake up in the first place. But this week begins my new semester schedule: Wake up M-F and go to the Y before I do anything else. I am back on a weight-loss mission. I have gained 9 pounds since moving to Austin. BLAH.

I was so sleepy when I arrived, and feeling so out of shape when I left. Before leaving, I stopped to stretch my legs a bit. I was standing by my car stretching when I noticed little specks of green movement in the grass. And then I realized that I was looking at Austin's wild parrots!!! WOO-HOO. It made my day. I thought I'd never get a look at these little creatures, but here they are - semi-captured by my i-phone camera.

Now, on to conquer the rest of this day. Including my first lesson plan enacted with my 2 classes. I am kind of nervous!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

oh this strange day.



I have just come from dinner. Every morsel was delicious, but dessert was my favorite part - honey lavender creme brulee topped off with a piece of honey comb that I sucked clean of honey and molded into a little beeswax circle to tuck away in a journal.

Today, on the 3rd anniversary of my mother's death, I received an acceptance letter for a story I had forgotten that I submitted. It will be printed in a collection entitled, Her Mother's Ashes 3. It is an annual collection of work by women authors of south Asian descent; the book is published by TSAR Books out of Toronto (Toronto South Asian Review).

I have been drifting in and out of happiness, shyness, fear and sadness.

Voice in my head during dinner: Thanks, mom. And Matt Clark (in whose class--my first fiction workshop--I wrote the story so very long ago). That voice was joy.

It isn't a story I thought I would publish. Truthfully, I sent it in almost accidentally - a last minute email submission just a week before I headed to India. A "What the hell" send. I didn't even record it in my log of submissions. I didn't feel like any of my new work was ready to be submitted, and I dug through old stuff. It's the only piece that I thought of as "finished," that also reflected a theme related to ethnicity. I don't hate it, but I don't love it. It's charming at best, touching in moments.

Voice in my head during dinner: But I wrote it in 1997 - it's such an old story. So young and unimpressive. Today, I would never write that story. That voice was embarrassment.

Voice in my head: Other people might come across this story and read it. Shyness.

Recalling the story my sister told me over the telephone before I left for dinner: When mom worked at Burger King (my sister was in high school, and I was maybe 5), a flasher came to the door one night. She called her coworkers over, and they all stood behind the glass laughing at him. Imagine the flasher's surprise. That voice, that passed-down recollection, is happy sadness.

Everything is all jumbled together.

i have a follower?

I noticed today that someone follows my blog. I was like, What? I have a follower? And then I got all flattered. Who is it? How did she find me? I wondered.

Then I added a little box off to the side that gives a link to my follower (!). Her blog has a lovely name and a lovely, soft, pretty feel. And she's got an etsy business, so check it out. Under the Root.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

remembering.


Six months after my mother had a massive stroke in 1998, nine months after I had graduated college, I moved home to live with her and help care for her. I was 24 years old, and sometimes that alone astounds me. I was with her for almost nine months.

When I was home, I started showing her how to give herself the insulin shot that was due before breakfast. How to replace the insulin cartridges, how to set the needle onto the pen, how to turn the pen’s dial and read the barely magnified dosage numbers that rested beneath a plastic bubble on the side of the pen. I used to watch the concentration in her eyes, the alert focus. I watched her narrow fingers respond to the instructions in her head, move through each step with slow caution. Whatever fear was present in her own mind and in mine, I tried to ignore. After a while, she was giving herself the shot in the belly every morning. It was an accomplishment. Each time the shot had been given, she pulled the needle out of her skin, the slightest grin on her face. “Uh-huh,” she might comment. I did it. Let’s eat. Let’s relax. When she and I were together alone, I was generous with my praise for my mother’s accomplishments.

At first, once he was home from work, my father still tried to administer her evening shot. But I forbid him to do it. “She can do it herself.” My father, in his own discomfort, laughed off my insistence and placed upon me the nickname “lieutenant.” I had not had a family nickname since my toddler-hood, when I was called “honey bear,” an endearment I cannot even remember but for the retelling. “Okay. Okay. Lieutenant says you have to do it yourself.” He would laugh, I would laugh, my mother would laugh, and the tension – our fears that she could not do for herself, and that it would be painful to watch her do for herself without ease, would break.

