Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Accountability

From my Google Hangout log, it would appear I don't switch up my company a lot. Also, I guess you have to wear turquoise to be in my writing group?

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Man. Science. Thank goodness for 2014, because technology is saving me by keeping me connected. Not everything about my life is beans right now (yep, still trying to make beans happen...) but one thing that I enjoy wholeheartedly is my tiny writing group with these ladies. We chat online using Google Hangout once every other week. On the off weeks, one of us sends pages. That works out to each of us sending pages every six weeks. How cool is it that I can have a writers' group in my house in my sweat pants? It's amazing, is all I'm saying. We've been doing this since about January and I already find myself wondering how many days it is to the next one all the time.

I'm pretty busy with reviewing and, you know, m'full time job, but this is great for the other aspects of my writing. Having a writing group makes me stop to make time to write short fiction, too, so I'll have something to share when it's my turn. The six week deadline doesn't sneak up on me too soon, and so far I've been able to fit it right into my insane schedule of responsibilities.

Today my work was on the table, which still makes me just a tad nervous. Even though I knew I was in good hands with these ladies, I sat down at my computer in the minutes before and triple checked that I had paper, a pen, a copy of my story... I suppose I was looking for security in having the right office supplies. (I'm still working at my card table in the corner. Loving the space; hating how much it shakes.)

It was so good.

I had them read a story today that was probably the most personal thing I've ever written. It was fiction, but the kind of fiction that my friend Jenn-Anne says has the heat of truth underneath it. The kind that I can probably never send out to get published, honestly. But the kind that I had to write. And pushing myself to get things on the page that I'd never say or that I never would have allowed myself the freedom to write even a couple of years ago made my work better. I could feel it.

No, I'm not sharing it here. I'm sorry. And I mean it about not submitting it. But I have the kind of job where I just have to know that there's a line, and some things can't be out in the world.

But as much as it challenged me to write with complete honesty, today's workshop pushed me to be ten times better. I've known for weeks that I found my people (heck, I think I've known what kind of people these ladies were to me since early on in my MFA program), but being in a group that's such a good fit feels like it will push me to continue to stretch myself. Today I really felt that in practice. And I was reminded of dancing with other, better dancers, or creating curriculum with other, better teachers. The back and forth of a good group of people who want to help you improve and create your best work is invigorating. I lurve that.

Also, I don't mind hearing Faye pronounce the word dawg in her New York accent.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Solo Sunday in SF

Sunday I drove to San Francisco. Alone. Just because. No real reason other than me wanting to see things I haven't seen and wanting to be somewhere other than my couch for the day.

Between the time change and my insomnia, I was out the door early and had the road entirely to myself. I pressed play on Marissa Pessl's Night Film and cruised. Since I was in the city pretty early, I took a little hike (emphasis on little more than hike) down the Lands End trail to the ocean. It was beautiful and peaceful and silent. The views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the entrance to the bay are stunning.

I was having a great time until I realized that maybe being alone in the woods at the bottom of a steep trail wasn't the best plan. I turned around and hightailed my patoot back up the hill to the Legion of Honor, where I'd parked. About ten steps up, I looked at the steep climb and remembered some things: I live somewhere flat; I am not super active; I have basically the lung capacity of a small lemur. So I was already all 'fraidy and then I was all gaspy from the not being fit, and by the time I made it back up to my car I felt like I'd exerted enough energy for a whole week. Ta-da, PDawg.

So that was enough exercise. Please, someone, go back to San Francisco with me and hike this trail for real so I can enjoy the views without the constant fear of Stabby McRaperson jumping out of the thick brush to attack me and then toss me down into the sea.

After that jaunt I drove over the de Young to see the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit. It's a smaller exhibit than some of the others I've seen there, but I was looking forward to seeing her work. And since I was one of the first people in the museum, I felt like I had that all to myself too. You know those benches in the middle of the gallery that nobody uses? I could actually sit on them--just sit--and look at paintings for as long as I wanted to with nobody standing in front of me. Bliss.

