Thursday, May 29, 2008

Research crazy

I've been working on a scene for my historical novel that centers on a 14-year-old girl in a Pasadena, California TB sanitorium in 1918. Patients had to eat raw eggs and milk 4-6 times a day. (Think Rocky Balboa: all of this protein was meant to beef up those being consumed by TB, which was also called "consumption" because the body would burn itself out and waste away.)

Thank goodness for all of the databases available at our public/university library. So much information is at my fingertips. Of course there's the ongoing risk that I'll get happily drunk on history and have an oh-I-forgot-to-write hangover.

I just talked over the phone to a very helpful a medical historian at the National Institutes of Health. I had some questions that he was able to answer, such as: Would her family have visited often? Would she have been able to interact much with other patients? WWI was just coming to an end at that time, and I know some TB-infected soldiers were staying at Barlow: would she have been able to talk to them?

I recently learned this amazing fact: In the early 1900s, more than 80% of the U.S. population was infected with TB, and tuberculosis was the single most common cause of death.

Due to antibiotics, TB cases reduced significantly by mid-century. However, some TB hospitals continued in operation. My mom worked as a nurse at this one in the early 1960s.

Poetry, blogging and ape errata

I'm honored that the California Poet Laureate Al Young has posted the recent interview of me by Farideh Hasanzadeh-Mostafavi here.


Annie has finally posted again!


Planet of the Apes revelation: Monkeys Control a Robot Arm With Their Thoughts.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Marriage equality on a roll

A new poll indicates that now, for the first time ever, a majority of Californians support marriage equality.


California: Same-sex marriages OK beginning June 17.


New York to recognize out-of-state gay marriage.

Summer's debut and the youth fetish

Rio del Mar was stunning yesterday. There was a broad swath of beach to walk on, which I did for two hours with my friend Stacey and her sweet yellow lab who ambled along happily off-leash.

We talked about life and writing. We're both working on novels. Technically I'm her MFA thesis advisor, but we knew each other as writers and friends before she entered our MFA program.

We are both women who finally committed ourselves to this writing life in our 40s. We talked about how years of writing "practice" and living have made it possible for us to write what we are now writing.

The publishing world's focus on the "debut" (ugh, hate the snooty connotation of that word) novel of the young star is grating on me. I can't count how many supposed-to-be-brilliant "debut" novels I've checked out of the library, only to give up on the book after a 30 or 40 pages. The hype is obvious and grotesque. How many bios of seasoned writers begin with: X was born in 1948? But these young 'uns bios always begin: David Baby Author was born in 1982. (Why do these young authors always have two last names?)

Our society's youth fetish is not limited to pop culture. It permeates even the supposedly rich and complex world of the literary novel.

Most of the books that have meant a lot to me have been written by not only middle-aged people but old people (such as May Sarton, who wrote amazing books into her 70s and 80s).

Even though I'll never be a young debut novelist, I'm in no rush. As Stacey and I walked along the broad band of sand, we talked about the decades of our 40s, 50s, 60s--and if we're lucky, beyond--being time that will be filled with the richness of living and writing.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sex and the lezzie

Annie and I have always enjoyed watching Sex and the City episodes on DVD, and we're looking forward to seeing the movie this weekend with my mom.

Our lives couldn't be any more different from the lives of the characters in the show. We don't care about shoes or clothes. We don't even like to shop (although Annie likes it more than I do). We could care less about trendy things. I hate martinis. And parties.

We love Manhattan, but just to visit. And when we're there we go to the museums and walk for miles through Central Park and along the city streets in our sensible shoes--not to clubs or trendy places.

Those trappings of the show, while fun, aren't what make it so great. What makes Sex and the City good is this: great writing, rich characters, and humor that bumps up against poignancy. (One reviewer called the movie "existential haute couture.")

There are a lot of lesbians out there who love this show that features four very heterosexual women. Oh, wait a minute--there's the episode where Samantha boinks a woman, but she doesn't like it a whole lot. And there are several gay male characters. Still, the focus of a lot of the show is the woman/man mating dance, normally not a big feature of most of what I'm drawn to view or read. But Sex and the City has four funny, complex female central characters who are irresistible.

And now there's another way I connect with the show, albeit at a slant: Cynthia Nixon, who plays Miranda, has a woman partner, Christine Marinoni. Cynthia was married to a man and then one day it became clear she was with Christine. I love that Christine isn't in the biz. Sure, Ellen and Portia de Rossi are pretty to look at, but Christine looks more like the women I know. Meaning, women who haven't been gussied up by Hollywood.

Cynthia had basically been under the radar until her relationship with Christine was reported in the media. In one article, Cynthia says this:

I never felt like there was an unconscious part of me around that woke up or that came out of the closet; there wasn’t a struggle, there wasn’t an attempt to suppress. I met this woman, I fell in love with her, and I’m a public figure.

I like she doesn't insist that she was "born that way." Instead she acknowledges sexuality as fluid. There's nothing wrong with being a lesbian or a bisexual woman (or a straight chick who loves girls!)--so there's nothing wrong with choosing to love who you love.

Monday, May 26, 2008

It took me 3 seconds to register my support for equality

The office of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is polling reaction to the California Supreme Court decision overturning the ban on gay marriage.

Most of the response they are getting is in OPPOSITION to the court action.

To vote in support of the Supreme Court's decision on marriage equality:

1. call 1-916-445-2841

2. press 1, 5, 1, 1 (these really are the prompts to push).

After you've done this, please send it on to all supporters you know.

Inhabiting other worlds

Ana Castillo is coming to our campus in the fall, and I'll be teaching her new novel The Guardians.

So that means I need to read it in advance, which I'm doing right now. (I guess I need to read it in advance; I used to have a professor who liked to assign one book she'd never read so that she could "discover" it along with the students.)

I'm loving it. The voices are lively, powerful. The novel is told from four points of view: Regina (a teacher's aide in her 50's who is taking care of her nephew while trying to find her missing brother); Gabo (the nephew, who wants to become a priest but is hanging out with a gang-banger); Miguel (a teacher and acivitist and Lothario at the school where Regina works); and Milton (Miguel's crusty old grandfather).

The novel takes place in El Paso and grapples with things that happen at the U.S./Mexico border.

I love that the characters have opinions and social issues, politics, life. Of course are those who say Castillo's being didactic or political. But the multitude of voices and the art of her writing make it a rich read.

Besides, when John Updike's white male characters speak they are being "universal." But when Ana Castillo's Chicanas and Chicanos speak, they are being "didactic." Sorry, I don't buy the straight white male point of view as automatically universal. I relish inhabiting Rabbit's world; and I relish inhabiting Regina's.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

New poem (revised)


The first Christmas without your mother
thousands of blackbirds darkened the sky
as we drove out of Turlock toward home.

