#TheAwkwardInBetween or #EmpathyOnEitherSide

This is awkward me, a fish out of water in Northwest Ohio, in 1990:


I was a fish out of water because I read The New Yorker, my favorite author was Dorothy Parker, and I was a farm girl, although I tried to fit in by wearing acid-washed jeans and filling in as the school mascot at basketball games and wrestling matches occasionally. (Go Panthers!)

This is me, an awkward fish out of water in Southwest Missouri, around 1998/1999:


I was awkward in Missouri because I was an independent who mostly voted Democratic, because I was a Unitarian, because I loved literature so much that I was throwing away thousands in student loans to study it, and because between semesters I still worked in agriculture (cattle ranch), although I tried to fit in by bleaching my hair platinum and riding a scooter and not telling people what Unitarians believe.

This is me, an awkward fish out of water, in the Alamo Square neighborhood of San Francisco, 2005:


I was awkward because folks with less computer savvy than I had were calling me Amish because I was from the Midwest, because I didn’t know how to order a burrito, because I was white, because I still loved literature so much that it hurt (can’t seem to shake that one), because I believed in God’s love (Unitarian again), because I was an independent and therefore not Democratic enough, and because I was still a virgin at the age of 32.  I tried to fit in by dying my hair red and eating all kinds of exotic food and sleeping with men who didn’t value me.

In other words, I’m awkward everywhere.  I’m least awkward in San Francisco, but I’m still awkward.  I’ll not defend any of it; to Midwesterners I’m elite coastal, to coastal I’m a backward Midwesterner.

No wonder empathy is at a premium.

I make the joke on my Tumblr description that I don’t travel; I just up and move.  A constant pounding on my self-esteem has made that less of an action statement moving forward, but I read an article in The New York Times over the last week that restored some of my identity.  In the article, the reporter asked then President Obama about how books helped him survived the presidency.  He explained that books have always helped him in some form or another, because some settings he has found himself in have been “isolating.”  He described books as being friends when it was difficult to find the traditional definition.  He described an hour of reading nearly every night while he was in office as a way for him to slow down and gain perspective in a job that seemed determined to hit him rapid-fire.  He even spent a couple of years in college with only books as his social life, on purpose, and teaching himself how to write from reading great writers.

You don’t say, Mr. Obama.

Polarization is a given now, but I’m grateful for the chance to be awkward, to keep finding reading as an acceptable aspect of my personality, and to have that be something I don’t apologize for but encourage in others.  I’m a farm girl who loved the city, a city girl who misses singing Aerosmith tunes to the cows during round-up (beef cattle tend to prefer “Rag Doll” or “Dream On” from my experience; not big Armageddon soundtrack fans).  

I’m awkward in-between…aren’t we all?  Or am I the only one?

*****

Yesterday was the Women’s March series of protests around the world; and I have to admit I think we all needed that.  After all of the finger-pointing and polarization (see above) of the election, I honestly thought that maybe empathy wasn’t a part of the American fabric anymore.  But yesterday all kinds of folks showed up everywhere, on the coasts and in the rust belts, of all ages, ethnicities, orientations, genders, and all levels of awkwardness.  People who voted for Trump went, stating they wanted him to know he was on a short leash; people fighting all kinds of stereotypes went, voicing their distinction.  

So, in a sense, Trump did bring us all together; just not to back him.

Some media outlooks and cynics critiqued the events:  “What’s the point?  He’s still the president after you protest.”  All I could think of was the words of a Garth Brooks song from my Midwest years, right after the Oklahoma City bombing:


Sometimes that’s a good start.

Others ask us to “give the new President a chance.”  Fair enough, then my ask in return is this:  Where’s your line?  At what point will you be disgusted, too?  He’s bragged about sexual assault, he’s made fun of a prominent POW and a disabled journalist, he’s accused the last surviving leader of the Selma freedom march of “no action”…are you going to stop short of him assaulting puppies and children, or…you?  Where’s your line of “that was too far”?  He’s crossed mine; where is the one you’re letting him walk to so that I know when we’ll have your support?

Just asking…for a friend.