Best thing about the G.O. exhibit: Seeing iconic images close up. Learning more about her work, including the impact of her husband's photography. I had no idea that his photographs affected the development of her work, as well as how it was collectively received when she first showed it. It was really interesting to see the different phases of her art in a collection, too.

Best thing about the G.O. exhibit #2: The giggling old ladies in front of the most yonic paintings.

I just enjoyed myself at the museum so much. I wandered. Stared at whatever I wanted to stare at. Thought about what a cool thing it is to have a creative impulse. And I got that thing again where I just felt in awe of a piece of art because someone remarkable painted it. I dorked out over being that close to paintings I've seen on prints and calendars for years and years.

After I left the museum, I spent some more time dawdling near the Music Concourse, watching people do T'ai Chi and just enjoying the sun. Please, Lord, let me be the kind of old person someday who wants to move my body, and does not give a single fuck about doing so in a public place. Rock on, old people of Golden Gate Park. From the park I drove over to Trouble Coffee. Home of the toast, if you read that great essay on Pacific Standard. I wanted to stop, but the place was packed and there was no parking to be found. So I looped back around by Ocean Beach and then headed over to meet my friend Pia.

Pia took me to lunch at Park Tavern right next to Washington Square Park. We ate all the pancakes. And we ate all the deviled eggs. And we drank mimosas because we are friggin' ladies. It was divine. Pia had a luxurious and rare day away from her little one and I got to pretend that I was a person who goes places and does things. Just too good for words. She walked me over to City Lights bookstore, I bought some new books, and we parted ways. Then I headed to the Mission to meet up with my friend Megan for another drink at Beretta.

Megan and I shot the breeze and I tried a new tequila (mmm!) and eventually she needed to take off. I spent a little bit more time checking out the Mission area. I hadn't ever seen much of it before. But I found 826 Valencia and Dolores Park. And really, a whole lot of everything. More wandering. More just being happy to be somewhere, seeing things.

The hours flew by. I'm such a cliché, and I don't even care. I'm lucky I live so close to such a remarkable place.

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Thursday, March 06, 2014

Blooms, Shakes & Blocks

If well-behaved nine year olds had frat houses, they would look something like my house right now. I came home this afternoon to Henry in his sweat pants in the living room, and pages of math homework strewn from the couch to the front door. He was surrounded by clothes he'd taken off after school, stuffed animals and blanket, some National Geographic Kids magazines and an open Harry Potter book. He was balanced atop his bean bag chair on top of the couch, and he was using a nubby pencil to cross some things off in his binder. I felt like I was interrupting something personal.

The air smelled vaguely like peanut butter and little boy socks.

It's spring even though it's too early to really be spring and we never had a winter. The kids have taken to leaving the back door open each afternoon so the cats can wander out and gnaw on the fresh grass in the backyard, and today when I went out to retrieve Twinkle, I noticed that my peach tree is already blooming.

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That right there is jam.

I had a busy day. I'm trying to spend more time with my grandparents when my life gets hectic and stressful; I always feel better after I see them. I think because of this I've seen grandparents on both sides on the same day two weeks in a row. Work life has been kind of tense. I visited Grandpa near my school on a break today and then stopped off to see Grandma in her convalescent home after work. I'm finding that these regular connections pull me out of my anxiousness about things that don't really matter. It was good to see everyone and catch up. And just for good measure, I decided to join my mom and dad for ice cream tonight. My other grandma was going to be there (with Grandpa, who I saw this afternoon--are you confused yet?) and I figured I'd round out my visits with parents and complete the grandparent set. I'm so lucky that everyone lives close.

And the kids certainly didn't mind round two of ice cream at Leatherby's, a local creamery. That's right, I took my children to the same ice cream restaurant two nights in a row. No shame. Yesterday was Henry's birthday and he chose it for dinner. Tonight was a fund-raiser for their school and my mom wanted to take them there again. So yeah. We did that. And I had my second chocolate shake in as many days. All ice cream errday.