While the radio intoned another
holiday song, crowds of cows bent their lithe
necks to tight water troughs. Brown

horses drifted behind a fence. The blackbirds were
uncountable. They swooped like a massive wing
to the trees, lining the edges of winter-gray limbs,

a child’s primitive drawing of birds perched .
Turning off the radio, you extinguished
the singing beamed from the ether, a rowdy hymn,

then pulled over. We stepped into the silver
dusk. The persistent birds flickered and stirred,
a black agitation of animate leaves,

some whirl of shadowy life. Leaning against
the fence we watched, half waiting for a synchronized
lift-off. Two horses came to the fence from

the cold pasture, leaned their heads into our hands.
We received white puffs of breath, their fur
stiff beneath our fingers. An ebony cloud,

the birds finally lifted in concert, hovered,
then landed again in the trees. Your mother
once was a child in a farm house nearby. Now

her body lies in the black ground in the town
graveyard, buried four months ago after two
years in bed. You told me the other day you

don't know what to do, who you are--now
that your mother is gone. Now that caring for her
is an energy unfulfilled. Now that breathing

is easy. The miracle swirl of birds lifts
again, swoops, then alights. Then again and again,
as though now a habit. The horses are getting too

joyful for our touch. It’s time to leave this slow
town, to weave together the remnants of holiday
in our warm home. Driving the dusky road,

we see at the town limit two men hauling oranges
to their truck, done for the day. We stop, keep
the engine running and buy two bags, just for the glow.

Friday, May 23, 2008

21st century teaching

My grades are in! I remember the old days, when we had to pencil them carefully onto a form and submit them in an envelope to the campus police department. Now submitting grades is all online, of course.

I much preferred when I taught at U.C. Santa Cruz where there were no grades. Those were in the hippie-hangover days when UCSC had no grades, only "narrative evaluations." Now UCSC requires both (a grade plus a paragraph or two describing the students' achievements), so it's a lot of work for the professors. At SJSU--where I teach now--it's always been the same: traditional grades.

Of course, now students can "grade" their professors at Rate My and on the teacher ratings spot on myspace. Every once in a while I venture over there to see what students are saying about me. Generally, the comments are positive. Sometimes it's clear I've rubbed someone the wrong way and that student grabs her/his power and posts an anonymous rant about me. (That's inevitable, I suppose, given how many hundreds of students I teach each year. Annie says I shouldn't bother going to the site, but it's kind of like not trying to not look at the remnants of a car wreck as you drive by . . .)

Once someone posted a bunch of homophobic things about me on Rate My Professors (like, "Don't take her, she's a disgusting lesbian!") but those comments must have potentially been libelous because they were deleted. I doubt Rate My Professors wants a bunch of lawsuits thrown their direction. Not that I'd ever consider bothering to spend my time that way when I have novels to write. (Besides, pointing out I'm a lesbian might send all the queer students and their allies my way, which I love.)

I used to be a heterosexual teacher, back in the old days, when I was teaching high school and married to a man. I was young, in my early 20s, and sometimes boys would ask me to their prom. I don't think they got it, that I was the "authority figure." In those days I used to mention things about my life (something like having gone to a concert that weekend with my husband) to "connect" to the students. Of course I hadn't thought about the fact that I was presenting myself as a heterosexual. I was just being "natural." Being "natural" now can have its backlash. Some students don't like lesbianism presented as natural. However, I continue to do so, my student evaluations be damned. (And, here's the kicker: they aren't damned. I do get some virulently homophobic students, but they are few and far between. Most students are either neutral or very happy to have a queer teacher.) Of course, if I ever share any of my writing with them, I'm outed right away. I mean, really, look at the cover of my poetry collection.

In the old days (the days of big hair, big earrings, and fatly-belted dresses), I wasn't only a straight teacher, I was the young teacher. I once got asked for my hall pass. At age 45, I'm very aware of how those days are long gone. Funny how when I told my students the other day that they needed to give me a self-addressed stamped envelope if they wanted their final papers back those under 25 said, "How do I do that? Where do I get stamps?"

I think they imagine that when I was an undergrad I chiseled my papers onto stone. Close, actually: I TYPED them. Onto onion-skin paper. Unless, of course, the professor didn't allow onion-skin paper. A ban on onion-skin paper sucked; while it was so thin it could easily get crumped in the typewriter roller, that was minor inconvenience since it was erasable. If I had to use regular paper, I had to grapple with sticky, wet, messy Wite-Out. It was hard when you'd waited until the last minute to do the paper because you'd have to blow and blow on the Wite-out, impatiently getting dizzy-headed as you waited for it to dry. No matter how long you waited, though, the letters typed onto Wite-Out would be blurry at best, and blots of illegible ink at worst.

Then I never would have been able to imagine today, the 21st century, the era of papers written on computers, grades submitted online, and queer teachers who don't necessarily have to be closeted.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I have a Republican hero!

I find it fascinating that a lifelong Republican is at the helm in making marriage equality happen in California.

He's 68-year-old California Chief Justice Ronald George.

According to this article in the San Jose Mercury News, George said that writing the 121-page ruling was the toughest in his career.

In the ruling to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage, George "relied heavily on Perez v. Sharp, the equally historic California Supreme Court ruling outlawing a ban on interracial marriage in 1948.

"He insists California's constitution dictated the outcome, not life experiences. But he acknowledged his experiences on social issues flavored his judicial thinking, recalling a trip with his European immigrant parents through the segregated South in the 1950s. There, he was first exposed to 'whites only' bathrooms and drinking fountains.

"He does not believe it will take as long for the country to follow California's lead on gay marriage as it did with interracial marriage, which was not endorsed by the U.S. Supreme Court until 1967.

"'I think some of it is a generational phenomenon,' George said of the social divide over same-sex marriage. 'I don't think it will take 19 years this time.'"

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I think I'll be the groom

When I went onto the county government website to find out how to apply for a marriage license, I discovered the pervasiveness of bureaucratic heteronormativity.

One of us needs to be listed as the "groom" and the other as the "bride."

See for yourself, noting the part I highlighted at the end:

Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

The California Supreme Court ruled on May 15, 2008, invalidating the provisions of State law which require marriage to be only for heterosexual couples, as violating the California constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws. Although the Court issued a writ of mandate to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, it also remanded the case to the Court of Appeal to issue an order consistent with the decision. The decision becomes final in 30 days unless that period is extended by court order. We will be able to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples when the California Court of Appeal issues an order. The forms, Application for Standard (Public) Marriage License, and the Application for Confidential Marriage License are forms used locally by the County Clerk-Recorder and have been modified to reflect the Supreme Court’s Decision. The new forms will be available on this website early in the week of May 19, 2008. However, the forms, License and Certificate of Marriage, and the Confidential License and Certificate of Marriage are regulated by the California Department of Public Health – Office of Vital Records. California state law prohibits the County Clerk-Recorder from revising or modifying these forms. Parties to the marriage would need to decide which party would enter his/her information in the Groom's Data and the Bride's Data. The preprinted information on the marriage license forms should be unaltered.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bigger worlds

Annie and I have set a date: July 27. Yes, after 14 years we're tying the knot.

