#NightStandChronicle #TwentyThree #NewShortcuts


I was going to knock this out during my visit to San Francisco for Litquake, but time got away from me there, or my passions for all kinds of things NorCal got away from me there, and what I accomplished wasn’t a blog post but getting through a really good novel in three days (“Today Will Be Different” by Maria Semple; heartily recommended by this reader), drinking and eating great food (that I can still taste past the age of 40, so age isn’t always a sentence, folks), watching baseball in bed, hatching all kinds of new plans longhand, and listening to people talk about books without apology or in clandestine tones.  Ok, maybe they don’t talk about books in clandestine tones in San Diego, but I would be hard-pressed to discuss books in San Diego unless I lived in close proximity to Warwicks (which is where I got the Semple book, btw, and at the airport location; San Diego airport knows how to define the city in its airp0rt, delightfully) or the Central branch of the San Diego Library, and I don’t live in close proximity to either of those.  There are so many wonderful second-hand bookstores in San Diego, but only one of them seems to have an optimistic proprietor; the rest of them I love more for ambiance than the dialogue I have with the cashier.  I wish San Diego was less comic and more literary, but I suppose that wish fulfilled would bring about a copy-cat culture more than distinction, and, roaming about today after a month-long banishment to Carlsbad because of rail construction, I found I missed San Diego almost as much as San Francisco.

The San Francisco trip was a little marred, too, by how continually the tech giants up there continue to polish the turd.  Some of us liked our City slightly foul, worn, or bohemian:  as Anthony Bordain would say, the hipsters are great about bringing back the dark meat in chicken salads, but the gentrification of neighborhoods might not be worth the trade-off.  Whether this was an authentic refuge or not, I sought that refuge in museums.  I thought I would find it in the Litquake panels, and, while I have to stress that I love Litquake because there’s a discussion about books, something didn’t sit right in the content.  Then I got back home and read Marlon James’s Piece on why he’s done talking about diversity, and when he got to the explanation of cities with the most issues having “festivals” where panels talk about this stuff but local governments do nothing with the panel content, I knew I had reached across to an understanding in my discomfort.  Is this going to keep me away from Litquake?  No.  Will it keep me away from San Francisco and Oakland?  Hell, no.  But he named what I couldn’t, and I have to seriously consider where my own work goes, and how women’s literature interacts with the mainstream stuff and how it interacts with the literature of other minorities and how we have to make it ALL mainstream, and make these panels, as James says, obsolete.

Enter Steinem.  What I’m reading right now, that is; while in San Francisco I bought other books besides the Semple novel; but to save on space in my urban version of Monster (a lovely Timbuk2 duffle that converts to a backpack; yes, I’m enough hipster to get the irony) from the movie/book “Wild” I packed most of the souvenirs into a UPS box on the last day and sent them home, which included all of the books but Semple’s.  (Side note:  Semple stayed behind in the hotel room on purpose with my monetary tip for housekeeping; seemed appropriate given the reason for the trip.). I figured on two things:  I have the New Yorker as a Kindle subscription on my phone and Compass Books is in SFO (more book shopping!).  So the Compass Books find was Steinem, a choice I only regret in that the guy I had to sit next to on the plane called her a loon.  Vacation’s over, Jo, I thought when he said that, and felt sad.  I took a women’s history class at university as a history minor, and I understood that she was considered a radical, but so far everything I’ve read in the memoir “My Life On the Road” is pretty mainstream these days for more of the population than when she was promoting it.  And…as I pointed out to the guy on the plane, she might be considered a loon, but…she’s a damn fine writer.  At the end of the day that’s what it boils down to for me; this book is less propaganda than lessons in how to listen; learning that she learned most of her approaches to equality from leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. makes me wonder at why she’s still insisted to be a “loon.”

Perhaps this lack of understanding makes me a “loon,” too.🐒

*****

Since I’m a baseball freak you have to know that there would be coda on the World Series on this post.  This is probably the best World Series I’ve seen in years, and that’s saying something considering I’m a Giants’ fan.  These teams are so evenly matched that when you do mistakes in play you see humanity; I just watch these three- to four-hour games barely breathing.  Pitchers are my weakness; when the scores are within hairs of each other I find myself strangely wired and exhausted after the game, wanting more.  Pitchers Miller and Chapman are mostly responsible for this reaction, and while it feels like a cross between drunk and high I can’t complain.