*****

Ok, if you made it this far, you’re ready for what I’m reading lately.  I’m still plugging away at the Finnegan memoir on surfing called Barbarian Days, and dragging out the last hundred pages because I am loving the narrative of this book.  You will still never catch me on a surfboard, but then I don’t need to surf to love this writing.

The New Yorker is still on the list, and yesterday the trains weren’t running so I visited the Carlsbad Library and checked out the latest Winterson book, even if it is Christmas-themed (I love her stuff just that much), and The Nix by Nathan Hill.  I shouldn’t have done The Nix; that one has holds and I only have it three weeks and the hardback is the size of a breadbox for Chrissakes, but…literature, shrug.  I’ll never shake it.  Me and the guy I voted for, finding friends in the pages.

In film I found some solace in the fight against a Holocaust-denier theme of Denial, a better understanding of Edward in Snowden, and I’m soaking up the last of Sherlock (ok, that’s not film, but close enough).  All the royal treatment on Netflix and Masterpiece/PBS lately has me hooked (that’s the history minor in college kicking in) as well.

And in the tunage department…still listening to Sharon Jones (because she’s alive as long as I keep her music playing, right?), Beyoncé, and Natalie Hemby.  If you don’t know Natalie go find her and listen to “Worn” from her Puxico album.  And there’s my Missouri coming up to the surface.

For now…doing my best to smooth in the face of my severity of awkwardness…take care.✨

#Gratitude and #GoodTaste


This isn’t a typical nightstand chronicle, although I’ll talk about books first and bury the lead for those who are fine with facing all manner of topics.

What I’m reading lately…Still working on The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro; I do not want this story to end.  This book and Alice’s rabbit hole seem to fit the year to a tee, and I want to make it last.  I have added a daily seasoning of The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times to my readings in The New Yorker.  All of this non-fiction/news is still in my bubble but is written in moderation…which I’ll dive into a little more here in a moment.

What I’m listening to lately…Miranda Lambert’s new album, Leonard Cohen in little slivers (sure, want it darker occasionally), and…the Hamilton Mixtape.  This Hamilton thing has been a blessing compounded on a blessing; first there is the history itself, then the book written on the history (a wry wonder of a thing that brings old to a surface of new), and then a musical written by a rhythm based on the book, and then a mixtape produced by a love based on the musical.  The marketing folks are releasing the album in pieces; every time a new track drops I am back at square one, learning the whole picture, learning more about myself, loving life a little better.

What I’m watching…I started The Crown on Netflix.  The first couple of episodes were rough going (I struggle with the baser side of bodily functions in movies and television), but I’ve powered through and am head over heels for the history.  The current episode I’m on is talking about the record smog that hit London in December of 1952 and…I’m fascinated with the thinly-veiled comparison to the climate change denial of today.

Which brings me to the meat and potatoes of this Thanksgiving post.

*****

This election was hard on the lot of us, wasn’t it?  Some of us got into it, others of us just counted the days until it was over.  And then it was over.

Something in that win immediately created an ending for me.  I was tired of smoothing over wrinkles.  I was tired of making myself available in a world of screens where I worked so hard to be available to everyone and where I was still lonely.  So I backed up a little.  I put Facebook away.  I find I can’t get away from Twitter or Instagram, but it’s easier to find something hopeful there.  And I read and write a lot more.

Alienation.  I was raised on a farm in the Midwest where the overwhelming literature was Reader’s Digest condensed books and Good Housekeeping magazines.  I have a mistrust of intellectual elites and a mistrust of the cultural opposite of intellectual elites.  I love things in moderation, and things created in moderation.  I love food with flavor profiles beyond sugar and salt, but when the McRib comes back in town I have to have at least one.  I rest in the middle of a cultural road where both sides are the dictionary definition of extreme.

I voted for Clinton because she wasn’t Trump when the candidate I really wanted is still in the White House.  I was willing to settle for Bernie, but Clinton was better than Trump.  I fell in love with Obama, and still love him, because he was a writer first.  I fell in love with his writing first; the first black President was just icing on the cake to me.  If voting for him and supporting him means that I’m an elitist, then I’m an elitist.  A writer in the White House was my dream come true, even if they don’t always have the best qualities for leadership (the working alone, the measured approaches sometimes too slow for critics to accept as progress).  I imagine that an entertainer in the White House is a dream come true for others (Reagan, and now Trump).  I had eight years of possibility and hope.  That’s gotta last me.  And that explanation has to last me.  If I’m alienated for the next four to eight years, then that’s a definition of a culture shift I refused to see.  That’s my fault.  That’s what I live with.