I suppose this means we'll actually have an anniversary date. We've gone around and around about that over the years. At first we thought it should be at the end of January, the month we met. Then we thought it should be in May, the month we moved in together and made personal vows to each other on the beach (the primary one being that we would never squelch the other person, always striving to make each other's world bigger).

For those keeping track, yes we committed to each other just 4 months after we met. In stereotypical fashion, we fit the lesbians-renting-a-UHaul-on-their-second-date profile. Fortunately, we ended up liking each other once the Big Buzz mutated to, well, love.

When we married on February 14 four years ago, we figured that was our anniversary. How sweet, Valentine's Day and all that. But we never seemed to do much on that day. Since we're not big Valentine's people (not being thrilled at having corporate America's trinkets as symbols for our union), the anniversary fell by the wayside.

So now, July 27 it will be.

We're going to have a small ceremony (about 30 guests) at the beach in Santa Cruz followed by dinner at one of our favorite Santa Cruz restaurants. Just our style, relaxed and understated. Intimate and fun. Beachy and low on the stress.

If I think I don't look like a total dork in any of the pictures (to be taken by a wonderful photographer and good friend), I'll post some here late summer.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Alice Walker: Build alliances based on Truth

There's an amazing piece by Alice Walker in The Root. Ostensibly it's about Obama vs. Clinton, but it's much more than that.

She begins by painting a picture of what it was like to live on a Georgia plantation (she was born in 1944):

"My parents and older siblings did everything imaginable for Miss May. They planted and raised her cotton and corn, fed and killed and processed her cattle and hogs, painted her house, patched her roof, ran her dairy, and, among countless other duties and responsibilities my father was her chauffeur, taking her anywhere she wanted to go at any hour of the day or night. She lived in a large white house with green shutters and a green, luxuriant lawn: not quite as large as Tara of Gone With the Wind fame, but in the same style.

"We lived in a shack without electricity or running water, under a rusty tin roof that let in wind and rain. Miss May went to school as a girl. The school my parents and their neighbors built for us was burned to the ground by local racists who wanted to keep ignorant their competitors in tenant farming. During the Depression, desperate to feed his hardworking family, my father asked for a raise from ten dollars a month to twelve. Miss May responded that she would not pay that amount to a white man and she certainly wouldn't pay it to a nigger. That before she'd pay a nigger that much money she'd milk the dairy cows herself."

She then talks about why she supports Obama, and while a lot of what she says swirls in a complex way around race, class and gender. She points out, for instance, that Obama isn't the only one with a "racial heritage"; there are clearly certain benefits to whiteness that are the invisible elephant in the room.

While she would "adore having a woman president,"

"my choice would be Representative Barbara Lee, who alone voted in Congress five years ago not to make war on Iraq. That to me is leadership, morality, and courage; if she had been white I would have cheered just as hard."

Walker also addresses the differences she has with Obama--indeed, with most American politicians:

"I want a grown-up attitude toward Cuba, for instance, a country and a people I love; I want an end to the embargo that has harmed my friends and their children, children who, when I visit Cuba, trustingly turn their faces up for me to kiss. I agree with a teacher of mine, Howard Zinn, that war is as objectionable as cannibalism and slavery; it is beyond obsolete as a means of improving life. I want an end to the on-going war immediately and I want the soldiers to be encouraged to destroy their weapons and to drive themselves out of Iraq."

While she calls the fact that Obama is a clear contender a "miracle we are witnessing," she calls on us to "build alliances based not on race, ethnicity, color, nationality, sexual preference or gender, but on Truth."

She also offers a kind of pragmatic optimism at the end that speaks to me deeply. She says:

"Even if Obama becomes president, our country is in such ruin it may well be beyond his power to lead us toward rehabilitation. If he is elected however, we must, individually and collectively, as citizens of the planet, insist on helping him do the best job that can be done; more, we must insist that he demand this of us. It is a blessing that our mothers taught us not to fear hard work. Know, as the Hopi elders declare: The river has its destination. And remember, as poet June Jordan and Sweet Honey in the Rock never tired of telling us: We are the ones we have been waiting for."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Second chances

The gorgeous premiere issue of Second Writes is now available.

The brainchild of Marcelle Kube, Second Writes publishes ONLY previously published work!

What a great idea, huh? So many literary magazines won't publish previously published pieces, which dooms much of our work to being read by 10 people. Second Writes gives our pieces a second chance.

And there's payment! $150 upon acceptance of poetry, stories, essays, drama and art. Check out the submission guidelines here.

This issue includes five poems by moi, an amazing memoir piece that originally appeared in the New Yorker, and lots of truly high-quality writing that certainly deserved a second chance. Thanks, Marcelle.

Friday, May 16, 2008

First we have to get our wedding sweatshirts out of storage

Marriages supposedly will be performed beginning a month from now.

Not sure if Annie and I will do something small at city hall or something bigger. It's kind of amazing to think that we'll be legally married...AGAIN. Our other marriage license (received at City Hall four years ago when Gavin Newsom decided to let us all break the law) was nullified and our money returned. But we still have the piece of paper. It's probably worth something on ebay.

Of course if the voters vote down our civil rights in November, we might end up with another useless piece of paper. Can you imagine having let voters during the Civil Rights era determine segregation and anti-miscengenation laws at the polls?

No matter.... it's an exciting, historical time. Those fighting gay marriage are trying frutilessly to keep back the arc of history which, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, bends toward justice.

See, I'm not a cynic at heart.


PS: Click here for a great video about the annoucement that includes a touching moment with writer Jewelle Gomez and her partner.

And below is another great video that captures the historical flavor. Forward to the middle to hear Gavin Newsom , the best part.

Hideous kinky

I came across a hilarious blog called Judge a Book by its Cover. The blogger is a librarian who posts weird, bad book covers.

Some are hideous. Some are kinky. Most are hideous kinky.

Check out the blog to read the laugh-aloud commentary (much better than mine which is in parentheses) on such covers as:
(Angel borne of Chuckie.)

(I guess she needs to check if she has enough time to engage with this wyrm.)
(The title is even more hilarious than the picture.)

(Ancient Greece has nothing on these guys.)

(What is it with these pedophila-inspired covers?)

(supreme irony)

(Let's play Twister!)

(Someone's gonna need a chiropracter.)

(Dream job.)

(Another dream job.)

(Who knew Margaret Mead was so racy?)

(Such a subtle allusion to the wet dream.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008


California Supreme Court overturns ban on gay marriage.

Love was made for me and you

The California Supreme Court will decide any minute now on whether or not our state consitution allows for same-sex marriage. I'll update this as soon as I hear.

In the meantime, here's a piece I wrote about Annie and me getting married in the city when the mayor decided to allow for some civil disobedience. It was an amazing day.