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Making short work of his birthday shake.

Henry has been slightly emotional about this birthday this year. Last night after dinner, we came home and it was pretty much time for bed. I found him in his room waiting for me with a stern look, and the instant I asked him about it he did a big gaspy breath that cracked. He burst into tears. He had been holding on to an idea that being nine meant he was too old for a few things he loved to do. We had a talk; we sorted it out. It was fine. But I think it was the first time that he thought about getting older. You'd think that would come later than nine. Apparently not in this house.

All is not lost, though. He spent all of his free time tonight (pre- and post- milkshake) in the middle of a giant pile of Legos. He was sad that we had to leave, even when he knew he was getting ice cream out of the deal. I can't say it bothers me too much to see the mess when he's in the middle of it, building, or even that he needed his mom last night. I kind of love it when he's still a little kid.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Abstruse


I've never spent much time thinking about Ash Wednesday before. Lent, yes. Shrove Tuesday pancake dinners, sure. (Anything in the church bulletin was studied carefully during the last ten minutes of every sermon during my preteen years.) But Ash Wednesday didn't feature as prominently in my Methodist upbringing as it does in other variations of Christianity. And as I grew older I wandered toward churches with looser ties to mainstream historical denominations, and I also wandered farther away from the kind of traditions that mark a liturgical year.

Those ceremonial elements of church interest me more, though, the older I get. I started to feel like lack of denomination meant detachment, not being rooted in history, or in traditions as a safe places to ground the too-big feelings. In churches with shallow roots, I began to miss the very things I'd dismissed as stuffy when I was a kid. Hard wooden pews. Stained glass. The smell of a hymnal or old building and the groan of an organ. And rituals. Rituals give us chances to mark time, but they also give us words when words fail. I come back to that idea now as a result of my academics, actually. My faith now wants to be a mix of history and stories and that smell of old books. Giving love, asking questions, feeling compassion. And marking joy and loss with tradition.

I think for that reason, I liked the tension in Sara Miles' memoir, City of God: Faith in the Streets. Miles is a pastor in an Episcopalian church in the Mission District of San Francisco. The book focuses on her experiences over a single day--Ash Wednesday in 2012--as she takes ashes to the people on the streets. As I said in my review last month for The Los Angeles Review of Books, Miles writes with refreshing honesty about her faith. For her, Ash Wednesday is about faith in messy and imperfect bodies. She questions even the ceremonial act she undertakes, and her own ability to do that second most important commandment: love her neighbor.

Yesterday Henry wanted to know about Ash Wednesday on the way to school. Today is his birthday, so he saw the holiday on the calendar. Five minutes and two miles isn't long enough to explain liturgical seasons and Lent and references to sin and the reminder from Genesis that we will all return to dust. It took K an hour or so to walk me through the Catholic version before I wrote the review, and I'm still driving around a copy of Catholicism for Dummies in my car. (For red light Vatican reference emergencies.) Faith, and the ceremony surrounding it, is complicated. Abstruse was the word I came to, when pushed by my editor to move away from "complex." If your reference point was Facebook, you might think that Lent meant forced dieting, a spring kick-start of carb and soda and curse word restriction, rather than a period of solemn atonement. Or maybe I'm missing something and the best way to know God really is to be temporarily Paleo. Maybe cavemen were closer to Jesus because they didn't eat grains? It just makes me chuckle how this all shakes out in the social media world of 2014.

I don't pretend to observe Ash Wednesday. Only to say that I've been thinking about it with respect today. Miles' memoir was thoughtful and honest in a way that made me consider my own faith. And also, the two ideas that Ash Wednesday seems to represent, as best as I can cobble together: reflection and acceptance of our mortality. Being reflective about my behavior--taking ownership of my actions--that's just something I could stand to do a little bit more of. And perhaps it's morbid to think about your death, but the other side of that is gratitude for the life that's in front of you.