Category Archives: Dear Diary

Writing updates & questions for THE UNIVERSE

Here is a quick round-up of writing-related updates:

* I had a story called “Kurt Cobain’s Son” published earlier this year in the second Words & Women anthology. I’ve always liked this anthology series and its mission, and I’m so happy some of my writing found “a home” there (so to speak). You can read more about the organization Words & Women here and vote for them in the Saboteur awards here.

* I have a piece up at Litro, “Five Men from the Border,” a fictional story with non-fictional elements. This is an old story that I polished for resubmission. Again, I’m really happy that it found a home.

* I have a short story, “Third Date,” published in the just-released Issue 11 of SAND Journal, based in Berlin. This story was really fun to write, and I’m super looking forward to getting my print copy in the mail.

* Finally I have a piece forthcoming in Shooter Literary Magazine, which seems like an awesome publication, not in the least because they make a point of paying their contributors. They’ll be publishing a story I wrote called “Lemon Pie,” which is part of the novel/hybrid collection that I’ve been working on for the past two (three? four??) years.

What else? I am going to Cornwall in May to write in a caravan, like Toad in The Wind in the Willows (though I guess Toad had cushy Toad Hall to go back to, haha). I leave in June for the U.S., will spend some time in San Diego/Tijuana, head to L.A. for an epic wedding, two weeks in Portland, usual summer camp stint in Pennsylvania, back to the UK in August, then off to Colombia in September for the Medellín book festival. Things, things, things. I am this, I do that, I go there, I come here. What does it all mean? How does it matter? What would my Portuguese fishermen ancestors think, frowning thoughtfully as their little boats bob up and down in the turbulent surf? What about my futuristic great-great-great x10 grandchildren, with their alien slime and hologram souls, their iphone minds and Interstellar-like abilities? Is it bad that I’ve mostly been reading guilt-trip fantasy novels lately? Am I going to stay in England next year? Live somewhere else? Who am I, who-where-what am I going to be, where are we going, where have we been? Is a long list of “things” that I am doing/have done enough to answer that question? Is that all it takes to present/define/become yourself as a person?

For the time being, it’s enough for me to know I’ve got the Portuguese fishermen ancestors and hologram soul great-grandchildren on my side, no matter what. That is some Tree of Life, time-traveling, Kurt Vonnegut short story truth.

One does not simply make a blog post about ALL OF THE THINGS.

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welcome to england–fight fight fight!

I am in England. OMG!!!

I am obviously really excited and happy to be here in the good old UK. It’s a good feeling. I love my flat and its convenient location close to the university (I still wanna get a bike, though: 5 minute bike ride vs. 15 minute walk? BIKE FTW). So far I am digging my housemates, both guys in law school, one from China and the other from Taiwan. One of them just came in and gave me a present–a Beijing Olympics key chain!! AWWW! They’re both leaving in the next two days to go traveling for the next week, which doesn’t bother me at all. Sometimes it boggles my mind to think about how I almost prefer being by myself these days–I’m just so used to it. That being said, I know that I’m a very social person and that it’s fairly easy for me to make friends, which is why I’m not freaking out about having so much time by myself before the rest of the peeps in my program get here.

Ahhh!!! England!!!! Of course the very first thing I unpacked were my books (I packed too many, as per usual). I just had the best time this morning, walking around campus (I didn’t even mind being lost!), wandering into the bookstore and fingering all the titles, lovingly fondling all the second-hand books on sale on the tables outside (the man in charge said he comes by Monday and Thursday, reminding me of that old dude I bought Howl from in front of the Paradox coffee shop back at Reed). I came thisclose to buying the new Ali Smith novel, The Tin Drum, Underworld and Wise Children (all books I’ve been meaning to read for aaaaages), but I stopped myself because I felt guilty about spending the money. To be honest it probably would have only ended up being ten pounds, which is likely less than what my movie ticket will be tomorrow if I decide to go see Anna Karenina. Whatever, he’ll be back on Monday.

I also did some work today. It is SO HARD when I edit my fiction to not be aware of its flaws, how juvenile and developing my voice still sounds to me. I still don’t sound like a “polished” writer to myself, like Jonathan Franzen or even Bolaño or whatever, in which every word in the story is filled with purpose and drive and meaning and everything is just tauntly woven together and seemingly fits perfectly together. BUT WHATEVER!! I am just trying to remember the words that Goenka kept repeating over and over again at the meditation retreat, in his old man Indian accent: paaaatiently but persistently, patiently but persistently. You are bound to be successful, bound to be successful.