(This piece first appeared in Divide 4 years ago)

Spouses for Life

It’s Valentine’s Day, and we’re getting married. It’s still dark outside when we wake and dress. We keep looking at other. We can’t believe we’re actually doing this. The sun is just starting to streak the indigo sky as we drive to our friends’ house to pick them up for the trip to San Francisco. It’s a Saturday morning, so there’s not much traffic. From the back seat, Carolyn hands us a gift, a CD she burned last night. We put it in the player and the first song rings out: Going to the chapel and we’re gonna get mare-air-air-eed . . . We all join in on the song, the morning sun freshly illuminating the now pale blue sky, the promise of one of those jewels of a California winter day. We’re not actually going to a chapel, though. We’re going to San Francisco City Hall where we’re not only getting married but performing an act of civil disobedience. Carolyn will marry Mary Beth. And I will marry Annie.

We arrive two hours before the City Hall doors are to be opened. Already a line stretches from the steps down to the sidewalk, halfway along the building that runs a few city blocks. Joining the line, we play Carolyn’s CD mix in our boom box. The Dixie Chicks sing I believe in love . . . Honking cars drive by and the drivers wave. The crowd cheers. This line holds it all: white people, people of color, old, young, people with children—even what appear to be heterosexual allies. Or maybe they’re just straight people who didn’t hear the news, who came to get married on Valentine’s Day.

The news is this: San Francisco’s mayor Gavin Newsom believes that the ban on same-sex marriages is counter to the state constitution’s equal protection clause. Because he believes his job is to uphold the state constitution, he has decided to allow the city to marry same-sex couples. In spite of the fact that Californians voted in a proposition to define marriage as between a man and a woman. In spite of the fact that then-President Clinton signed DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage the same way at the federal level. Heterosexual and married to a woman, Newsom has said that same-sex marriage is an issue of fairness and compassion. Valentine’s Day is two days into his proclamation.

By the looks of the growing line, the news has spread.

A tall woman with glasses walks the line, asking each couple, “How long have you been together?” The two men behind us have been together for eighteen years. Two women toward the front have been together for thirty-five years. Two women with a baby: twelve. Carolyn and Mary Beth: eight. Annie and me: ten. We add up the numbers as though to fortify ourselves. We are in the midst of celebration, in awe of what’s happening, but we also know that there will be a backlash. We keep expecting the picketers to arrive, the ones who always manifest at the pride parades, the queer youth proms, even at Matthew Shepard’s funeral: Save the Family. God Will Forgive You, Repent Now. God Hates Fags.

Oddly, though, they’re not here. I briefly wonder why, then file that thought away, not wanting to expend energy on hate on this historic day, my wedding day. Funny to call it that, since it’s so spontaneous. This was the day we were planning to drive to my parents’ house for the weekend—to play cards, go out to dinner, and change the hard-to-reach florescent lightbulbs in their kitchen. But after hearing the news yesterday, we’ve taken a detour, stopping off to get married. We’re even wearing our casual, comfortable car-travel clothes. Mary Beth and Carolyn, on the other hand, are all dolled up in silky fabrics, curled hair, and makeup. We represent two ends of the broad spectrum around us: young men in tuxes with boutonnieres wrapped in rainbow ribbons; two septuagenarians dressed all in purple; couples in jeans and tee-shirts; others wearing red Valentine’s Day chiffon. Two women in white wedding dresses and carrying bouquets walk by, and the crowd cheers. A woman near us is on her cell phone, giving the play-by-play to whoever’s on the other end. And a few entrepreneurial people mingle around selling snacks, sodas, bags of rose petals. A blonde, large-breasted woman exhibits a sample of her wares: a very tight tee-shirt that proclaims in colorful paint: “I Got Same-Sex Married at San Francisco City Hall.”

And now the boom box is playing Faith Hill a capella: Amazing grace how sweet the sound. Annie and I begin to slow dance. I breathe in her familiar scent, feel the velvet of her cheek against mine. I close my eyes, and when I open them, I see sitting on the curb a young woman with spiky hair and an eyebrow pierce singing along, was blind but now I see . . . Amazing grace . . . . Grace, one of my favorite words. I wish grace for us all, the big beautiful dark-skinned butch woman wearing red suspenders, the forty-ish woman with long red hair and a gap between her teeth, the curvaceous black woman in a long black dress, the two balding white men who keep kissing and staring into each other’s eyes. And for some reason, at this moment, an inauspicious thought blasts through my brain: What if this is all some sort of ruse, to get a bunch of queers in a vulnerable position, all gathered together in a building? A film clip flashes through my mind, men in black ski masks storming the building, blowing us away with machine guns. Knock it off, I reprimand myself. But then my mind imagines someone pumping the crowded city hall with a poison gas. Stop it. Stop it. I imagine someone breaking into City Hall, gathering all of the names and addresses of the newly married same-sex couples. Hunting us down in our homes.

A woman begins shouting through a bullhorn. My heart races—has something happened? Bullhorns, evacuation? But no, she’s giving some kind of directive, holding up a stack of papers. Officials begin walking the line, handing forms to couples, explaining in detail how to fill them out. The forms are applications for marriage licenses. Father’s full name here, mother’s maiden name here, place of birth here. Applicant One. Applicant Two. I take refuge in the systematized bureaucracy. The woman who patiently repeats the directions over and over to couple after couple is one of the numerous volunteers, some of whom married their partners the previous day. I think about these volunteers, their respectful, calm demeanors, the way they keep saying “congratulations” to all the couples. I’m trying to push myself further and further away from (historically precedented, albeit Hollywood-fueled) paranoia. Away from fear, closer and closer to gratitude. We are getting married. How can this be? Isn’t it amazing?

Gavin Newsom has made this happen, the man who was so alarmed after witnessing President Bush’s State of the Union address in Washington D.C. that he decided on the plane that he had to do this. That he had to take this stand. When he got home, he spoke to his wife, who fully supported his decision. Then he called his father, a retired California appeals court judge, William Newsom. The senior Newsom bemoaned that his brilliant son, the youthful mayor of San Francisco, was committing political suicide. “You’ll never be President,” he said.

So here we are, all of us in line, winding around the block, beneficiaries of the conscience of a man who, I have no doubt, will go down in history as a visionary. He will be condemned by the righteous—the very people whom history undoubtedly will view as morally wrong, akin to the segregationists of the South. I don’t have a doubt, but I worry. The backlash will come. Again I remind myself to move away from fear. I am here, with Annie, and we’re filling out this form. I have a vague recollection of another time I filled out such a form, almost twenty years ago.

At twenty-two, I married Robert. If marrying Annie is an act of civil disobedience, then marrying Robert was an act of civil obedience. Engagement party, white wedding dress, diamond ring, best man and maid-of-honor, champagne reception, Hawaiian honeymoon. A textbook case. It was an entree into a world that everyone else I knew inhabited or planned to inhabit. The world of marriage and the promise of children, the world of unquestioning social support for our relationship. And I never thought of the status of my heterosexual marriage as a privilege.

Until later, long after the divorce, when I fell in love with a woman.

Suddenly holding hands in public with the person I loved was a “statement” at best, unsafe at worst. Suddenly there were straight people everywhere—all over T.V., billboards, in books and movies. Where were the lesbians and gay men? No one asked me, “When are you two getting married?” Even after the oh-my-God-you’re-not-who-we-thought-you-were turmoil had subsided. Even after my family began to love Annie. Even after my mom said, “You seem happier with Annie than you ever did with Robert.”