There were other tensions as I pushed her to regain a semblance of self-sufficiency. Every other morning my mother took a bath. At first, I rose dutifully when she did. I helped her into the tub, helped run the water, helped scrub her arms and legs, shampoo her hair. With time, I started asking her to wash her own hair. “You do it,” I prodded. I would give her the shampoo bottle, watch her turn it upside down so that soap ran out into her weakened right hand. She raised the soap to her head and scrubbed one-handed, until I encouraged, “try using both hands.” Next, I wanted her to challenge her arms and shoulders to increase their limited range of motion. "Reach behind you. Reach for the sponge I am holding. Scrub your back."

My mother always refused at first. "I can't."

But I was convinced that she could. "Try."

Eventually, my mother did not need me to help her with the bath, except to place the chair into the tub if it had been moved. On those mornings when she did not need my help, those mornings at 7:30 a.m. when I pretended to still be sleeping, I always listened. I knew every sound. Her slippered feet walking toward the hallway bath, her cane clicking on every other step. Her clothing being placed onto the towel rack, her cane being leaned against the corner of the wall.

Only when it was time to get in her chair did she holler for me. I was always ready, waiting for the call. I helped her get situated, and then I left. Still, I listened to the echoed, clinical sound of my mother turning the faucet, sometimes releasing a shocked “ahh” when she’d run the water too hot. (When our everyday functions become challenging, intentional, somehow they are reduced to clinical acts.) During bath time, I held my breath. My heart pounded. I waited for her to get through her routine successfully, safely. Only when the door to the bathroom reopened could I allow my heart to relax. My mother had not dropped the soap bar out of her reach. She had not slipped getting out of the tub.

Bath time was only the first of two times during which I held my breath every morning. The second time was when, after she dressed, she emerged from her bedroom and walked down the stairs. I listened for every single creak on the steps, the metal cane clicking against itself when it landed on the carpet. When she was half way down, on mornings I was most frightened she may take a wrong step and fall, I crept quietly out of my bedroom and watched her descend until she landed the final step. Then I crept back into bed, pretended I’d been sleeping the entire time. Occasionally, I saw her head turn slightly over her shoulder. “Herpreet?” Sometimes I answered. Sometimes I did not.

I walked a delicate balance, as those nine months progressed, between doing for her and helping her do for herself. When she was adept at doing for herself, I walked the balance of trusting in her capability and restraining my fears of her failure to succeed in regaining yet another small piece of independence that the stroke had stolen.

I can still recall one of the most heartbreaking tasks I asked her to complete.

"Mom. Today, I want you to help me write a grocery list."

"No."

"What do you mean, 'no'?"

"I don’t want to. I can't."

I ignored her stubborn refusal. I set paper on the kitchen table in front of her. I placed a pencil on the paper. I don't know how long we sat at the table, both refusing to give in. Her expression contained anger, fear, frustration. She almost cried she was so hesitant to write - to witness her damaged ability. I bossed her into trying. Maybe it is because I had always been a writer in my heart, that it was so desperately vital to me that she write again. But now, as I still posses that one tiny grocery list, this moment has remained important because it provided me with a final sample of my mother’s handwriting. Post-stroke handwriting, a visual reminder of her difficult path.

Her struggle to recall the spelling of words, more than the spelling, the actual movements her hand had to make to push the pencil across the page and form the curves and lines and dots that make letters, was painful for us both. After that day, I tried to concentrate instead on helping her read again. I don’t think I ever asked her to write again. If I did, she refused, and I let it rest.

My eldest sister once revealed to me that her daughter, who was four when my mother had the stroke, had asked, “Mom, when is the old Mama coming back?” Sometimes it takes a child to accurately articulate our very own frustrations. “Lieutenant,” my dad joked with me. It always broke the tension, but only temporarily. I commanded my mother to do for herself as much for her wellbeing as for my own selfish daughterly need to make my mother become closer to the mother I had known before the stroke.

These memories, which include details such as the color of the carpet, its thickness revealed when her foot sank into it, the soft cotton of her pink and white nightgown folded over the towel bar, they return in moments when I least expect them. For instance, these memories I have shared poured back to me as I prepared my class syllabus this weekend. I feel surprised by the memories, stunned that they sit latent inside of me. In the instant that I remember, the emotions of the time rush back. Then I am confronted with one of my greatest fears, that I will forget when there is so much to remember.

In two days, my mother will be dead for three years. I am terrified of forgetting, and more terrified that if ever I commit to having my own children, I will never properly be able to give them memories of my mother. It is difficult enough to remember the nine years after her stroke, but what of all the healthy years before? I only witnessed 23 of them. So few, and how many of those 23 were consumed by adolescent angst instead of blooming mother-daughter understanding? How angry I have felt at the task my mother has left me with – to remember her. To remember when memory is fleeting and deceptive.

