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Archive for 2009|Yearly archive page

Every little step.

In Uncategorized on May 21, 2009 at 9:58 pm

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Part of my plan for my alone weekend was to see a movie, preferably three. Luckily it’s summer, which means the movies out right now tend toward action and/or juvenile humor, so my list of three was pretty easy to make: Adventureland, Goodbye Solo, and Every Little Step. Alas, my other weekend activities—the dinner out, pedicure, hike in the Marin Headlands, the lunch out—meant that all I had time for was one movie, so I had to put more thought than usual into the selection. Since I had just been telling my husband about how I volunteered as an usher at Memphis’s Orpheum Theater (where all the Broadway touring shows came) while in high school and how seeing A Chorus Line was kind of lifechanging, I decided that Every Little Step had to be my pick. (I also thought it was the one my husband would have the least interest in.)

Not even a minute into the film, I got all goosebumpy hearing the music, just as I had when I was 16 and sitting on the aisle stairs watching the live performance at The Orpheum. The documentary is wonderful, even if you care not a whit about musical theater (for me what distinguishes A Chorus Line from other musicals is that it’s a musical about musical theater, so it’s not jarring when people break into song and dance). Marvin Hamlisch is adorable, and the original producers (who are putting on the revival in 2006) are still as passionate about the show as they were when it debuted in 1976. And the documentary is unusual in that it has two frames: 1) a loving recollection of/tribute to the origins of the show and its original creator and director Michael Bennett; and 2) closely following the producers and performers as the revival is cast.

The crowd erupted into applause when it was over and I left the cinema inspired, singing “One” at the top of my lungs all the way home in the car.

48 hours.

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2009 at 9:47 pm

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My husband did a great and wonderful thing last weekend: he took my daughter away from me. It wasn’t very far (just to his parents’ house in Orange County) and it wasn’t very long (48 hours almost exactly), but the psychic break it provided was beyond measure. Our daughter goes to daycare 4 days a week, but there’s something very different about having that many hours together all at once. The brain space normally reserved for parenting—and the things that go with parenting: cleaning, grocery shopping, working, etc.—are freed up for thoughts, ideas, feelings, conversations that are edited out of the busy life of a working parent. I missed my daughter and my husband, to be sure. And I was very happy to greet them at the bottom of the escalator by the Southwest Airlines baggage claim when they returned home. But for those 48 hours, I wasn’t a parent or a wife. It was lovely. I hope to return the favor sometime soon for my husband. And hope that we can give each other more frequent mini-versions of this break in the meantime, and beyond.

Death, being aware of the reality of.

In Uncategorized on April 24, 2009 at 7:48 pm

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I mentioned Pema Chodron in a previous post, and in our move, I was reintroduced to a set of cards (there are 60) that I bought a few years go, each of which has a little thought for the day on how to cultivate compassion which has a side benefit of cultivating happiness. I put these on my new desk. Each card has a gold front and one fairly cryptic line, as in the first one in the set that says:

“First, train in the preliminaries.”

If you turn the card over, you get Pema’s very succinct and clear commentary. For this one, she says:

“The preliminaries are also known as the four reminders. In your daily life, try to:
(1) Maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life.
(2) Be aware that the reality that life ends; death comes for everyone.
(3) Recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not, has a result; what goes around comes around.
(4) Contemplate that as long as you are too focused on self-importance and too caught up in thinking about how you are good or bad, you will suffer. Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want does not result in happiness.”

The point in her commentary that struck me when I read it was the one about death. Because I’ve had a lot of prolonged illness in my immediate family, I was never much afraid of death; it always seemed preferable to having some horrible, debilitating disease. And I always thought that I was quite the enlightened genius for feeling so unafraid of it. But since having my daughter, fear of death hangs around at the edges of my consciousness almost all the time. My primal fear is of something happening to my daughter, which is so unimaginable it’s hard to even type. But also I fear something happening to me or my husband. How much we’d miss with her if we were gone and how much harder and sadder her life would be if one of us weren’t here for her. Being reminded that death is inevitable is so difficult now. I know it’s good to be reminded, though. I know it builds strength, like a good set of pushups. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

The forest for the trees.

In Uncategorized on April 13, 2009 at 10:05 pm

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Our new house is so lovely that I have almost already forgotten how painful the move was last week. And though the house is, as I say, lovely, what really makes where we live so unusually delightful are the grounds. Our house sits with 3 others on a bit over an acre of land that is bound on one side by a meandering creek and on the other by the skeleton of a long-abandoned greenhouse. There are redwood trees, cedar trees, cherry blossoms, a man-made pond. The front deck is spacious and open, and the French doors that lead to it mean that, at least in the dry season, it’s a whole other room. In fact, our daughter has already eaten two almond-butter-and-jam sandwiches out there on our picnic table, as well as experienced the magic of Paas Easter Egg dye.