But my friends and family are not to blame. When Annie and I fell in love ten years ago—pre-Ellen, pre-Will & Grace, pre-Queer Eye for the Straight Guy—fewer people were publicly out, and almost no one was talking about same-sex marriage. There were some rumblings, though. In 1989, Denmark became the first country to recognize same-sex unions. However, in a separate-but-equal mode, they were civil unions, not marriages. And besides, that was way over there, in an insanely liberal and very cold country. Two years after that, same-sex couples in Hawaii sued the state for the right to get married. This didn’t make the news until a few years into the litigation, when it looked like the same-sex marriage side might win. Hawaiian voters trumped the court before its final decision; in 1991, the voters amended the Hawaiian state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. In the 1990’s, the issue of gay unions was being raised not only legally but socially: IKEA aired a T.V. commercial featuring two men, clearly a couple, shopping for furniture; and two men on Northern Exposure “married” as did two women on Friends.

This has led to some interesting confusion: over the years, when people have asked me if I’m married, my standard response has been, “I’m not legally allowed to marry my partner, Annie.” Once someone responded, “Really? But I’ve seen two women marry on Friends.” And others have said, “But can’t you go to Hawaii or Vermont?” And recently I’ve gotten, “Why don’t you go to Canada (The Netherlands, Belgium)?” I respond that Vermont offers civil unions, not marriages, meaning that federal recognition and benefits don’t apply; and that an Ontario or British Columbia or Netherlands or Belgium same-sex marriage doesn’t count here in the states. Many people are unaware that in 1996, the same year Ross’s ex-wife and her girlfriend got “married” by Newt Gingrich’s sister Candace on Friends, Clinton enacted DOMA. He signed it under cover of night, at midnight to be precise, perhaps hoping his gay constituency—the group many say helped get him elected—wouldn’t notice. Maybe others didn’t notice either. Given polls that claim the majority are opposed to same-sex marriage, I wonder about people’s confusion regarding this issue. Apparently many people think same-sex marriage has been legal in parts of the U.S. for some time. Indeed, commitment ceremonies look like weddings. In 2002, the New York Times began announcing same-sex civil unions in the wedding pages, and in 2003 Bride magazine ran a feature on lesbian weddings. In the wings, too, is the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision that has proclaimed Vermont-style civil unions discriminatory. This has set the stage for same-sex marriages to take place in Massachusetts.*

It’s likely—indeed, inevitable—that the Massachusetts ruling and Newsom’s courageous act will spark a fierce backlash. Indeed, almost two weeks into the San Francisco marriages, President Bush interrupted afternoon soap operas to televise an announcement. Not about war or a terrorist-related crisis. But about the “crisis” of same-sex marriages. He chose this dramatic venue to call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Even Laura Bush—who in an amusing Freudian slip once said that she didn’t want to speak out about “controversial issues like gay marriage” because her husband “has enough opponents”—pronounced the San Francisco marriages as “very, very shocking.”

And so here are Annie and me, and Carolyn and Mary Beth, being shocking. Along with thousands of other lesbians and gays, we are adding fuel to the backlash fire. Because we love each other. Because we, along with Gavin Newsom, believe that we deserve the same social and economic benefits that straight married couples receive.

The city hall doors open, and the line inches forward. Nat King Cole is singing, Love was made for me and you. When we get to the steps, Mary Beth, who has become our official wedding photographer, takes a picture of us in front of the sun-illuminated City Hall sign. Cement statues of titans emerge from the pillars, shouldering the weight of the building, of tradition. I think about how the city of San Francisco has so often been in the forefront of shouldering the burden of social change. We’re almost to the top of the steps when two women emerge, beaming, holding a marriage license in their hands. The crowd roars.

We make our way slowly through the turnstile, through security, and into a line that winds its way into the official offices. More volunteers come by, checking and rechecking our forms, our IDs, handing us paper tags inscribed with wait-line numbers. They repeatedly smile at us and say, “Congratulations.” When we get to the office where we submit our form, it takes just a few minutes for an official behind the counter to input our information and print out an official marriage license.

“Raise your right hands,” says a woman with short salt-and-pepper hair. “Do you swear that everything on the form is true to the best of your knowledge?” she asks. We do.
Carolyn and Mary Beth do the same. We gaze at the papers: “License and Certificate of Marriage,” signed by Mabel S. Teng, San Francisco Assessor-Recorder. City seal in one corner, State of California seal in the other. And a bar code. We’re official.

Next we take the elevator to the rotunda, its arched windows flooding in sunlight, illuminating the impressive decorative wall reliefs and marble pillars. In various stations on the wrap-around balcony, officials preside over the union of couples. Two women with shiny black hair, two men in jeans and tuxedo jackets, two women in red dresses with flowers in their swept-up hair. Vows are murmured, friends and family clap, officials read from their scripts.

We are matched up with a woman whose name sounds like one dreamed up by Harriet Beecher Stowe or Charles Dickens: Vivian Gay. First she weds Carolyn and Mary Beth, and then Annie and me. Peering over the edges of her dark, thick glasses, her steady voice pours forth a stream of familiar words: wedlock, honor, respect, cherish, faithful, not to be taken lightly, true, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. Holding hands, Annie and I look at each other, at our friends, at Vivian, back at each other. We hold each other’s gaze. As though we have the same thought at the same moment, tears fill our eyes. Someone is saying these words to us, for us.

This doesn’t feel like the beginning of something, as the rhetoric of marriage insists. It feels like the re-affirmation of something. Of our ten years together. Of the commitment we made long ago. Of the commitment we’ve been living in the light of those who love and support us—and in the face of those who don’t.

“I now pronounce you spouses for life,” says Vivian. Funny how it rhymes with “husband and wife.”

*As this essay was going to press, on May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage. In order to block out-of-state same-sex couples from coming to Massachusetts to marry, Governor Mitt Romney invoked a state law that forbids the state from marrying anyone who cannot be legally married in their home state—a law adopted in 1913 to block interracial marriages. Immediately, several Massachusetts communities announced they would defy Governor Romney by issuing out-of-state couples marriage licenses. Romney supports a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that will come before Massachusetts voters in November 2006; if passed, the amendment will nullify the same-sex marriages that have taken place.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Killing your characters

So two hot soldiers had a really great kiss on TV the other day.

Of course there are thousands of such kisses between men and women every week on TV--so portraying such tenderness between two men is wonderful to see.

But maybe next time the gay character won't be killed off. It's lazy to always kill off the gay character. It would take a lot of creative imagination to have the character live--and then to write the scenes where the father, the son and the lover have to deal with what's next.

We talked about killing off your characters in my fiction writing class last week. Sure there are great stories where the main character dies. Or where the already-dead character is the narrator or a key character (such as in Our Town, The Lovely Bones and Sunset Boulevard).

I love the way John Waters makes fun of killing off the death stock-plot in Polyester by randomly killing off most of the characters in the last few minutes of the movie.