Who am I rooting for?  The Cubs, a-course.  That drought is serious.  🐻⚾️ And, National League, people.  

#NightstandChronicleEleven #WhyIWrite

  
I returned last night from what is apparently (as long as I am employed and can afford it) a yearly pilgrimage to San Francisco to attend events at Litquake.  If you don’t know Litquake, allow me to explain:  it’s a week-long festival celebrating books and writing across the City and sometimes even bleeding out beyond to the Bay Area in general.  It’s a chance to talk shop for those of us who don’t have folks to talk shop with in our places of literary exhile, and it’s a chance to hear how we could leap across the chasm and maybe get published like the fine folks on the stage.  There’s also lessons that branch out beyond writing, the addresses to aspects of humanity, and I’m patient with those ideas and connections, but I have to admit that I am selfishly there for the writing.

Sadly, I’m selfish in other ways as well; with my living situation I do my best to have four to five days of privacy.  I tried to break the rules on that this time by trying out a hostel (it was on the bucket list), but that didn’t work out for reasons too long to go into here, so I found a cheap but air conditioned chain hotel to stay in on 5th and Mission, directly across the street from the San Francisco Chronicle.  The hotel balanced between the neighborhoods of Union Square and the Tenderloin, but I found that more inspiring than frightening.  I would go out in the mornings and sit in the window bar of Blue Bottle Coffee and people-watch.  Not all of the people were beautiful.  That was a relief.

Why would I not meet or talk with other writers while I am circulating a writing and reading festival?  Keep in mind, I was not a monk; one of the attendees to the reading/panel I attended on Thursday night visited with me briefly outside of the Contemporary Jewish Museum.  It bears repeating:  I went to listen, and I went to write.  If I ever publish a book my publisher will probably hate me, for I will be the wallflower scribbling off to the side instead of attending the book launch party.  I have the desire to write, not to talk and socialize, and if there is to be talking and socializing involved, someone else will be sharing (not utilizing me as a therapist, but sharing), and not me.  I share by asking questions and seeking to know more.

Today I’m re-assembling myself from the trip:  doing laundry, taking care of tasks, finding places to put the books that I bought while I was in a nest of independent bookstores.  I’m also processing things on paper, sorting my notes from the trip and adding more thoughts.  I happened to hop on social media for a little social time and found today to be a day where everyone is stating why they write.  I write because writing is the way I best connect with the world, writing is the medium that I find the most comforting.  I write because I know that my social skills aren’t great, and that I am tired of trying to fit in.  As a writer, I can create a world in my genre, which is described by the world outside as snooty literary but described by me in this world I’ve created as the stuff that strives to go one layer deeper.

I write to know that I’m not alone…even if I’m the only person in the room.

#NightstandChronicleNine #Bookworm

  
Since there’s a “No nails in the wall” clause in my sublease at home, I am utilizing my work desk shelves (every cubicle has one) to build a bookworm.  At first I thought I would do it just for the summer, but I got carried away with cutting out the circles out of multi-colored cardstock and now I have no choice but to make a never-ending worm, one that in the wild would rival the lifeforms of the tree groves and mushroom patches in the forest.  I added three more books to the links this month:  “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, “Life After Life” by Karen Atkinson, and a re-read of “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg.  I try to read the Goldberg book every year, and sometimes I succeed.  Reading books on writing helps me to keep the pen moving.

Currently I’m almost invested in three books and the articles in The New Yorker, a sad fact that nothing is probably going to light me up for a while after “All the Light We Cannot See.”  That book is my favorite of all time, a declaration I have never been able to say before, and a distinction I’m still getting used to.  Curse the writer that makes a masterpiece look easy and read easy; now I don’t want to read anything ever again.  Still, I’m trying.  In addition to The New Yorker I am also trying to read:

  • A biography of Flannery O’Connor;
  • “The Book of Unknown Americans”
  • “Some Luck” by Jane Smiley

Smiley is a full-circle read–I saw her latest in the racks at the Carlsbad library, I met her four years ago at Litquake, and I’m going to Litquake this year.  I don’t want to repeat history, but I find joy in seasoning the present with it.

