This blog is welcome to anyone and everyone, regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. Unless you don't like writing short stories or smelling bear. Or if you voted for the other guy. Also, I don't really like it when you leave up the toilet seat, so could you stop doing that? Muchas, muchas gracias.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


The toughest changes in life seem to come from nowhere, to happen abruptly, kicking us into some strange future. Luckily, most changes aren't tough in this way because one thing leads to another, which leads to another, etc. and we can look back and figure out the why and the how of it, and the universe seems to have a sense of order.

But I want to talk for a minute about transitions in prose, because the art of the transition is the art of the short story (one of my creative writing teachers told me this -- I can't remember who). Transitions are tricky to write, and I love them above all other devices. They transport the reader from paragraph-to-paragraph, scene-to-scene, season-to-season, and year-to-year. The transition imitates a change in time, place, or circumstance, just as fiction imitates experience. Good ones do their thing as if by magic because the reader doesn't know how they ended up somewhere new, nor do they notice that they got there.

Here's an example of a rough transition:

Meanwhile, back at the ranch. . .
This kind of transition draws attention to itself because it's abrupt and familiar. We recognize it and we become conscious of this recognition and there goes what we'd been nurturing all along: that we were immersed in some version of life other than our own present. As a result, a bad transition is slightly "traumatic" for the reader.

Which, here: I've been reading Deborah Eisenberg's new collection called Twilight of the Superheroes, and she's killing me with her beautiful transitions. In the following excerpt, she moves us from a character's thoughts about a man who pursued her and who she withdrew from, to her thoughts about having move out of the room she's renting because the couple who rents to her will need the room for their baby:
The brilliant autumn days graded into a dazzling, glassy winter with skies like prisms, and then spring drifted down, as soft as pale linen. She painted her room a deep, mysterious blue.
Most apparent in this is the pretty language. But to get deeper here, note the words that convey changes and what's ephemeral/ubiquitous, such as the past-tense verb graded, which goes so well with the word "prisms," the refraction of light, the rainbow, the gradual gradation from red to orange to yellow to green, etc. We're effectively transported through time via the seasons, but we're also transitioned into a new mood or tone because Eisenberg takes us from images that are superficial and hard (dazzling and glassy) to softer, less definite images, such as drifted, pale linen, and blue.

My purpose in telling you this (besides pointing out a skill that I admire and want you, my beloved readers, to know about) is I guess to say that if a writer puts a lot of effort into her transitions, whether or not her subject matter is easy, she's doing her utmost to love you, the reader, because no matter what she puts you through in re: imitating life, she's not about to imitate a tough change on top of that. In other words, while on one level you're reading something that imitates life, a transition has just a little less to do with the story being told and more to do with the reader's actual experience as they sit there in their easy chair or whatever, reading the story. As for me, then, I'm certianly no Deborah Eisenberg but please know that I'll do my best to demonstrate that I love you and to be attentive to your needs because your comments mean everything.

The Past

just ran over me today with its rough, heavy hooves. I spoke with a realtor. I'm selling my house.

In order to get to my house, turn off Highway Nine at the Bigfoot Discovery Museumand go up a steep hill, then turn left at the pink flowering dogwood. Follow the curve of the road as it narrows to the top. Just over the crest you have to drive slowly because there's an old black dog who sleeps in the road. The road is filled with potholes here. Then you descend another hill, at the bottom of which you make a hairpin turn. From here on out, the road is no longer paved.

From the dirt road you can see the red roof of my house, with its funny metal vent, the skylights, the chimney-pipe. My house is dwarfed by giant redwoods. I painted my house dark green, with red trim. The plants in the garden are now twice as tall as me and covered in flowers. Inside my house there's a dark blue woodstove to keep the place warm, a built-in desk, a stainless steel kitchen. Someone will buy this house, but will they realize its beauty?

A house is more than a house. For instance, there's a dog. She loves to play with the neighbor's dog. It's her house, too. This is a picture of a trail in the park down the street where I used to walk her. I don't know what will happen to her.

Nor do I know what will happen to the man who currently lives in the house. I've told him to get his hair cut. I used to cut his hair on the deck, which is half as big as the house. I've asked him to spend lots of time with his mother instead of staying alone in the house. I've told him to for god sakes treat himself with love, to allow himself to be sad, and to for once in his life ask for help when he needs it.

Over the last year I've tried very hard to let go of the past by actively distancing myself from the house and everything inside of it, animate and inanimate. Today, however, I allowed myself to remember some of the good things, and this was devastating. I hope that's okay. I hope it's okay to be filled with grief and concern. I hope the realtors understood why I was rude to them, and abrupt. There's no way to sell the house I loved in and lived in without trying, with all my might, to detach, and the only way for me to detach from love is to deny my feelings. Until they catch up with me and run me down.