Making the death workable and integral to a good story is one thing. But often times inexperienced writers kill off the main character because they've painted the story into a corner and don't know how to get out. Or "experienced" writers do it because pop media requires that sympathetic portraits of queers (or others engaged in taboos) end with with the queers somehow getting their "just desserts."

When I read student stories that end with a death, I encourage the writer to try to write one or two more endings just to see what happens. It's likely something deeper and more complex will emerge.

PS: Here's another gay kiss on recent TV, but it's not as hot because, well, it's at a wedding...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

For Mother's Day, here's a section of my in-progress memoir about my father's death and my mother's Alzheimer's diagnosis:

Two years before Dad died, Mom joined Toastmasters. Mom had never been that comfortable talking in front of people. She and Dad socialized a lot, but Dad was the talker; she was more comfortable listening.

She told me she admired my gift of gab, that I took after Dad. In her diary, I discovered that she viewed me as bright; I’d been tested with a high IQ. She had secret ambitions for me. She hoped I wouldn’t squander my intelligence.

What shocked me the most was to find out that she didn’t feel as intelligent as she thought I was. She wished she were smarter. This woman who got straight A’s in high school, this woman who completed more than six years of college, who was an R.N, a school nurse and a highly respected member of her community.

I am a novelist and a poet. Over the years, Mom tried to read my poetry but felt she never “got it.” Many people feel that way about poetry. It’s too obscure; what’s the point?

I tried to explain to her that I like the way poetry expresses nuances and ambiguities. As Stanley Kunitz says, poetry teaches us that we can believe two contradictory things at once. Poetry uses words to get at what cannot be expressed in a linear way. Language and understanding are unstable. A poem makes a non-summarizable feeling zip up my spine. I revel it its metaphorical expression; it makes me feel understood. It made me feel there are juicy prospects in every word. Poetry is possibility.

Mom may not like poetry, but she has always been drawn to novels and books of nonfiction. When I was an undergraduate English major, she read my required books so we could talk about them. The books in my Contemporary American Literature class she found self-indulgent and depressing and plot-less. She thought John Updike bordered on pornography (this from the woman handed over to me Fear of Flying when I was in high school). But she read them all with the studied objectivity of a medical student.

Mom once said something ironic that I now think was quite astute: “The difference between a mainstream story and a literary one is that literary stories don’t have endings.”

There was a chasm between my mother and me. She liked mainstream literature, I liked literary. She was pragmatic, I was idealistic. She inhabited a low-grade quietness, I a chatty exhiliaration. Even though she might roll her eyes at me or tease me about my energy, she was drawn to my quixotic impulses. She simultaneously rejected and was attracted to my reveling in metaphor and optimism.

She’d once entertained Catholic and catholic dreams about saving the world, of doing something like working with Father Damien and the lepers on Molokai. Perhaps she saw in me both the abandonment of those dreams and the potential to play them out.

If she wasn’t going to achieve her dreams of saving the world, she was going to allow herself time to develop a personal skill that wasn’t about taking care of others. She supported the Equal Rights Amendment and while cooking wore a denim, unisex apron emblazoned across the chest, “E.R.A. Yes!” This apron implied, I might be cooking, but I’m not just a cook, a mother, a helper of others.

When she was in her 40’s, she embarked on piano lessons, telling us she’d forced us to play piano as kids when she was really the one who wanted to. All those maddening years of hearing us practice the opening bars of “Fur Elise” over and over hadn’t turned her off to the piano.

My sisters’ and my piano teacher, Mary Bunyan, was the wife of a friend of our father’s. A short, rounded woman with a pretty face, she reminded me of a gentle grandmother from a fairy tale. The journey to her house was a fairy tale adventure itself. We had to walk a few perilous blocks. The first hazard on the route was a mere three doors down: Jigs, the meanest dog in the neighborhood. We’d walk as far as possible on the other side of the street, our feet gripping the contours of the concrete berm. (There were no sidewalks on our street. The houses were built on large lots crammed with oak trees and manzanita.) If we were lucky, Jigs would be tied up; he would lunge and howl and snap, straining the rope tied to his collar. If we were unlucky, he’d be loose. Sometimes he’d barrel across his lawn, screeching on his brakes at the perimeter of his yard, recklessly barking, spit flying from his mouth, his evil pointed teeth flashing yellow. Other times he’d charge across the street and snip at our heels and calves as we ran. We knew if we made it just a few houses away, he’d make a u-turn and silently trot back to his yard.

The next difficulty on the way to piano lessons was the Hill From Hell. This hill looked like one drawn by a child with a crayon, almost perpendicular, populated by houses defying gravity. Adults easily zoomed up the Hill From Hell in their cars, but no kid could conquer that hill on a bike, and walking it made your calves burn. Our town, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, undulated with unreasonable hills. When I read my Archie comic books, I’d yearn for the ease with which Betty and Jughead and Archie walked across their flat town, to the malt shop, to each other’s houses. Walking across my town was grueling, as was walking even a quarter mile to Mrs. Bunyon’s.

Mrs. Bunyon taught my sisters and me how to read music and perform scales to a relentless metronome. Our practice pieces were watered down versions of Bach, Brahms, Beethoven. If we perfected one of these diluted classical masterpieces, we’d be rewarded with a contemporary piece, “Close to You” or “Joy to the World.”

I don’t know why my mom didn’t choose Mary Bunyon as her piano teacher. Maybe Mrs. Bunyon taught children only. My mom’s piano teacher was much more unconventional. Mom would come home from her lesson with armloads of photocopied sheets displaying the bass and treble clefs on which she was to pen musical notes. She was plied with theory about chords and encouraged to improvise. After hours at the piano, Mom might begin to play something with a recognizable melody. She’d pause and notate on the sheet music. I felt like she was learning a completely different instrument than I’d been taught.

Like me, Mom eventually quit the piano. Maybe if she’d had my piano teacher and I’d had hers, we’d both be at it.

Relinquishing music, Mom turned to writing. Most evenings after dinner while Dad cat-napped in front of the TV, Mom sat before her computer. One of her first articles—“Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?”— tapped into her knowledge of screening kids for school readiness. Mom researched freelance writing, reading numerous books on how to write articles, how to publish them, how to market yourself.

“Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?” was published in various versions in many different local and national newspapers and magazines. This led to other health-related articles, followed by human-interest articles. She wrote a piece about a couple who were driving on an icy road at night and were hit by a semi. The husband, alive and virtually unhurt, was trapped with his mortally-wounded wife. He touched her head, stroked her hair and talked to her as she died. He had shifted in his understanding of that event; what had once seemed a great tragedy now seemed a blessing. He had helped his much-loved wife feel safe and loved in her dying. Mom said the article was too emotionally draining to write. She never wrote a piece like it again.