*****

Speaking of writing, I’m steeping in my writing side lately.  I’ve found that I am a better person when I do, like remembering to take vitamins and get enough exercise.  The average human is obligated to perform several bodily functions to keep from breaking down, and writers can add scribbling to their list.  At least, I can add scribbling to my list, or I get crabby and emotionally constipated.  (It’s okay if you say the analogy means I produce shit as a default–enough shit produces flowers and fruits on the farm, so I can take the analogy a step further.)  Since the weather has been hellish, and I am trying to save for a trip to San Francisco in October, I’ve been staying away from the usual San Diego jaunts and writing at an air-conditioned Starbucks on weekends.  So far it’s a lot of organization and sorting, but I’m calmer, and I’ve even got some creativity squeezed in.   

Here’s to expanding on that with the timing of the next post. *raises iced coffee in a toast*

#OnTheSurface #NightstandChronicleTwo

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I suppose that a girl could hide all of these things in a reading site like GoodReads, but I prefer to hash these things out just free form, an open letter, and maybe drifting to a variety of different topics.

It appears that I have given up the library ghost for a just a little while; I’m desperate to read the books I’ve brought here with me and that I’ve picked up along the way.  This stack is the current adventure—a little baseball history in the Kearns Goodwin book (yes, I miss my beloved sport already, sad sack that I am), and a little sazerac history (among other exotic libations) in “The Curious Bartender.”  The last book is more fitting for a coffee table than a shaker and spoon set, but I’m intent on working my way through it.  The photographs and large type are just as enticing as the knowledge, and most of mixology is over my head, so I’m just treating it like the fine arts:  wash over me, dear potable potent, and fix me for my existence in the world.  The first book was a portion of wreckage that I managed to salvage from the last trip to San Francisco during Litquake.  I’m not sure what didn’t fit about that trip, but the bundle of books that I brought back from the collection of the independent bookstores helped to ease the pain of ill-suited shoes and the rest of the abrasive parts.

The Kindle’s still got “The Sportswriter” open (chapter 8, so I’m moving, but luxuriating in it like a hot bath).  While I have finished the Obama devotional, I have started an inspirational tome called “A Year of Writing Dangerously,” a mixture of devotional, how-to, and light-the-fire-under-the-pants-of-the-writer that one sometimes needs.  I welcome a cheerleader, even the vague ones.  There’s also The New Yorker, as always, on there, and some Austen novels because I was lost without her.  Us girls need that level of well-articulated romance, and it wouldn’t hurt you fellas, either.

*****

Since this is my personal blog, and even though I have some coworkers who have access to it, I suppose I should also write of writing struggles, which right now are mostly at work.  When I first started at this job I was pretty much operating on a blank slate; there were certain expectations (a very small list of low ones, but, nonetheless expectations) that came with it, but everything else could be crafted by my creative self.  One of the goals that I set for myself, since this was a company who seemed a bit in the dark about what a WFM does (if you need to know, I would encourage a good Google session), was to send out a weekly correspondence to everyone who had a schedule and a supervisor with a description of how WFM could help them as employees and how attention to their WFM performance could help them with getting the shifts and compensation that they wanted.

This practice went pretty well, and it was a rare oasis in the generally bleary aspect of my workweek, for it was a communication that many people were grateful for.  Somewhere along the line, though, I was encouraged to stop doing it (“you have bigger fish to fry, hon”).  I could pinpoint when this pivot occurred, but implicates the people trying to change the direction of the sinking ship themselves, so I left off.  My heart ain’t been the same since.  Turns out it wasn’t the rare refuge, it was the only refuge.  I have, at least in the workplace, been told to sit down and shut up.  You know, since I was at the very least good at it… “we can’t have that.”  Even my emails get corrected by the hour; one minute they are too aggressive, and the next minute they are too spineless.  There is no coaching of how they SHOULD read, just… “don’t write like that one or that one.”  In essence, I find myself thinking that I should remove the pearls from the swine and save them for…here.  When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a…well, you know the line.  Bad or good writing, here it is, for anyone or no one to discover, criticize, but NEVER SHUT DOWN.  And, I have a professional blog on the subject of WFM on WordPress as well, just there for the same reason.  Reason.  Not much of that around me these days.