Being tucked away here in the trees, it’s still a bit disconcerting to venture outside our tall wooden fence and down our little dead-end street where the most urban of settings imaginable can be found. I know one day, hopefully soon, I’ll get used to the louder cars, more abundant trash, and general “foreign-ness” of our new neighborhood. I would like it to become just that, our neighborhood, eventually. I look forward to this becoming our home, in addition to being where our lovely house is.

Rhetta and the old black man at Peet’s.

In Uncategorized on April 4, 2009 at 8:52 pm

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My best friend Rhetta and I had plans to meet today at The Container Store to get some stuff for our respective new homes. She was late, which was a good thing because The Container Store is pretty overwhelming and if you have the desire to be more organized but not so much the skill, it’s easy to get in way over your head in there and buy all sorts of things that are not really going to help you get organized, but will actually just make your house more cluttered because the stuff you bought didn’t work (the cutlery tray was too wide for your drawer, the baskets didn’t fit on the shelf like you thought they would). Anyway, it was nice to have a half hour by myself to stay focused and get what I had come to get. When Rhetta did get there, my basket was already full and so she handed over a 25% off coupon (something having to do with Oprah?) and we beelined it to the register so I wouldn’t get sucked into justifying any other purchases. Our plan was to then go on a hike with Clementine (my Border Collie) at what I hoped was a decent trail nearby. Since neither of us had been there, we needed a backup plan, so Rhetta yanked her iPhone out of her bag and started researching while I drove us to Peet’s Coffee so she could get an extra-dry cappuccino to take the edge off of a bad night of sleep.

While I was talking to a friend I ran into at the coffee shop, Rhetta leaned against my car, still furiously working the iPhone. A few seconds later, she threw her hands up and let out a growl. I saw her walk over 10 feet or so and lean into a bright blue Ford Fiesta parked in the handicapped spot. She chatted for a minute then leaned back out, laughing and doing a little “oh, you go on now” motion with her hand and then lean back against my car. When I asked her about it later, she said when she got all frustrated, the old black man in the Ford Fiesta had called over to her: “Don’t let it get to you, baby.” And because Rhetta is Rhetta, and because Rhetta is southern, she couldn’t help herself from going over and chatting him up a bit. I don’t know whether it was a sweet old man calling her “baby” or the extra-dry cappuccino, but her mood brightened up quite a bit after that.

Zen and writing.

In The Book, Uncategorized on March 31, 2009 at 3:01 pm

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I know that if I spent as much time writing fiction as I spend reading books about writing fiction, I would be much further along in my currently non-existent writing career. But it’s so much easier to read about writing than it is to write, I can’t help myself. Plus, whenever I read something good about writing, I feel completely inspired to….well, okay I should say “write,” but it’s more like I feel inspired to be a writer, which does absolutely ZERO to improve my page output.

However, I don’t think it’s a total waste of time. I do learn things about the craft. And sometimes something even better. My most recent something better was from a book called The Intuitive Writer by Gail Sher, a Zen Buddhist, psychotherapist and poet. I bought it years ago, but picked it up again recently when I started my 5am writing thing to see if there was something in there that would inspire me to actually get up and not hit the snooze button. I read it little by little during my bath each night (it’s a little book with tiny chapters, often only a page or two long) and found this passage particularly helpful in my current (perpetual) angst of feeling like I’m not creative enough, that every story has already been told by someone else and/or that whatever story I dream up is only vaguely interesting, even to me. Anyway, here’s the passage:

“Despite its reputation for descending in spurts, unannounced, in ill-begotten flashes, geniune inspiration is very ordinary. Actually, becoming inspired is not something that you do. Through patience and self compassion, it is something that you allow to happen. It comes from settling down and accepting your blankness, which is not shameful…Our enemies are not stupidity, lack of talent, dullness (though these may be their facades). Hesitation and disinterest are the true obstacles to clearly hearing ourselves and our world.”

Hesitation and disinterest. Yes and yes. Ouch.

So what I’m trying to do with my little morning writing time is to show up with my novel open on my laptop and cultivate not just an interest for my work, but a love for it, even its flaws and shortcomings. I think if I could fall in love with my work (and with the blankness that I sometimes bring to it), I could start making progress. I’ll let you know.

Cook’s Illustrated.

In Uncategorized on March 28, 2009 at 2:44 pm

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I received my last issue of Cook’s Illustrated yesterday. Though I really, really love the magazine for all its food geekiness, they pissed me off recently by using an old-school technique (a la those cheesy “Rockin’ Hits of the 80s” music clubs): they sent me a cookbook that I hadn’t ordered and didn’t want, along with an invoice asking me to pay for it. I straightened the situation out, but was so mad that their “we’re just regular folks doing some cooking up here in Vermont” schtick was a sham, I wrote the editor, Christopher Kimball (he hasn’t written back) and did not renew my subscription. Anyway, this last issue was so full of juicy little tidbits that I thought I’d pass a few along.