Do I find Trump in bad taste?  Yes.  I find him in bad taste because of his wild mood swings, his lack of humility, his shape-shifting opinions.  I am fully tired of his extremes.  He is all sugar, all salt, in a world of diabetics and heart disease.  He serves as a great fix for the moment, an instant gratification, a McRib 24/7.  He serves as a fix once in a great while, but his extremism poisons me, and how he got here poisons us all.  I need my vegetables.  I need ice cream with hints of vanilla and cocoa.  I need pumpkin pie that tastes like pumpkin and spice, not sugar and lard.

On the flip side, I don’t want to be criticized for how I love what I love.  If I’m crossing a T wrong or dotting an I with a heart, I get to have that foundation.  If my contribution isn’t intellectual enough, then maybe we can assume I’m erring on the side of compassion instead.  I’m a safe zone.  If it’s no longer safe to wear a safety pin, I won’t; but don’t be surprised if I question other trends or keep them.  My goal is life in moderation, so not too much in the head, not to much in the gut reaction.  

Good taste isn’t elite.  It’s moderate.  It’s not normalization.  It’s balance.  I’m grateful for any good taste I can find.

Happy Thanksgiving. 🦃🙏🏻

#NightstandChronicle #TwentyTwo #AfterYou


It happens more than one would think:  writer stands in shower or sits at table with toast and Twitter and starts the potter’s wheel of a blog post in her head, all detailed and neat and maybe with little strands of sparkle in it…and then someone comes along and bumps the camera, jars the table.  C’s become G’s and hearts flip.

‘Twas me, this morning.

I got up early because I’m in charge of the diabetic cat this weekend, ministered to him, made my bed, padded out to the living room with the Writer’s Almanac and a cup of green tea, threw open the doors and windows to cool the joint before hell visits us around noon.  I curled up in my wide chair with a soft blanket that the cat likes to make love to and turned on CBS Sunday Morning, which was a tribute to Charles Osgood.  I figured on poignancy.  I figured a few tears.  Sunday Morning got me through the transition from Missouri to Cali twelve years ago, homage to Charlie.  Ads were on, pre-trumpet.  I opened my Twitter app.

The first thing that hit me in the death of Jose Fernandez is what hit many:  to question a logic the universe doesn’t possess.  Why?  Well, shit, if we could answer that question, then we could answer why the Syrian photo boy lost his brother in the shelling that he was famous for…we could answer for Orlando, Zika, this ridiculous political season.  Still, it’s hard to dislodge from asking, over and over, why Fernandez?  Why kind of sick joke is that, fates?  The man attempted to defect from Cuba twice before he finally made it in 2008, but getting here involved him saving his mother from drowning in the passage and saying goodbye to his grandmother.  (If your sinuses need clearing, Google his reunion with his grandmother when he was first signed with the Marlins.). He was expecting his first child with his girlfriend.  And, probably how most of us became aware of all of this (because how else would we know stories like this of each other, particularly of the masses of individuals struggling to get to the United States?), he was an impressive starting pitcher, with a good humor that some other starting pitchers could use (Bumgarner, I’m trying not to look at you).  There is a GIF floating around the net this morning of a pitch to Tulowitzki in which Tulowitzki hits the pitch back to Fernandez, and Fernandez fields it so quickly and neatly that Tulo asks, “Did you catch that???”  “Yes,” Fernandez says around that grin of his (only one better was Tony Gwynn’s), “Yes, I did.”  But of course, Tulowitski; why are you asking?

So that bumped the camera lens.  I shut off the TV.  I sat with all the player condolences on Twitter, the news of the cancelled game (was Fernandez supposed to start today? No matter), and then the beginnings of people using this death as a reason to talk about a life in the evils of illegals…and that’s when I turned it off.  The polarization started, I knew what was coming next, and I needed to remember that grin.  The grin, the pitching, the fielding, all of which I wouldn’t have known without the rest of his efforts.