Monday, August 24, 2009

game plan.

I got some good advice from a friend, and I've figured out what to do about having a blog and teaching.

Professional precautions.
I've removed some entries that could potentially be interpreted as inappropriate in that they mention school, students, authors, etc.

Personal precautions.
When school begins, I'm going to take down this blog for about a month. I'll bring it back up after the semester is rolling. Hopefully by then, students will have finished trying to spy on their instructors. After that, I'll put it back up, and what is is what will be. This blog has become part of my writing routine and part of my body of work. It is an outlet for another part of my writing voice. So, while I'd prefer it if students aren't looking me up - at least not until after they are out of my class, I can't stop them from doing so, and I can't stop doing what I do either.

I think I'll do one last entry on Aug. 27th, and then I'll see you all again around the start of October.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

So many photos.

I am ever so slowly working my way through the India photos.

I'm posting flickr slideshows on IST Summer. I hope to get several up over the next few months. Some between now and when school begins next week, and others over the course of the semester.

Rather than do a new post here every time I get a slideshow posted, I'm putting up this one message along with a link to IST Summer on the left side column of this blog under the "Blogs and other Virtual Reading" heading. Feel free to check that blog every week or so for new images.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

on meeting my dad's new wife.


My sister wants me to share. But I don’t want to share. I just want to feel free to bitch in my head and jot down some cutting remarks and exaggerated displeasure all within an overly dramatic monologue that I will post on this blog.

I just want to be able to curl up in front of the TV and watch Guiding Light because this is one thing that makes me, irrationally, feel close to my mother, like she is right beside me and we are watching together. I just want to be able to watch a particularly depressing episode of Oprah because I know good and well that it will make me ball, and I happen to need an excuse to ball (but it’s just Dr. Oz dishing out his medical-guruism). I just want to be able to lie in bed at night with the lights off while I cry. My husband will bring me an excessive amount of toilet paper to blow my nose into. He will say, Do you want to talk about it? I will say, No. And eventually I will fall asleep.

What do you want me to say? I ask my sister on the phone.

I don’t want you to say anything.

Except, I doubt that she cares for my silence. So I say: Seeing her interact with our cousins was hard. (Pause) What do you want me to say?

Sister: Just say that. Say what you’re feeling, so I can try to help you.

I wonder in my head again: But what do you want me to SAY?

Because if I say what I’m feeling, she’ll hear the tantrum-like words of a five year old spew from my mouth. Projectile-like. And she already has a five year old at home, so I’m sure she doesn’t need to hear me going on and on saying things that, later, when I am not still reeling from the visit, I will admit I don’t mean: I hate her. I hate my dad’s new wife. I don’t want him to be married to her. I don’t want my mom to be dead (I will still mean that later). I don’t want to see her in the presence of my cousins, acting like an aunt to them, them treating her like an aunt. I don’t want her to fit in easily. I don’t want everyone to embrace her and my dad’s newfound happiness easily. My mom was smarter. My mom was more beautiful. My mom (insert list of unfair comparisons here).

Imagine: Me on the ground, fists and feet pounding. Wah-wah-wah.

Now, is this really what my sister wants me to say? I doubt it. Because, how is she supposed to help a person who just feels like pouting until she is ready to stop pouting?

But her phone dies, and I am off the hook and don’t have to think of what it is she wants me to say, or how to say what I am really thinking, which I am sure is not what she wants to hear, even though she says she has no preconceived notions of what she wants me to say.

I want to vent like a five year old, and I don’t want to be comforted in the process. Or reasoned with. Because I spend plenty of time reasoning with myself. About how my dad was so depressed after my mom died, and how it’s nice to see him look happy. About how hard this must be on his new wife – meeting his extended family, adjusting to the United States, learning English, learning how to drive, feeling totally dependent on my dad right now. Etc.

At dinner last night, when he talked about their upcoming trip to Cancun, I wanted to pick up the fish on my plate and fling it at both of them. In your faces, I would have said.

Consider this my tantrum. Long, overly-dramatic monologue forthcoming.

India Pictures.

I now have a few India photos up on IST Summer. Enjoy.

Monday, August 10, 2009

a new project.


I've begun a new project. It is in its infancy. But I am anxious to get it off the ground and to see it grow in the next few years. I have at least 3 different ideas for directions to take it in. I am certain only of this one thing - it's going to evolve. If you want to, follow along with Landscape Narratives. Even the name may change in time.