Goodbye, house-in-the-mountains.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Online Dating: Angus!

I'm fairly new to the world of dating, but at Matty's suggestion I've decided to try the online version. It's fun to have a date sometimes, it can be good for the self-esteem, and I've met a couple of nice guys along the way. But it's not all roses, this dating thing. I'm 38 years old, and though I think I still look pretty great, I do have to face the fact that there aren't many single men in my age bracket. Still, though, I'd rather be gently turned down than forever dateless.

Well, one day, sent me an email saying that I had similar interests to this guy, Angus, a 33-year-old landscaper who was looking to date someone between the ages of 25 and 40. I checked out his profile. While I didn't agree that we were a match (Angus's reading tastes were polar opposite to mine, and he wasn't very interested in reading in the first place), I was pretty impressed by the pictures Angus had posted of a garden he'd redone.

I sent Angus a short email telling him that I liked his garden and that I'd transformed a vacant lot into an edible flower garden some years ago. Honest, I did it because I like to encourage people, and I thought Angus deserved a compliment for the work he'd done.

The next day Angus emailed me back. This is what he said:


Thanks for your email. I checked out your profile and you sound like an interesting, complicated, unique, intelligent woman. You do, however, have a lot of competition from the younger ladies who currently are still available to me at my age. As a result, I would be a distracted and innattentive partner. You would not be happy with that. I must conclude that I am not a good match for you at this time therefore I wish you all the best in your pursuit for happiness and success.



Suddenly, I felt OLD. And predatory. A predatory old crone inappropriately chasing after men half my age! Or rather, an old woman who, because she was perusing a dating site at her age, stank of desperation! Which, I don't think that's me at all! But lordy!

Feeling sort of dumb about the whole thing, I forwarded Angus's email to Matty, who made up a reply for me (one that I did not send but that made me laugh). Here's what Matty would have me say to Angus:

Oh, yeah! I'm sorry! I heard several teenage girls talking about how hot that guy from Match is and how they wanted to do him! I now realize that they were talking about you. And, just today I ran into about 30 mid-twenty-something females
who were trying to find a way to contact you so that they might have a shot at bearing your children. How does one cope with being so popular with the girls? I doubt that there is enough of you to go around! As a professional model I was on the phone with Tyra just the other night and we were talking about how damn hot you are. And, to think that I turned down a date with
George Clooney in hopes of meeting you! D'oh! Well, I have to fly to LA this weekend anyway. Maybe he is still available. Tho, I heard he lost his last girl to you. Best wishes and don't forget to wear a condom! We all know you've been getting around. Can't be too careful, Angus!



Anyway, if anyone out there is dating, just take it all with a grain of salt, yeah? Don't be discouraged! It's very difficult to meet someone you truly like, and in order to find that person you'll probably have to go on a lot of dates. So go! You'll make some friends along the way, you'll gain some confidence, and you'll know that you chose to give it a shot instead of waiting for someone to earth you up (which, that doesn't happen). If you choose to ask others out, you're cool and brave.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Russian Roulette

One year ago on this very day, I sat in my car at the top of my driveway, forehead pressed to the steering wheel. This was utter, utter despair. I considered running away, leaving my former life behind forever. I considered it, and thought, no. The very next night, I changed my mind and my fate and damn near ever'thing, and that's how I wound up in San Francisco.

To reiterate, last year my continent slipped into the sea. Bye-bye, glug. I didn't take a risk -- this was survival, pure fear. I followed my instincts and chose the best course. Thank you, biology.

Folks, no matter how careful you are, no matter how good your karma, your world will eventually turn inside-out like an umbrella in a windstorm. Nobody is impervious to fate's hurricanes. So how do we weather them? How do we find our way back to Auntie Em?

Well, here's what I've figured out (so far).

  • TRUST your instincts. If you are a woman, you're at an advantage here (I think -- don't mean to generalize on this point).

  • Be kind. To others and to yourself. Meaning, give yourself some slack. If you do, you'll find the best people you could possibly hope to meet. I did. Every time I think on this, I'm once again amazed.

  • Rely on your friends. I did. And first and foremost there's my best friend, G, who is the most loyal sister I could ever hope to have and who remains my best friend and (in my humble view of it) kin . She was there before that fateful day, on that day, and yes, after. Next there's my roommate, who saved my life for pure and unselfish reasons. She has a Phd in writing poetry, if you can imagine such a thing, and she's made it, she's lucrative! Unheard of! Then there's J who commiserated, made me laugh, boosted my self-esteem, and who has no fucking idea how much this meant to me in the long run. (Isn't he hot?)To sum up, it's okay to rely. Go ahead. You'd do the same for your friends, and you know as well as I do that you look forward to the day they cash in. . .