*****

Time to remember that guy by talking about other loves and passions than baseball.  

I finished Fates & Furies last week, and I normally mourn books that are written that well.  I normally don’t read for a while afterward.  But I thought I would try something new this time, read something I knew wouldn’t live up to the amazement I felt for the Groff book, so I picked up the Moyes sequel to Me Before You, a word play of a title in After You, and it’s been the best thing.  I think this “rebound read” has been even more enjoyable than Fates & Furies BECAUSE of Fates & Furies, like a literary pairing of two great tastes that taste great together.  (Huge fan of chocolate and peanut butter.  Huge.). It’s the best thing for several reasons:

  • It’s no Fates & Furies, and if it were I would probably off myself from the intensity;
  • The book is about the experience of being changed/challenged by someone and then of them walking away, leaving you with the judgmental/unhelpful majority of folks in your life.  I’ve experienced this twice since 2011, and it’s nice to have a novel that I can sit with and sort out this stuff with in some way;
  • Moyes has the capacity to make me laugh in some pretty unorthodox ways, like most British authors.

Hence, the “fluff” piece becomes the help piece.  I don’t know what’s after After You, but it may well be Olive Kitteridge, as that’s the story currently dealing me my morning compassion during breakfast on HBO after I finished Sonic Highways.

In writing, I am hashing out a short story of a strange collection of pedestrians called “Afoot”–we’ll see what becomes of that, but I’m losing myself in writing it, which I haven’t done since university days.  Regression ain’t always bad.

Movies lately have been re-runs, comfort viewing of flicks that I know won’t assault me with vomit but will help me believe in some kind of romance again, but for new stuff I’ve rented the original Magnificent Seven and have my sights on the remake.

Music is a hodgepodge of favorites lately…with the new Springsteen memoir I am listening to him a lot, with the recent binge-viewing of HBO’s/Foo Fighters’s series Sonic Highways I found my way back into New Orleans and country music (Nashville and Austin episodes), not to mention a dabbling of Nirvana (Seattle episode).  One of my favorite podcasts, All Songs Considered, has been drifting into a lot of hip-hop lately, so I am hooked on a British dude called L.A. Salami (that’s his real name) and Frank Ocean.  I found a video of the Dixie Chicks covering Beyonce’s “Daddy Lessons” in London, and have been abusing Lemonade and Not Ready To Make Nice because of it.

My next post may very well come from San Francisco’s Litquake literary festival, so I’ll part with this:  I’m cutting my hair today.  I’m also burying the lead on revealing that in case anyone who has met me or knows me in real-time reads this (unlikely, but ya never know), but it’s taking on its own symbolism:  a cross between a Tess of the D’Urbervilles reason and a method of starting over, a promise, a helping hand gesturing through a door held open by a beautiful man with a grin all over his face and a pitching arm of steel.

After you, Jose. ⚾️✨

#NightStandChronicle #Nineteen #LaMer


So for a while last week I was nibbling around on the Seven Killings of Marlon James and messing around with a freaky horse scribble by Gaitskill and they were innovative and moving and…then I bought another book.  (The other two titles were library loans by the way…I’ll go back to them when I am done with their interruption.)  The book is mainstream and smacks of Tales of the City for Parisians and it’s not cutting edge but sometimes…sometimes you just need a bright and sweet French dessert.  The Little Paris Bookshop is just such a dessert.

It’s got sex and lots of love and lots of literary references and rich descriptions of rich food and magic and I needed this book about six months ago.  Sometimes the soul is stubborn.  I probably could have bought this book six months ago and been healed of all of this hassle.  But books show up when I most need them:  not before, not since.📚

So I’m spending my independent Independence Day reading it.  Then we’ll go back to Bob Marley and the crazy horse.

*****

I spent nearly the entire day writing today, which is something that I haven’t done since my San Francisco writing group used to hold Saturday and Sunday writing marathons at a cafe in Duboce Park.  Those sessions were surreal; I always had to go home and ice my hand after (I was the only long-hand operator), but I burned through to the point where I would walk out smiling at everyone.  I’d take the N back to my neighborhood and get a repasado margarita at Pacific Catch and watch a Giants game and feel my soul shining like an empty drum.