I have a few interviews in the works, so I hope to post more in the next month or two. In the meantime, would you be willing to dig through some of your personal photos and choose 1 image that:

a) depicts a landscape or setting (interior or exterior) and

b) strikes a chord with you?

Yes, it can have people in it, but I'm hoping that when you look at it, what resonates with you most is the particular scene/room/view, rather than the people in it - or that the people in it resonate with you BECAUSE of the particular setting it captures them in. Does that make sense?

If you are interested, email me at treerockcloud@gmail.com (this is not a live link). If we are not in the same city, I can look at a scanned jpeg of your photo and we can talk about it over Skype.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

letters to famous people.


Dear Drew Barrymore,

Your directorial debut is about roller derby girls? Really? Can your Hollywood personality be any more predictable? You used to seem so cool, but now you just seem in the midst of your own creative midlife crisis. When you were 12 and in rehab, was that caricature adolescent angst, or classic angst? I am having a hard time deciphering at this moment.

I know that roller derby isn't a fad of the early 2000s yet, but it's certainly headed that way.

I will probably watch your roller derby girl movie. But only as a rental. I might even like it. But only secretly and shamefully. Could I be having my own midlife crisis?

I am an old school Drew fan - a fan of back when you didn't seem so self-aware that you were making cliche actress/producer choices. Now you're directing, but the movie you chose to direct seems intentionally cliche. Are you typecast in every way possible?

I guess I also believe in old school roller skating: cruising to "Funky Town" on four urethane wheels, doing the Hokey Pokey. Relay racing is as competitive and violent as I want to get on skates. Old school roller skating may not be sexy and adrenaline-producing at this moment in time, but when we look back in history, I have faith that cheerful, endorphine-laden roller skating will be the Juicy Fruit to roller derby's Chewels.

Sincerely,
Herpreet

Monday, August 3, 2009

definative punch with a side of interpretation.

The assignment:
Choose a short passage of one or two sentences to comment on... In your comment, explain how the passage reveals a theme of the work, or reveals character, or shows a noteworthy feature of the time period, or compares to other works we are studying, or displays style characteristics of the work, etc.

Student's chosen quote:
"I can't make out the lie of the winds, *on wave rolls up from one side, one from the other."

*on is supposed to be "one"

Student's commentary:
I never really have been a fan of poetry. I had always had a point of interest in math though, because there is one answer with math. In poetry the piece can have a different meaning to different people at different times and different feelings, so there's no real answer to what the poem means or signifies. This quote however carries some of the definitive punch with a side of interpretation. "The lie of the winds I can't make out". I love how you don't have to dig deep into it; No matter how you twist and turn it, that's a metaphor for life. You set your course and plan accordingly, but you can never really know what's coming. Waves from all sides, represents life's obstacles and troubles. I would have enjoyed it more if the sailor would have made it out with his ship to symbolize, hey life sucks but you'll be alright. Then again, life isn't always like that, is it? Sometimes this poem is indeed true. You lose everything and get to watch it drift away, but hey, you're still alive. I'd like to have a part two to this poem. Defiantly

Sunday, August 2, 2009

thoughts on india: two


Masis.

In Chandigarh, before I walk into my mom’s older sister’s home for the first time, I am nervous. How will we communicate with the language barrier? If we find a way to communicate, what will we say? When I do go through her door, I stop worrying about what we will or won’t say, and I worry instead that I will begin to cry. I am meeting her for the first time since I was two years old.

When I see her, I immediately see my mother’s face in hers. She shares my mother’s back and shoulders, her build. I think of how happy my mother would be to know that I am in India in the home of her older sister. Truthfully, it feels to me as if my mother does know, as if she’s peering through a window and watching. I wish she could be in the room with us, not a spark, but marrow-in-bones and breathing flesh.

My masi’s arms are like my mother’s arms. Perfectly smooth and slight of hairs. The same microscopic lines scrawl like a faint map across her skin. When she is irritated and scowling, I see the shadow of my mother’s scowl. When she laughs, I hear the echo of my mother’s laughter.

She cries before I do, but then we are both crying. I wish I could remember what she said about my mother, but I don’t. I only remember that I got to grieve my mom with her big sister, a woman who I had no real memory of before that day.