It should be noted how culturally alone I am.  Sometimes it’s defined as culturally lonely, sometimes it’s defined as cultural solitude.  I’ve had a lot of time off in the past two weeks, and when I am anywhere and writing I can forget the alone part and feel as if I’m binding with something, somewhere.  Social media gets a lot of talk on that same premise; I have heard more than one criticism on a daily basis of each social media site I use.  They are, of course, from different people.  I have to admit that Twitter is my favorite—it’s the closest to my heart—but that may just be because I’ve found a way to follow and talk to like-minded people.  If someone I know isn’t on Twitter I’m cool with that; I also keep my other social media sites in hopes of keeping contact with a wide variety of people.

A wide variety of people is what I have found in my life.  Some of them are vastly self-promoting.  Some of them are full of quotes to inspire me.  Some of them love music, baseball, San Francisco, food, and cocktails, too.  I try to cater to as many of them as I can; not much happens in my life, but I try to take pictures, even of the mundane, so that I can keep my foot in the door.  I’m learning that affects people differently.  And, in the silence of the past two weeks, I learned that a) a lot of it is undesirable, and b) no one’s reading much of it anyway.  So maybe more it stays in a journal or in my phone memory.  The world can try to tell me to shut up, but I have a tendency to keep talking anyway.  It’s my audience I’m learning now, instead.

Speaking of audience, there’s a little blog that I follow called the “concrete weblog” on the Internet.  I used to hang out with its creator and writer in San Francisco, and for Christmas this self-same writer and creator wrote me a verse on the blog.  It was a lovely verse; if I was a proper kind of poet or had studied the poetry requirements better in university I would be able to tell you the format, but I’m no less grateful in my ignorance.  In answer to the verse, I miss my City too.  I miss walking out the front door of my apartment and greeting my neighbors coming back from their tai chi at the Park and turning the corner and finding an orange bridge on the horizon.  I miss walking two blocks to the bar.  I miss having sixteen options of mass transit to get around.  I miss Thai food, Chinese food, Indian food, tres leches cake.  I miss hearing languages spoken:  Korean, Spanish spoken by Chinese, Chinese spoken by Spanish, Russian, Tagalog.  But mostly I miss not having to write to feel less lonely.  I miss not having to write to lack solitude.

Happy 2015.  My exile continues.

#Setting

Last weekend readers were treated to? assaulted by? a whole string of posts from me, and the reason was simple:  I was back where I write best, in a land happily lacking in chain restaurants and box stores, in San Francisco.  I made a point during that visit to save some time out for just sitting with the notebook or sitting with the portable keyboard to generate some remembrance of the trip on paper or in cloud, the best kind of souvenir in my estimation, next to photos (and I don’t tend to overload on photos, either, as many of them start to look alike after a while).

Does setting matter to a writer?  I know that when I lived in San Francisco I had a more difficult time staying disciplined; even before the departure became evident, I behaved as if my days there were numbered, and even if I had a had a blank book and a well-inked pen with me I didn’t do much writing outside of group work or unemployment.  There was that, and the haunting factor of truth in Hemingway’s statement that you tend to write better of a place once you’re not in it:  he wrote better of Paris in Michigan, and better of Michigan in Paris.  You would think with this philosophy that it would be a piece of cake to write a baseball novel set in San Francisco while living in northern San Diego County, but in actuality it’s on par with dealing with pain sober instead of dealing with pain drunk.  The pain may still be there in San Francisco, but it’s dulled by the City around me, and I can set it aside there and sit in a cafe that can only be found in one place, where I’m sitting, instead of six places in five square miles, like a Starbucks.

Sooner or later, though, reality dictates that I have to return to the desert of chain coffee and Costco, and that reality means I try to bring back experimentation with me.  In my immediate vicinity there are two cafes of a somewhat independent nature, and I tried them to write in.  They suck.  I realize that’s not the lyrical or articulate way to get my point across, but the statement sums up my disappointment best:  Starbucks is better than they are.  All businesses here in Carlsbad are used to making the West Coast palatable for the average foreigner or Midwesterner, so any art attempted at their tables is strange and disconcerting, and then there’s the vibe that the cafe gives off, one of being Starbucks but charging more because it’s not Starbucks.  (I should note that there are establishments in Encinitas or the village of Carlsbad that would be suitable, but I’m nowhere near these areas and some of them house the closeted crazy…and yes, I’m aware of how that reads next to a trip to the Tenderloin in San Francisco.)