She said the same thing about a short personal essay she’d written for an assignment in an adult education writing class. The assignment had been to write about a personally meaningful object. She wrote about the plate she owned that had belonged to her grandmother. In the piece, she wrote about how the plate represented her love for her grandmother. As a child, she’d perceived her beloved grandmother as dowdy and ancient. On the back of the plate is the maker’s mark, topped with a stamp of a tiny gold crown. The piece ends with this lyrical sentence: “I wish I could place that crown on my grandmother’s head.” That was the most symbolically powerful line my mother ever wrote. I find it very moving. She must, too, because even mentioning the story about her grandmother makes Mom’s eyes fill with tears.

She never wrote another emotional, personal essay. Mom was not a crier; she did not like to indulge her emotions. She moved on to writing romantic fiction, stories about lost loves reunited, about misunderstandings morphing into epiphanies. She researched romance magazines and placed a few pieces. She joined the Romance Writers of America and learned the formula for writing romances. Never a reader of romances, she began to read them as research, the covers bursting with cleavage and chiseled biceps. This was pragmatic investigation. She wanted to understand how a romance was written. “If I’m going to write a novel,” she said, “I need a road map.”

She wrote a romance novel. And another. And another. My favorite is Love’s Golden Song, an historical romance that takes place in 1860s California, a time period when men shot huge blasts of water to wash away mountainsides in their quest for untapped gold. This hydraulic mining devastated the environment, clogging up waterways, forever altering the geography of Northern California. In Love’s Golden Song, the heroine is a spunky, smart, ahead-of-her-time newspaper reporter who decries hydraulic mining; her nemesis, who becomes her love interest, is—of course—a hydraulic miner. Mom did a lot of research to write this book, and the authenticity of the details is undeniable and a pleasure to read. Some actual historic characters make an appearance, such as Lola Montez, famed for the titillating Spider Dance that she performed in Gold Rush theaters.

Romance novels aren’t my cup of tea, but I liked connecting to Mom through writing. I read and edited several of her novels, enjoying the experience. I also learned from Mom’s pragmatism how better to take criticism myself as a writer. She never justified any of her writing in the face of my suggestions. She just took what she wanted and left the rest. And she was always grateful that I spent time on her work. (She also once said to me something that I'm very grateful for, something it seems to me only a mother who is also a writer might bother to offer up: that I should always write about what I want and never worry about how she'll feel about it.)

Love’s Golden Song was never published. Another of Mom’s romance novels was, though, after Mom retired from school nursing and had more time to send queries to publishers and agents. Her self-proclaimed “romantic comedy,” Dinner For Two, was released by a small press. Taking place in the Northern California towns of my youth, it’s about a woman named Misty, her love-interest Gene who is a chef, and a mystery they get embroiled in involving food poisoning at the state capital. Gene is color-blind in the story.

Color-blindness, or CVD (Color Vision Deficiency), was another interest of my mom’s. As a school nurse, she’d diagnosed a number of students with this common disorder. She often spouted off the statistic that CVD affects one in twelve boys, but many fewer girls due to its residence on the X chromosome. Because females have two X chromosomes, they need to have both chromosomes affected in order to display color-blindness; not so for males.

Mom discovered there was no literature for the kids, parents and teachers to read about the genetics of CVD and about the ways it affects one’s perceptions, experiences and life choices. Upon retirement, she wrote two books on CVD, one for kids, and one for teens and adults. Illustrations were provided by an old friend who drew a weekly comic strip and political cartoons for the local paper. (He was also a former city councilman and mayor, and the father of one of my high school friends.) Another friend of Mom’s, a graphic artist, designed the book and the cover.

After trying in vain to find an agent or a publisher, Mom self-published these books and spent many more hours on PR than she ever had on writing. She read book after book on marketing. She wrote articles on CVD that mentioned her books (free PR); she sent mass mailings to schools and doctors’ offices; she spoke at the Lion’s Club and the Rotary and to parents’ groups and groups and at church groups; she was interviewed on a Sacramento morning news program.

All of this talking was painful for her. She hated public speaking but was determined to get out the news about her books. However, as time went on she struggled more and more to articulate what she wanted to say.

We all noticed this “word problem” in Mom. If her language skills were deteriorating, the decline was so incremental it was hard to tell if her inability to speak fluidly was progressive, or if it was just her nature. When she was under stress or pressure, it seemed her struggle for words got worse. Was this a new thing, or had she always been this way? I could feel her embarrassment rise while she groped for words. I understood that flush of embarrassment. I had to work hard to be fluid with my language when I felt someone was challenging me or was asking me to explain something. I’d get flustered, defensive. It was part of my personality. For sure it was part of Mom’s, too.

She never was comfortable speaking much, although much of her working life had involved talking to parents’ groups and groups of kids. Part of her role as a school nurse was to teach a Sex Ed class to middle-schoolers. The kids wrote anonymous questions on cards, which she’d pull at random out of a box:

What’s an orgasm?
What do two men do when they have sex?
Can you get pregnant if you have sex standing up?

Mom would answer these questions straight-faced and seriously. There was no question she wouldn’t answer, she said. I have a memory of sitting around the dinner table and Mom telling us some of the kids’ questions, and all of us laughing, Dad grinning, my sisters looking at Mom over their forks.

But can this be right? How old would we have been? Would Mom have shared this with us at dinner? Possibly. If we were talking about sex as science and social information—as debunking myths and getting your facts straight—Mom was pragmatic. She could be quite frank. Mom the School Nurse was a more objective person than Mom the Mom.

I imagine her standing before the middle school class with her frosty pink lipstick, her pale face, her blonde hair in a soft puff, her long thin legs encased in suntan nylons. She maintains a gentle yet firm demeanor as she pulls the next card out of the box. She reads the question aloud, the words penis, vagina, blow job not meriting a different voice quality or facial expression than any other word.

Her deportment conveys to the kids that all these taboos they giggle about, yearn for, and worry about are no big deal. They’re just part of life.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Writing about life with Alzheimer's

Mom is keeping what she calls a journal of her symptoms. She's writing about what it feels like to have Alzheimer's. I'm glad she's still writing and reading, even though both are hard for her.

She struggles with spelling and also, as she wrote in the diary, with the "nooances" of what she reads. That's the amazing paradox of this disease--that she can still understand the idea of nuances, even though she's losing the capacity to capture them and to spell the word.

When I was with her the other night and she was emailing a friend, she asked me how to spell "Lois," "once" and "couldn't." This from woman who has written (and published) books. She knows when she has spelled something wrong, but she doesn't know how to fix it. It gets very frustrating for her, but we both try not to dwell on the surreal quality and sadness of what can't be healed.

We went out to dinner the other night she told me that the last thing a person says before a pause in discussion echoes over and over in her mind. I told her that I'd better make sure the last thing I say to her is always something nice, like "Mom, you look so thin!" or "Mom, I love you."

Alzheimer's manifests differently in different people. "Forgetting" isn't just about forgetting events; it can involve forgetting how to function, how to achieve operational tasks, like how to spell a word or how to--as happened to Mom the other day--open a car door. These things are like burps in cognition, things that are almost indetectable for people who aren't looking closely or who don't know her very well.