Later, my mom’s older sister takes me to visit my other masi, my mom’s younger sister who also lives in Chandigarh. In this masi, I see and feel my mother’s youngest brother. She cries too, telling me, “You’re mom went too soon.” Then we are both crying. She squeezes her arms around me, brings me close to her, and when she hugs me, I feel my mom hugging me.

In Bhatinda, another of my mom’s younger sisters also carries my mother’s image in her own. “Masi means ‘like mom', ma-si,” she tells me. She also cries for my mother, and I cry with her. She tells me, "Your mom was not just my sister; she was also my friend." Over and over, I want to touch her forearms, press into them like I am kneading dough. I hold her hands because, like my mother’s, the tiny bones and little plump veins rise like soft little ridges beneath softer, taut skin; the palms are comfortable pillows that I squeeze again and again.

Both my mom’s older sister in Chandigarh and her younger sister in Bhatinda have hands are the same as my mother’s hands. Breathing next to both masis, beside all three masis, really, is like breathing beside my mother. And when we cry together, there is grieving in these tears, but also celebrating.

I have always seen them in photos, but the resemblance still stuns me. It is not just the way my masis look – though when my Bhatinda-masi is concerned that c. and I are not eating enough, it writes itself into her eyes and mouth and forehead in the exact same pattern that concern used to spread across my mother’s face – it is the intangible way that I feel in the presence of each of them that relaxes and overwhelms me.

I notice that the three of them have hands that will not be still. Fingers step, one at a time, over their corresponding thumb, thumbs rub slowly against corresponding fingertips like they are counting prayer beads. I watch their hands move when they speak. My mother lived continents away from these three sisters for 37 years, but I used to observe her hands and fingers dance the same meditative waltz. Sitting in India, having seen all three sisters busy their hands in the same manner – one that speaks of weaving, cooking, sewing, storytelling, building everything a person requires in life, I wonder if my mom’s only sister who made it to the US, the one masi I actually grew up with, also has dancing hands. How could I never have noticed before? Rather, how could I have taken for granted growing up with just one masi, one woman who is ‘like mom’?

All together, they were five sisters. Now I know them all. I know what they look like and what they feel like. In my head, I line them up in a row, and there is a thread that weaves through these women – my eldest masi holds the end of it in her left hand and it continues into her right hand. Then it pierces my mother’s earlobe and travels into her her closed mouth where she holds it with her teeth before it falls down and into her right hand. It continues to my next masi, makes a few stitches in her left sleeve and droops in front of her waist; she holds part of it in her right hand. It travels on to my next masi, makes a stitch in the neck line of her blouse and then weaves through her hair. It comes down around her neck, and glides over to the fifth, youngest masi, where the end curls into her hair and emerges out of her mouth and down into her right hand. She holds it firmly. Each of their lips are set in a smirk that indicates deep contemplation and some secret joke. Lips set in a crooked line, half happy and half sad, it is the trait that all the sisters share.

Friday, July 31, 2009

a little discipline. a lot of hope.

I have been revising stories like a maniac, and I think I've got 2 of them to a place that I am happy with. Therefore, I'm going to stop messing with them and move on to revising another story.

In the meantime, this week, I got 1 of the 2 stories out to 4 journals and the other of the 2 stories out to 2 journals. I'm going to send the latter to 2 more places as well, but the places I have in mind won't take submissions until September.

I've definitely come up with an overall strategy for submitting. I'm always sending to my top 4 choices first - no matter how much of a crap shoot it is. When I get back rejections, I'll resubmit to my next highest journal choices, and on and on. And incidentally - I have different journal picks for different stories. As it should be.

Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

where's fluffy?

Oh. Right. Right here in this movie. I mean, this movie is fluffy, like cheez whiz.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I just watched Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and kind of liked it. Even though I know it's a really terrible movie - Hershey's kisses instead of Godiva truffles. And even though I know that my 15-year-old niece also probably saw it at some point and also liked it. It is so her; I'm willing to bet that she has a huge crush on Michael Cera, whose character, Nick, is sort of the John Cusak/Lloyd Dobler of this generation as far as I can gauge from Juno and Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist.

Me to myself as the credits roll: Sucker. I am so lame.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Toyota is really marketing the Prius hard these days, at least here in Austin they are. Is everyone else in the country sick of seeing this commercial, but also strangely drawn to it? I swear to God, I think it's an antidepressant ad every time it comes on.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

a day in my life. lives.

In a parallel universe, I woke up at 7 a.m. this morning, ate a fine breakfast of yogurt and berries and oats, went to an ab class at the Y and then headed to the farmers' market to pick up some fresh produce.