•Baking soda does absolutely nothing to deodorize your refrigerator.

•When marinating meats, longer isn’t better. “Because marinades don’t penetrate deeply, a lengthy soak is pointless. Furthermore, too long a soak in an acidic marinade can weaken the protein bonds near the surface so that they turn mushy—or worse, can no longer hold moisture and dry out.

•Even a tablespoon too much or too little flour can have an impact on cookies. The dip-and-sweep method (dip measuring cup in flour and sweep off excess with butter knife) is a good way to measure correctly.

•In their test of cookware sets, a Wal-Mart brand, Tramontina ($144.97), came in a close second to the perennial and super-expensive favorite of at-home chefs, All-Clad ($699.95).

•Our local chocolatiers make the best-rated chocolate chips: Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips

•Precrumbled cheeses (blue, feta, etc.) cost 50% more than their non-precrumbled counterparts.

There’s also a recipe for what they call “Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies” that I’m intrigued by because they say the cookies come out “crisp at the edges, chewy in the middle, and full of rich toffee flavor.” Doesn’t that sound, well, perfect? I’ll report back.

Disappointment.

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2009 at 6:19 am

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When I saw the word “despair” in the title link to Paul Krugman’s latest column in the New York Times, I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty. And after reading it, I felt exactly what Paul Krugman suggested I would: I was disappointed in Obama and it didn’t feel good. My immediate response after I finished the article was that I needed to send it to Obama and show him the error of his ways, suggest he admit he made a mistake with Geithner and get someone new in there, quick. Though ridiculous, my gut response shows how weird and layered this relationship I have with Obama is. Rather than feeling like he’s the leader (father) of our country, he feels more like my child right now. I feel at once protective of him and like I need him to always do the EXACT RIGHT THING so I don’t feel disappointed in him (and, of course, so that the Republicans have absolutely no ammunition). Also, as a side note, I’m wondering how he has time to go on ESPN and pick his brackets for the NCAA tournament? Anyway, I’m hoping it’s just the extraordinary times that are causing me to feel so strangely maternal about the president. I look forward to when this fiscal crisis is over and I can start thinking he’s smart and hot again.

Moving.

In Uncategorized on March 19, 2009 at 8:35 pm

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I counted it up and I have moved 24 times in my life. Let me repeat: 24 times. And I’m getting ready to move again. We’re moving for very good reasons: we’ll be saving $700 a month. Our daughter will have a tree swing and a full-size bedroom. Did I mention the $700 a month? Anyway, it will be fine in a few weeks, but right now, as I sit here at 8:15 pm and look at my dining room full of broken down boxes waiting to be tape-gunned and filled, I can’t quite make it happen. I know it needs to happen, and I know I just need to get in there and get shit started and it will happen, but right now I’m feeling a bit paralyzed. I hope this passes. Soon. In the meantime, a few tips for moving:

1. If you must pack yourself, Trader Joe’s is a great source for boxes. Call in the early afternoon, ask for the “closing manager” and tell him or her how many boxes you need (or rather, tell him you need as many as they can set aside, all sizes, especially the big ones that toilet paper and paper towels come in). If all goes according to plan, when you arrive the next morning at 9am (that’s when they open and that’s when you should get there), the boxes will be waiting for you.

2. Don’t buy your packing tape at one of those UPS or FedEx Kinko’s stores. I stopped in the UPS store this morning trying to save time and they wanted $8.49 for a single roll of packing tape. What? I went a few blocks down Telegraph to our local hardware store and got them for $3.29 each.

3. Be ruthless in your purging. I passed on the Warren Buffet quote the other day, but even beyond that yardstick, just really be honest with yourself: Are you saving this long-untouched thing because a) you’re too lazy to gather it up and take it somewhere to donate it or otherwise get rid of it; b) you think you’ll need it someday; or c) you’re not sure you’ll need it someday, but it seems wrong to get rid of it? Here’s what you do if you’re at all ambivalent: get rid of it. Just do it. And if you live in San Francisco, here’s a woman who can make it really easy for you. I promise that you will feel better without the stuff.

The word from the Fed.

In The Outside on March 18, 2009 at 9:57 pm

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My husband and I just got back from a talk by a senior economist at the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, Mary C. Daly. It was titled “Understanding the Current Economic Crisis,” which is a lot to promise for an hour lecture, but the woman held her own. The big takeaway? Most of our previous recessions have been “v”-shaped: a sharp drop in GDP followed by sharp rise. The current recession is looking more like a big, shallow bowl: a long, slow descent down (bottoming out at the end of 2009), followed by an even slower rise (not picking up significant steam until 2012). While the thought of this strife continuing in full force for another 9 months isn’t pleasant, it was somewhat comforting to see her dotted line actually start inching upward when so many people are feeling like there’s no relief at all on the horizon. As we handed over the $25 to the babysitter when we got home, it felt like we were doing our part to keep the economic engine churning, albeit ever. So. Slowly.