So, I save money and heartache and went back to Starbucks this morning.  Finding regulars helps, especially regulars who read paper newspapers (the audacity!), or the artist that I’m lucky to see from time to time who brings in a top-bound spiral sketchpad the size of a cafe table and a toolbox covered with cartoon icons full of oil pastels and draws like we are in the Haight all morning.  He must be the oldest hipster alive or Diebenkorn reincarnated, but he’s here in Carlsbad at what I call the Legoland/Costco Starbucks and I’m not picky–I’ll take him.  I scratch out baseball randomness and he draws in green.  But he doesn’t come every weekend day so I have to make my own magic most days.

There is another option, one that doesn’t have jump-up-and-down appeal for me but I am considering anyway, and that’s to write in the neighboring park.  I say “neighboring” pretty liberally; in order to get there by foot or car you have to drive about 3 miles around suburban sprawl, even though it’s right behind our condominium complex.  (Carlsbad insists on environmentalism in some pretty convoluted ways, very few of which involve decent mass transit to offset car travel.)  But that’s my exercise for a vocation where I’m sitting on my butt for most of the creative process, and the walk helps me generate ideas. The visits wouldn’t cost money like a cafe, and they would be outside in the fresh air, sitting at a concrete picnic table, listening to parents of children’s sports cheering them on.  It’s not a bad park.  It’s a mind-shift, though.  No thick, ceramic cup of cappuccino, no biscotti…instead a recycled metal water bottle and the occasional possibility of a snake or seagull poop drop.  Zadie Smith admonishes us that there is no writer’s lifestyle, and it’s just a matter of moving from the caffeine addiction (which, yes, isn’t good for me anyway) to a water and trail mix addiction, blended with sunscreen application.  It’s just that shift.  Can you write anywhere, Jo?  Or do you need the set design of A Movable Feast to make it happen?

#October18

I made the reservations this morning for the shuttle to the airport tomorrow, my heart sort of bruising in the process. Gotta happen, little girl, I whispered to myself as I hit the sidewalk, and I knew it was true.

Other things I knew were true this morning: I couldn’t spend the whole day in a turtleneck (since I was going to wear a t-shirt back to the dear old desert tomorrow) when it was already too warm at 7:30 am; I couldn’t wear the boots anymore and would have to wear sandals around the City; I was going to have to gross people out with my feet. If you have read Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild,” then you have a pretty good idea of what I was exposing my City to. I thought I could hide things with some strategically-placed Band Aids, but that “waterproof” claim they have is a load if you have water blisters. Just cluing you in, in case you ever bring wishful clothing on a trip and it tries to hurt you.

So, sandals. So, ugly feet. So, probably not Litcrawl, but I wanted to take some significant amount of time with my writing anyway. I don’t get to do that back in the desert; I get the general impression you’re not supposed to be a writer in SoCal, unless you plan on writing movie scripts. I may have been able to do quiz night at the bar and watch baseball and hang out with my writing group in San Francisco, but all of those things clash like chartreuse and puce in the desert. Or, if they don’t, they are certainly working hard to give me that impression. I’m grateful when I don’t have to give up one slice of me for another slice of me.

First thing’s first, though: Philz’s Coffee, and then another t-shirt. I donned my Stone Brewing Co t-shirt (insert of visual scream of “I’m from San Diego” here) and then headed out to find another Giants’ shirt. Might as well go back victorious. Along the way more books, mint coffee (you would think those things wouldn’t agree either, but they do), and a visit to the Tropisueno taqueria.

And now I’m back in base camp.

It’s an early start to the airport tomorrow, and I have miles to write before I sleep. The hotel room has no A/C, but if I sit relatively still then I don’t sweat. Back to the desert, but, as Dani Shapiro would tell me, that’s where it’s easier to write. Mebbe so. I’m hoping to learn that without giving up too many of my other slices. I’m hoping to learn that even though I’m not writing a movie script.

#October17

Yep, a day late and a dollar short. Story of my life.