In this universe, I slept in, rolled out of bed closer to 10:30, threw on some clothes, didn't bother to comb my hair, poured myself a bowl of cereal (I did put berries in it), and then c. and I went to the farmers' market at noon only to find that it was closing down. New summer hours - it no longer closes at one. In this same universe, I'm now home sitting in the ac and wasting time on the computer.

In the parallel universe, I am doing something like sailing on Lake Travis, maybe diving in for a dip in the water. I look fabulous, by the way.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

thoughts about india: one

When you return from a trip, people ask: “How was your trip?” You answer: “Great,” or (but hopefully not), “Terrible,” or whatever other simple statement you can make to summarize your vacation. I have been asked this very question over and over since returning home. While my response is always, "Great,” I haven’t figured out how to tell the truth, or even what the truth is.

I have fantasized about going to India for – ever, but also, I have dreaded it on some level. Maybe I wouldn’t be Indian enough. Maybe I wouldn’t like my own family. Maybe they wouldn't like me. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

I did not hate India. I did not love India. I felt awed by India, by its good and bad, and I just tried to take it in to the best of my ability. A friend asked if I had an awakening moment when I felt like I had somehow returned to my roots. I told her this: The closest to an awakening of this sort occurred when I met relatives, when I saw cities my parents had lived in, when I experienced day-to-day life in India. During some of these instances, much to my own surprise, I could hear the voice in my head remarking, "Oh. My parents make so much sense to me now." Prior to these tiny and unexpected moments, I did not know that they had not made sense to me.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

to market, to market.

I am wondering when the nearly entire United States population suddenly became lactose intolerant. Did we find en masse that we had a deficiency of lactase, the enzyme that aids the digestion of lactose, before or after every product in the grocery store that contains a trace of dairy began marketing itself as "lactose free" ?

I am one of those people who reads every label at the grocery store. My current fixations include scouring the fine print of non-perishable and preserved items to determine if they contain high fructose corn syrup or any related ingredient; seeking out produce that is not from CA, but from TX, LA, or Mexico (usually unsuccessfully); and squinting my eyes at the signs in the seafood section to figure out which fish is from my region, which is farm raised vs. wild, and to weigh whether purchasing the wild Gulf-caught fish that could be high in mercury is better than purchasing the farm-raised fish that is probably mercury safe but also probably putting a lot of fishermen out of business (Norwegian and Finnish fish are a no brainer - I'll eat those when I finally visit Scandinavia, but I don't need to cook them in my own kitchen at home.). Sometimes, I stare at the produce and try to figure out which items are actually in season as opposed to available at my fingertips because I am a spoiled American and I expect the seasons to keep up with my wants.

Reading the fine print means it takes me twice as long as it takes most people to shop. Taking twice as long in the supermarket means that purchasing groceries is a chore that I get a lot of angst over; I don't like to be in the grocery store. But usually, I manage to occupy my mind with some food-related train of thought. Today, it was lactose.

I am really anxious to see the movie Food Inc. in good and bad ways. Will it take me 3 times as long to get groceries once I've seen the movie? Today I didn't buy any chicken, pork or beef products, because I'm already anticipating that I won't want them once I see the movie. On Saturday I'll try to wake up in time to check out the meat and poultry at the Farmers' Market. Yes, I think it's worth the extra money. I don't care how poor I am, my financial matters need to be pretty dire before I stop thinking it is a priority to put good food in my body.

All this said, food is not something I truly obsess over, but once or twice a month when I go to restock my refrigerator, this issue rises to the surface of my thoughts. I've already made the leap in my mind about certain things: buy locally grown (but not pesticide-free) produce over organics from other regions and countries (which may not contain pesticides, but do contain chemical preservatives and ripening agents). Got it.

But now, what am I to make of the lactose issue? Is this savvy marketing on the part of the soy industry, or are we really, as a nation, all prone to lactose intolerance? Food is hard to get right. As a person who really loves to eat, I find food as a business to be a frustrating reality.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

back on the blog wagon.

A week ago, my husband and I returned from a 6-week trip that included a month in India, two overnight stops in New York where we caught up with a couple of my friends, and a full week in Puerto Rico where Chris’s good friend and his brother guided us from one amazing sunny beach to another.