Today, though, there was no light rail anywhere after, just a diabetic cat that needed his evening insulin and a leftover pesto sausage in the fridge and some sweet cherries for desert.  I still felt empty but for the first time not quite so lonely as I have since leaving the Bay.  That’s not to say I’m endorsing SoCal, but I felt as though I traveling through and not trapped for the first time in months.  I had put the phone away today, and wrote about legends that pass, even if the legends are just in a corner of the world and not global.  I was inspired by a movie that I rented for 99 cents from iTunes, a lovely little indie and romcom called Tumbledown.  I saw it last night and the legends idea hit me and I wrote half the night and all of today.  I didn’t care of the idea was gonna get tossed later, I didn’t care if it had been done before, I just played with fiction all day, not in a sense of working on existing projects but in a sense like I used to in college or in writing group.  Just get some magic on the page.  Just write something that isn’t therapy.

When I first moved to California in 2004 and lived in Silicon Valley, my brother and I would go to the ocean on the weekends:  him to fish from the rocks, me to sit at picnic tables or in the Jeep and write.  I had a collection of gel writer pens in jelly-like colors and I would listen to the soundtrack from Practical Magic on my pink Nano and write about wonder and how to keep it.  Today all I could think about was one of those fishing trips to Sonoma, just north of Point Reyes, where the Jeep was at a dangerous slope and I knew that if I tripped the emergency break I wouldn’t ever be homesick for anything ever again.  I was homesick for Missouri then, for knowing where stuff was, just like I’m still homesick for the Bay now, but felt that I could overcome with a bright green Uniball and Nick Cage.

The only thing in common with both that day and today was no social media.  I checked a Snapchat from a friend a moment ago, but other than that I haven’t touched the phone all day.  Reading, writing.  If I stay off the FOMO trip I feel more connected to that person in Sonoma.  I find more wonder.  The sweet cherries are better, the cat is more loving.  I pick up one of the Stabilos pictured above and the legend continues.  I would hate to give up social media entirely (after all, that’s where this ends up, too), but I don’t know how to do it anymore.  Maybe I do it a whole lot less until I figure out how.

Happy Independence Day, from whatever you are breaking from.🎆

#NightstandChronicles #Sixteen #DiscoveringPrince


This is the part of my life I call “catching up with popular culture.”

Questlove was on one of my favorite podcasts, Fresh Air, this week, talking about Prince and his childhood.  He talked about being duped by his parents into thinking classic rock was current stuff, and when he started elementary school the other kids and his teachers snapped him out of that quick.  I have a similar experience when something big happens in the music world; I was raised by parents and a grandparent who loved country, classical, and Tom Jones, so my experience with blues, hip hop, metal, and rock keep entertaining people.

So, confession:  my exposure to Prince was pretty minimal.  That’s the guy with the symbol for a name, right? I would mentally acknowledge, but I never listened to him much with the exception of “Purple Rain” (my favorite part of that song is the high notes at the end…some disappointingly shallow aspects of me admitted now).

Then Prince died and I decided to listen to all his stuff on my iTunes subscription.

Holy fuck.

(To be fair, the same thing happened when Amy Winehouse died.)

That playlist wasn’t enough, and I rented the movie “Purple Rain.”

Holy fuck redux.

So, yes, I’m a music moron, but imagine “discovering” this stuff later, with different references leading up to it, a discovery that lends a different flavor profile to this wine called Life than what everyone else has.  I may be a music moron, but when these geniuses dawn on me, they dawn bright and warm me fast.

Rest in purple, Prince.  Thanks for your cultural and creative permission slip. 💜

*****

As to what I’m reading and writing these days, now…

I am crawling through H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, because I can.  I open the book in bed or in coffee shops and read until the unbelievable prose draws me up short, like reins on a driving team, and then I re-read paragraphs, or look up and stare into the walls or out the windows around me, processing.  The writing is so good that I can’t even get to the stage of “wouldn’t it be great to write like this”; I just sit in a stupor, like I do with exquisite liquor or food.  I don’t want to fly goshawks myself, but if I’m to learn any lesson from this book it’s that if the writing is good enough it doesn’t matter if your reader wants to do what you’re doing or not…they’ll just appreciate your voice.