  • Have faith that things will turn out fine. You might as well. Look, I know how difficult this is -- when the worst happens, our minds tell us to prepare for more of the same. But believe me, you cannot begin to predict the worst. And you know, the worst rarely happens. Gamble on the idea that everything will turn out for the best. Because, here: if the world's hugest shit-ship docks at your port, odds are that there isn't another world's hugest shit-ship chugging along behind it. Expect the next vessel to be The Love Boat. So what if it turns out to be a Swiss barge full of cotton and styrofoam? If you expect the Good Ship, yo: you might end up taking some minute action that changes the course of things for the better.

  • And we know -- those of us who've watched, incredulous, as the worst happened -- that fate is in no way fixed. Remember The Great Depression? Me neither. Because, ha ha, I'm still fresh and full of life, like Mentos®. Still, I know that events can get múy fucked and that we might as well enjoy what's left of what's left in preparation for the possibility that fucked is a fluke.

  • Feel me?

    Wednesday, April 05, 2006


    As soon as I was old enough to babysit my little brother, my mom enrolled in college to get her R.N. degree. My father was a highway patrolman. We lived in a small blue-collar town full of taverns. Between traffic accidents and emergency-room admittances -- the details of which were often the dinnertime topic -- I became at once numbly clinical about and coldly interested in matters of blood and guts. While I did miserably in chemistry, physics, and math, I excelled in biology. The sight of blood didn't faze me, and I took pride in that. But violence and anger, a fight on the playground, would reduce me to tears.

    Fast forward, then, to my ex-, who'd been known to faint at the sight of blood and grew dizzy when confronted with a steak or a roast. This man I wound up with for a time was a hippy to his Buddha core. My parents adored him, but they were baffled by his eating habits; providing a rare steak at dinner time was the pinnacle of their esteem, and no matter how many times I explained that he couldn't bear the sight of red meat, the concept was so foreign to them that every time they made us a meal, the main course was always bloody.

    Like my parents, my ex- was fascinated with the biological world, the bone and gristle, the tooth and flesh of it. Which is one thing on the page. He loved to read books by Barry Lopez, Annie Dillard, and especially Gary Snyder, who wrote about discovering road kill and salvaging the pelts. Then, one foggy morning on highway one, we happened upon some very real roadkill we smelled before we found it -- a skunk. My ex- pulled onto the shoulder and cut the engine."Before you even consider what you're thinking," I said, "know that I am not going to skin this thing for you."

    He was working his hands into a pair of stiff leather gloves. "Just help me open the tailgate." He trudged off into the fog and when he returned, he was carrying the skunk by its tail. It had been hit clean, across the snout, its body whole and not flattened by a tire.

    From a distance, the smell of skunk isn't so bad. They visited our yard regularly, as did raccoons, stray cats, lizards, and mice. When a skunk sprayed in our vicinity, we shut the doors and windows. But the skunk we transported that day reeked. It's funny how you get used to a thing and it doesn't seem so bad.

    We got the skunk home, and as I knew from the start, my ex- couldn't begin to approach it with a knife.

    And that's how I ended up skinning a skunk. I don't recall exactly how I was tricked into it; I know we had an argument that ended in a dare. Being somewhat competitive and a bit too proud, I didn't back down. Instead, I bolted for the local used book store to read up on skinning and tanning. Next, wearing a pair of surgical gloves and wielding a Swiss Army knife, I slit the creature from anus to throat and across the body from paw-to-paw, uppers and lowers. It was a smelly job and one that I completed alone while my ex- sat inside, nervously humming a tune and watching the Olympics, as present for me as he could be under the circumstances.

    The work wasn't grisly, as I remember it. Removing a pelt is something like peeling off a long glove or a pair of silk stockings. What lay beneath was a little shocking, but hanging from hooks in the markets of China I'd seen plenty of fly-covered bodies stripped of their pelts. I'd seen elderly women get into fist fights over the price of a corpse.

    So once I'd removed the entire pelt, I nailed it to the side of our shed to dry. I'd learned that in order to tan a hide and keep it supple, one need only take the creature's brains and smear them all over the raw side. But no, I'd had enough, and this hide was bound to dry out and harden. I'd proven my point. I was the tough one. He was the smart one.My ex- helped me dig a deep hole where we buried the denuded, tailless nightmare. For a year, the pelt stretched out on the side of the shed was a mecca for stray cats. For a year, the fur bleached out in the sun. And then we bought a house of our own and left the pelt behind.

    Now every time I smell a skunk I'm reminded of everything I've managed to avoid. I'm reminded that life is brutal.