Anyone who has kept up with this blog over the past couple of years will know that I have wanted to take a journey of this nature for a very long time. I'd hoped for six months, but six weeks proved enough for now. While I find it nearly impossible right now to articulate the amazing experiences and sights in India and Puerto Rico, I know that it was a worthwhile trip. On the one hand, my desire to see the part of India where my family originates and to see some of India in general is satisfied, and on the other, I am hungrier than ever to see much more of the world. But taking this trip was, in and of itself, reassurance that my husband and I will indeed make other extended trips in the future, with or without a family in toe.

I noticed something while I was traveling that made me a bit sad. I find it nearly impossible to write in a journal anymore – pen to paper writing. I need a keyboard to tap away at in order to properly record my thoughts. The journal I brought to India is not nearly as full as I’d anticipated it would be.

Today is the first time in a very long time that I have sat at a computer to vomit words onto the screen. I did a little blogging in India to keep people posted on our travels, but I have not done any reflective writing in a long time.

For that matter, I have not really done any fiction writing in a long time. Ideas have slowly begun working their way into my psyche. Last night, I jumped over to my laptop when the makings of a story started percolating inside my brain. I typed out the words that were dripping and felt a bit relieved: Maybe I have not forgotten how to write a story. I guess we shall see…

Next week the summer session for which I am IA-ing begins. It ends two weeks before my classes start and before I begin teaching my own classes for the first time. I have a lot of anxiety about teaching two freshman comp classes while I also attempt to write and keep up with my other schoolwork. A LOT of anxiety. I also have a lot of resentment about having to teach while I try to write. But I’m trying to keep both the anxiety and resentment at bay and trying to remember that these are temporary conditions.

I’m aiming to get back to a regular blog routine too. My goal is one post a week. Something else we shall have to see about. I'm happy to be home and happy to have a laptop at my fingertips at all times. So cheers.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

ist summer.

I am deep in Delhi. It's noon on May 27 here, and I'm in an internet cafe at Connaught Place. You can keep up with me and my trip at the blog my husband and I are keeping. It's IST Summer.

I'll be back to blogging here in July!!

Monday, May 11, 2009

austin wildlife.



Today, for my triathlon class, I drove way out into the hills to the home of one of my instructors. I caught some spectacular views winding up and down hills. On my way home, I slowed down as a deer crossed the road. When I looked to my left, I saw a tiny, tiny little fawn full of white spots. She was no bigger than my dog Ruby. I exhaled audibly. I wanted to stop the car and hold up traffic. I felt nervous that the baby dear would try to cross to catch up to her mother and that one of the cars behind me would not notice her and hit her.

One of my class mates said she woke up at 4 a.m. to the sound of a screaming deer. When she went out this morning, she found a dead deer that had been attacked by some other creature. The buzzards were pecking away. What a disturbing way to be woken. We speculated briefly on what could have attacked the deer. A bob cat? A mountain lion? A cayote?

Another class mate said that as she was swimming today, she panicked once imagining that a huge fish might swim up into her face. That did not happen to her, but I think it's the kind of thing that would have given me delight for the entire week. We did see a turtle swimming in the water.

I conquered a fear today. I swam in murky lake water. A 1/2 mile loop, no walls to hold onto. I remained calm the entire way. Free style and back stroke, occasionally, I paused to tread and get my bearings. But I didn't freak out over not being able to see in all of the murk. I just swam like it was a leisurely swim. I chatted with my mother. I looked at the blue sky when I took my breaths. Let's hope that Sunday goes as. Swimmingly?

*I couldn't stop to take a photo, but I found this little guy on line. Have you all heard about this dog nursing this fawn? It's an old story.

Monday, May 4, 2009

macrobiotic dining, aka just keep livin' part 2

Okay, so this interview is not laugh out loud funny, but it has its moments, and it certainly is evidence of Matthew McConaughey being a caricature of himself.


Matthew McConaughey and Mishka on Jimmy Kimmel Live - Click here for funny video clips

And here is the airstream interview.



Why my obsession with McConaughey, you ask? I've been told that his airstream is in a trailer park that is a few blocks away from where I live. When I first moved here every time I passed it, I'd point and announce: There's where Matthew McConaughey lives. Okay, I still do that.

I think I had a mild crush on him years ago (I've moved past this phase in my life), but now he's just one of the Austin celebrity's I am nerdy enough to admit to wanting to accidentally run into one day. When I see McConaughey in person, I am convinced he will not disappoint. I'm anticipating cut off jeans, bare feet and no shirt. I'm hoping to find him at Daily Juice where I often stop in after my tri class. It's across from the trailer park. I also hope he'll be talking to staff and saying, Alright, alright.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

macrobiotic dining, aka just keep livin'.