Which takes me to my writing (I’m reading other stuff too, but we’ll expound on those some other bright day).  For years I float in and out of these cycles of writing on what folks will read based on subject matter, and I’m painfully aware that my life is pretty quiet to be writing on.  But over the last few weeks, particularly after visiting a local piano bar and hearing a song from my days of moving from Ohio to Missouri (“Walking In Memphis” by Marc Cohn–I was just starting to get my musical sea legs) I felt was though I got the point that all of the self-help writing books spit at me:  write what you know.  The writing what I know will lead to writing about what I don’t know with somewhat of a foundation, so there’s no chance of resting in a comfort zone.  I need that support system of giving up my past in words, and I’m enjoying the process.  It’s more interesting for me to re-read, anyway.  So, H is for Hawk is another permission slip.  Hawks and Prince.  Who woulda thunk it.

Task time is freed up, too, because I don’t have to job search anymore.  The next phase is to work on getting published in some other form than this long-winded blog that you so generously spend your time reading.  That goal won’t stop the blog, but I’ll share where I’m headed here.  Hopefully it involves a better understanding of music.

Every day.🎶

About the List

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…when all the critics and the publications and even academies start naming the best stuff in the arts for 2013.  I love reading these lists.  Sometimes I start with these lists when I decide what to read next.

I hate making lists, however.  So this post may be the world’s worst list compilation.  I will try my best to just write on the list as art form, in sentences and paragraphs, but what may emerge is a list of my own–not intended but sure to occur.

Some of my favorite art is in list form.  Ambrose Bierce’s “The Devil’s Dictionary” is a great example.  On the music side, some greatest hit collections are fantastic, and sometimes simplicity does the job (“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Greatest Hits of George Michael”).  Some movies play like a list–I’m thinking mostly of documentaries at this point, but Wes Anderson films sometimes manifest themselves in what sounds like a list read out loud.  But I can’t do it well.  The list in of itself requires limitation, something I get enough of on a daily basis.

Every so often I’m asked by a friend or follower on social media to come up with a list of my favorite books, movies, music, writers, etc.  Somewhere in the requirement of the list there are the words “of all time” or “in your life.”  I back away from these requests and most others; when Facebook first started I was pretty faithful about it, but such loyalty tended to backfire.  I couldn’t keep to the number of items needed, or my answer changed depending on where I lived or where I worked.  When I get the question now I either pass silently on it or recommend that folks look at my GoodReads queue or Rotten Tomatoes activity.  When I find a music website that is similar to GoodReads and/or Rotten Tomatoes, I’ll probably refer folks there as well.  

All books, all movies, all music changes my life–even the worst garbage in the world.  V.S. Naipaul taught me not to waste my time with V.S. Naipaul.  “2001: A Space Odyssey” taught me that Kubrick was a genius, but I didn’t want to watch all of his movies in a marathon or I might go off the deep end.  I haven’t finished “Anna Karenina” the book, and never will, but the 2012 movie was a spectacle I didn’t want to miss.  

I love Springsteen, Saunders, Sloan, Cooper.  And, for clarification, that would be Bruce, George, Robin, and Bradley.  I tolerate more in some artists than others…I looked forward to Mel Gibson in “The Beaver” because of Jodie Foster, and while I completely dislike Henry James, I adore the writing of Edith Wharton.  There are few Francis Ford Coppola movies that I can sit through, but I love his wine, his Cafe Zoetrope, and his daughter’s films.

I loved the mindset of Steve Jobs…even though he was a jerk.

The bad and best…they both shaped me.  To make a 10-point list of them would be a display of mass confusion for the reader, because I am awful at lists and because it would include Bukowski right next to Jong, Garcia Marquez in the same breath with Hemingway.  

My discovery is delightfully my own.  But, if you want the short list:  I’m on GoodReads, Rotten Tomatoes, etc, and so on.