Mom lives in an assisted living community where every day she is involved in numerous activities, such as walking, excercise classes, outings, movies, communal meals. She loves to laugh. She enjoys being with her daughters, grandkids, other family and friends. She likes to keep an eagle eye out for problems at the place where she lives; she keeps a list that she shares at the resident's council meeting. Before this, I'd thought of Alzheimer's Disease as a death sentence. It's not, really. People can still have a good quality of life even as their brains change. Many people are living with Alzheimer's Disease, not just dying from it. That is the "last stage"--but there's a lot of life to live before that happens.

The fact is, Mom is a very bright, educated person. She can "cover" or "cope" very well--and so what I see when I'm with her, I know, is just a little bit of what it feels like to be inside her mind. That's why I'm glad she's getting it all down, as best as she can, in the journal. She told me I can do whatever I like with her journal. She likes the idea of my sharing the story from both of our perspectives. She has always been a supporter of my writing. And I of hers.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Tonight, tonight

If you're in the Bay Area, come by Willow Glen Books at 7 p.m. tonight for a reading featuring SJSU almost-graduate (with a B.A.) Rachelle Escamilla.

Act now, because Rachelle won't be around here for long. She's heading to Pitt's MFA program in the fall.

After Rachelle reads, there will be an open mic. I might just brave this poem in public.

The picture on the left was taken of Rachelle just after she received an award from Chair John Engell at SJSU's recent writing awards ceremony.

The picture on the right is of Annie approaching my colleagues Sam Maio and Alan Soldolfsky to accept one of her awards. Annie (who is in the MFA program, in addition to being a high school art teacher) won a 1st place in metered poetry, a 2nd place a free verse, and a honorable mention for the Academy of American Poets/Virginia de Aruajo Prize.

The prize was named after the late Virginia de Aruajo, an amazing poet (and painter and person).

Annie and I met in one of Virginia's workshops in 1994. Virginia was Annie's mentor in many ways, and she misses her greatly--so it was an extra rich honor for Annie to be named in association with this prize.

Cyclone devastation

When I heard that estimates are 100,000 dead in Myanmar (aka Burma) I thought: How can this be?

Then I read that a large percentage of the country's land is coastal.

Then I saw this "before and after" the cyclone picture . . .

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Made for minors (especially those with recruiters on or near schools)

Why, exactly, is it difficult to access this video on YouTube?

Why are there hoops to jump through to get to it?

Why is it tagged: "This video may not be suitable for minors"?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A family tragicomic

If you haven't read Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, you should. Even if you have no interest in graphic novels, you'll be drawn in, guarantee.

Fun Home is a brilliant, award-winning memoir about Bechdel's closeted father . . . among other things.

Here's Alison talking about it. (In the second part of the video, Neil Gaiman makes an appearance!)

Alison is also the artist & writer of Dykes to Watch Out For, the best comic strip since Archie.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


I'm now listing on the right-hand side of my blog (scroll down) the books I'm currently reading, as well as some of my recommendations.

What are you reading?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

How people reach my blog

The most popular way people get here is by searching for an image of Steven King.

Someone googled "Dorothy vs. Alice." I believe that person was looking for the iconic literary gals, but instead found two other literary women: Dorothy Allison and Alice Sebold.

Recently, I believe my former agent (hi Ben!) found me when I wrote about his new career. I know he worked hard at the agent thing--and I'm truly happy he has found something he obviously loves. (Believe me, I get the "I'm changing my career"'s happened to me time and again.) His blog is very cool for those who are interested in all things epicurean (with a dash of home improvement).

Speaking of an array of careers, there are people who google "Kate Evans," but it's hard to know which one they're searching for.

The singer?

The scientist?

The actress?

The blogger?

The film editor?

The 19 year old with the wonderful accent who looks like she plays soccer or some other such sport?

The one born in 1826?

The therapist?

The editor of a girl's magazine?

The midwife?

Let's face it, most are probably looking for the porn star.

(All photos are of Kate Evans.)

I'd add: "I have some suggestions" and "Promise you'll tell no one" and "Can we talk?"

Words That Make My Stomach Plummet (by Mira McEwan)

Committee Meeting. Burden of Proof.
The Simple Truth. Trying To Be Nice.

Honestly. I Could Have Died. I Almost Cried.
It's Only a Cold Sore.

It's My Night. Trust Me. Dead Serious.
I Have Everything All Under Control.

I'm Famous For My Honesty.
I'm Simply Beside Myself. We're On The Same Page.

Let's Not Reinvent The Wheel.
For The Time Being. There Is That.

I'm Not Just Saying That.
I Just Couldn't Help Myself. I Mean It.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Belated one year anniversary

Is it really May 1?

I began this blog April 14, 2007, not quite a month after my father died.

Soon after, Mom was in the hospital for a couple of months. She was then diagnosed with Alzheimer's, so we helped her sell her house and she moved assisted living community (which took some adjustment, but now she's enjoying all the activities, new friends and support combined with independence).

In addition to charting those events, my blog has followed some of the lowlights and highlights of a crazy year.
In a year's time, we humans continued our violent ways, with everything from a college massacre to the escalation of an insane war (a redundancy), to other hate killings (another redundancy).

I grappled a lot in my life with, but only a little in the blog with, the current Presidential contest.

We lost a famous hater . We also lost a remarkable lover of words and life.

We faced more environmental devastation in California, as well as a little rattle n roll and some pretty big burn. Well, they do say that California's four seasons are: earthquake, fire, flood and mudslide.

My literary life was rich in many ways this year. I did a few readings (here and here ) and had some poems, stories and essays published (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here ). I even got paid a few times.

In other ways, my literary life sucked.
The small press that had accepted my novel and was even working on a book cover closed up shop, and my novel was reverted to a manuscript yet again. This is the novel that came *this close* to being published by a major publisher as well.

I decided to part with my agent and have discovered he has left the biz and is now in "kitchenware retail."

If all this instability grates on us writers, I was delighted to find out there's a lit mag that guarantees rejection, so here's a place to submit with no guess-work.

To keep myself engaged and refreshed as a writer in a writing community, I went to hear some other writers read their work...and more and more and more and more ...

I met a blog friend in real time when he came out here all the way from Atlanta to give a reading to my students.

I worked on the research for my historical novel (and still am doing so). I also worked on two new projects, a memoir and a weird new blog thingy.

I was lucky to be able to travel. To come together and begin healing from my father's loss, my sisters, Mom and I went to Hawaii and were met with a hurricane, but we also faced down some gorgeous water, palm trees, mountains and Mai Tais.

I loved it there so much I just had to go back with Annie during winter break.

I got an insanely hectic new job, which led to my interviewing Alice Sebold on stage, hanging out with Salman Rushdie and Dorothy Allison and Kimiko Hahn and ZZ Packer, among others.

As part of the job, I've developed next season's slate of writers. It will be nice to see my work unfold next semester, a kind of shadow of my co-directorship since I'm stepping down.

Running literary events was a great ride, but it's too much work for the equivalent of teaching one class. Instead, I'm going to teach and kick-ass on my writing....beginning with a focus this summer on writing, non-emergency family time and as much peace as is possible in this restless world.