Tonight’s after-dinner conversation:

I feel like I need some gluten. Or dairy. Or meat.

C: (mimicking imaginary requests at the restaurant earlier) Can I have a glass of whole milk instead of iced tea?

(I mimic my imaginary requests.) Do you have bacon? This salad would be great with bacon.

C: It doesn’t have to be real bacon. It can be the bits.

*

Before dinner:

We’re parking the car and talking about a television interview C. watched. The interview was on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and it was Matthew McConaughey talking about all of the airstreams he owns and how he gives his employees 3-week “road trips” for vacations. C. says: It’s like he was a caricature of himself.

We walk up to Casa de Luz. It has a lush entryway. Flowering vines growing on an arbor, pea gravel under foot. It’s dusk. We hear music. I think it sounds folk-y and get worried. (Later C. corrects me - it was Flamenco, he says. Oh, I say. Because this makes perfect sense.) We enter the courtyard, pass the musicians, walk into the restaurant, read the menu.

I order a soup and salad, and I’m given a little wooden token to hand to the kitchen staff when I go to help myself. C. orders the “Sunday dinner,” and he’s given a different wooden token. We go to the kitchen area.

I search the dining room for white dreads as we walk (because surely we’re going to spot a dread family), but it’s filled with more of a yuppie hippie crowd tonight.

*

Dinner:
We sit at a picnic table on the side porch so we don’t have to feign interest in the musicians in the courtyard. I taste my organic, gluten free, vegan creamy carrot and sweet potato soup. C. tries his organic, gluten free, vegan lentils. I search for salt on the table, but all that I find is a glass shaker full of what appears to be sawdust. I walk from the porch back into the dining room and look for salt and pepper, but there’s none to be found. I return to our table and re-examine the shaker. Then I sprinkle some of the dust into my palm and taste it while C. watches.

C: What is it?

I think they’re toasted sesame seeds with salt.

C: Does it taste salty?

Sort of. Maybe not. Maybe salt’s not macrobiotic. Maybe you can’t get free trade salt.

Are we doing a cleanse? he asks.

I sprinkle a little bit of the sesame seed mix onto every spoonful of my soup and tell C., “This salt placebo works really well.”

We take advantage of the family style, walk-up-to-the-kitchen-and-ask-for-seconds policy. I get more soup and he gets more bland lentils and Quinoa (pronounced Kwe – noa and not Keh-noa which I incorrectly instruct C. to say before he goes up for his seconds and has his pronunciation corrected by one of the kitchen staff members).

Do you get a reward after you finish a vegan meal? I ask.

Casa de Luz is attached to a Montessori school, a Tai Chi studio, a yoga studio and a “natural epicurean culinary school.” So depending on who you are, the place is like a utopian paradise, or, well, like Matthew McConaughey.

As we're leaving I remark: The gluten free lemon and almond pie looked like poo.

C: I think the musician heard you say poo.

*

On the drive home, I ask C. to stop and get some dessert with me (all that talk about dairy and gluten did me in). We go to the Trailer Park Eatery down the street where I order a dairy-laden peanut butter chocolate shake. While I wait for it, I read over Shuggie’s menu. It includes a burger dressed with “chicken fried bacon” and another sandwich made with fried chicken battered in Lays potato chips. This all sounds sickening and delicious to me.

Next time we eat at Casa de Luz (yeah, I’ll probably want to eat there again, un-PC and un-vegan as I may be), we’ll bring our friend Matthew some Tobasco sauce. Alright, alright.

scribbling.

Alma was the crack head who worked at the Blue Bird CafĂ©. She wasn’t always a crack head. Before that, she sucked down a steady stream of Mad Dog and cheap gin. At the diner, it was Alma who made the fluffy biscuits every Saturday and Sunday morning for ten years. It was Alma who, like a modern day Mammy, simmered and stirred the best yellow grits with a wooden spoon while, story-telling, she smiled and exposed her gold plated front teeth to customers who were sitting around the counter with hushed mouths and big ears.

It was Alma who walked out screaming one afternoon, high on the crack cocaine she’d taken to smoking before she went into work at 5:30 a.m. She never returned to Blue Bird with a gun like she promised she would do when she yanked off her greasy apron, threw it on the ground and walked out of the front door.

***

This is not related to what's above, but I've been wondering: How do novels begin? How do novels begin? How do I begin?