It’s amazing how stubborn I am. Upon my arrival and all the way up to this morning I was insisting it is colder here than San Diego. I insisted on wearing my boots. I insisted on layers. I insisted on fog. Fog jilted me, probably angry that I’m only home twice a year and withholding, the bitch, and the boots were hot and melted the skin on my feet like wax. I won’t post a picture; let’s just say my pinky toes LOOK angry. And I mean furious. As I write this they are hosed in Neosporin and weeping like cranky toddlers.

But yesterday I was still in boots and determined to comb the City for cheap, which meant very little mass transit and a lot of footwork. I breakfasted at a neighboring cafe and then walked to Grace Cathedral. To the disappointment of many in my life, I’m not religious, but I’m a sucker for churches, synagogues, and other places of worship. I walk into these places with the ready knowledge that I probably won’t encounter a band of raucous hoodlums. (Hang tight; that becomes relevant again later.) My favorite sacred places have usually been missions, but there’s a Greek church in San Diego County that can take my breath away. Grace and I go way back; I saw it for the first time back when I lived in Sunnyvale and trying to bounce back from a broken heart that I thought would level me (and maybe it did just a little). It was Christmas. Cathedrals are extra intoxicating at Christmas when you’re alone.

Grace currently has some kind of ribbon installation hanging from its rafters, and because I like the romance I didn’t Google or research the whys or wherefores. It’s stunning to look up into it, a blatant reference to the glory of an Almighty somewhere, and He and I had a bit of a conversation while I lowered myself into a pew. Part of it was me accusing Him of hiding out in this space and him calmly (of course calmly, does God shout, or need to?) stating I wasn’t looking hard enough for Him out there. I explained that the burning bushes in the desert weren’t revealing Him. He admitted that He had been there, done that, but I could try other places. Love the vague look, God, and my apologies for rolling my eyes.

From the ribbons I headed down to North Beach to sit with the Italians for a bit–a different kind of sacred. There some longhand pages happened, a visit to City Lights happened, and then back to Market to hop an N line to my previous home. Hot, still. The Inner Sunset, hot. I could have wept, but I had promised in my own vague way to look for God in some sort of detail, so I got off the N and went in search of another bookstore, Green Apple on the Park. That was a straight-line sell to live there again if there ever was one; I hadn’t had a bookstore in the Sunset for nearly six years. More books procured (my luggage is going to be so heavy), and then Paxti’s, and then back to the hotel to peel off the boots and watch cartoons until a Litquake event down by my old workplace.

The bonus to finally venturing out to a new neighborhood for my hotel stay, as I’ve written before, is that I get used to a whole new set of rules and a somewhat different City. Okay, “get used to” is a strong phrase–maybe “am exposed to” would be more apt. For instance, I’ve never ridden the 19 Polk bus, a route that runs from Beach Street in Fisherman’s Wharf to the Navy Yard. I couldn’t have dreamt up a more diverse collection of words and their hidden meanings than that route. And the passengers on that route didn’t disappoint in the definition of “character.” A woman who had to be 60 if she was a day, wearing a nun’s habit and cursing in a sermon-level volume insisted that she was pregnant. I tend to grant these folks two things: wide berth and benefit of the doubt (didn’t I just ask God to show himself earlier in the day? Maybe this was His inclination). When she got off the bus, however, two friends who rode that line on a regular basis shook their heads and chuckled at each other. “Wonder if she plans on delivering soon,” one of them said. “She’s been saying she’s going to have that baby for two years now.”

Okay, welp, God maybe having fun instead.

*****

Later, after the Litquake reading I attended, I felt like I fit into Mother Swear’s Seminary. I don’t do groupie well, which I learned at my first Litquake in 2011. I tend to be too quiet, but I don’t know what to say in the presence of really stellar wordsmiths. Still, I got a book signed by the most excellent Andrew Sean Greer, best known for perfecting a Fitzgerald premise in his Max Tivoli, and a writer willing to read something he was working on instead of reading something he had already perfected (although the work-in-progress was more perfect than all of my drivel). He noted that he was working on it in Italy, where it poured out of him, and then he came back here and he was back to writing in slog mode. “But that’s writing, too,” he insisted, looking deep into the crowd, and I knew he was right; I KNOW IT TOO DAMN WELL.

God showed up anyway, then, even if I got all awkward in the realization.