So this is just to say that I DON’T GIVE A FLYING **** IF MY STORIES KIND OF SUCK!!!!!! Because a) they are actually probably not as bad as I think they are (HELLO PERFECTIONIST VIRGO BRAIN), and b) I CAN ONLY GET “BETTER” (whatever THAT means) THROUGH TIME AND PRACTICE. Which is what I want to get out of this year. A lot of time and a lot of practice. Which is why I furiously wrote + edited all evening like a demon, like my life depended on it, because in a way, it kind of does. It made me feel like that character in the last paragraph of the “Out of Body” chapter in A Visit From the Goon Squad, the paragraph that made me want to read the rest of the book when I first read it in Tin House:

“You kneel beside her, breathing the familiar smell of Sasha’s sleep, whispering into her ear some mix of I’m sorry and I believe in you and I’ll always be near you, protecting you, and I will never leave you, I’ll be curled around your heart the rest of your life, until the water pressing my shoulders and chest crushes me awake and I hear Sasha screaming into my face: Fight! Fight! Fight!”

I also want to remember the advice that the University of Texas-San Marcos creative writing professor gave me, one of my co-workers at Berkeley this summer: “Submit things that you think kind of suck.” Truer words never spoken.

So I believe in myself. WATCH OUT ENGLAND, I’M GONNA KICK SOME ASS. I think maybe that’s why I’ve been so obsessed with Kanye West’s and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne lately. I told my sister earlier today that when I hear their songs, I like to pretend that it’s my self-esteem talking, giving me a much-needed boost and FIGHT-FIGHT-FIGHT mentality:

Select best quotes for self-esteem boosting include the following:
– I GUESS I GOT MY SWAGGER BACK!
– Photo shoot fresh, looking like wealth, I’m ’bout to call the paparazzi on myself!
– Everything’s for sale, I got 5 passports I’m never going to jail!!!
– Lord, please let them accept the things they can’t change, and pray that all of their pain be champagne.

That’s enough for now. I’ll end with a quote from Onetti:

Escribirá porque sí, porque no tendrá más remedio que hacerlo, porque es su vicio, su pasión y su desgracia. / A writer will write just because; because he or she has no other option; because it’s their vice, their passion and their misfortune.

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Filed under Dear Diary, silly

April

April has been an interesting month. No, not cruel in the least, just… interesting. What’s happenned?

Well, I went to Idaho to visit a university there, and decided that in the end it wouldn’t be the best place for me. And so, it looks like in the fall I am moving to England, to do something I put on my Things to Do Before I Die list that I first wrote in 2007 while tramping around my first solo traveler journey in Mexico. I am pretty excited. I feel very certain that this is a good choice for me.

What else has happened? I reread Mario Vargas Llosa’s Los cachorros in Spanish (ahh, memories of middle school and los escandalos of reading a castration scene…) and Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge. Right now I am slowly but surely reading my way through two big heavy books: The Case for God by Karen Armstrong and The Stand by Stephen King. So one dense history of religion and a #1 best-selling horror novel abut a killer plague and the end of humanity (two of my favorite subjects).

IDK why I dig apocalyptic fiction so much. Sometimes I wonder if it has the same effect on me as classical Greek tragedy, providing a cathartic release. Oh BAM, I think, reading a scene in which someone coughs in the back of a movie theater, y’all infected now! Too bad suckers! A kind of “not me, them” sort of release. Maybe by writing or reading about these horrors on the page, it makes us feel like we’re better prepared to deal for them in real life. Not that I think that an army-made killer virus is going to break free anytime soon, but still.

Uh….. OK. I guess that’s pretty much been my April. To end this post, here are some photos from Idaho and a piece I wrote recently in my writing workshop. The prompt was Clouds gathered.

*****************************

IDAHO

Clouds gathered. She unlocked the gate. I had just arrived in Idaho ten minutes ago, and I had no idea where I was going to go from here.

“Did you bring your receipt?” she asked. “or something at least showing that your scholarship money was deposited?”

My OCD was making it hard for me to not want to jump over every crack in the driveway leading us up the long college lawn. “Yeah, I have it,” I said, trying to make my voice sound casual. My only hope was that it was in the knotted Safeway bag in my backpack, along with my speeding tickets, and not at the bottom of my tote bag with the squashed orange.

“I talked to some of the other students and there should be someone who can put you up for the night.” She was fumbling with a big yellow key that she pulled from a long elastic band on her waist. The door looked like something out of a Harry Potter movie, and when I craned my neck back and looked up, I could see shadows of gargoyles shaded against the sky.

“That’s awesome,” I said. “Great. Thanks.” My goal was to sound as robotic as possible. This was the only grad school I’d been accepted to, besides the one in Norway with free tuition. I was trying to play it cool with her, the Department Head, make it seem like I was holding a lot of cards close to my chest, when in reality all I was clutching was a ripped cloth tote bag from New Seasons leaking squashed orange juice.

“I’m glad you made it here on time to attend the thesis defense,” she said as we walked down the cool hallways. Her footsteps sounded so loud that I wanted to ask her to speak up. My red Converse shoes squeaked with every step I took like an annoying little animal.

“What are the defenses like” I asked, pretending to be looking at the posters on the walls. “Is it really OK if I sit in?”

“Mm, it should be. We usually don’t bring out the flame throwers until the end.” I waited for the laugh and Just kidding, but it didn’t come.

I’d driven six hours to get here. Idaho! I hadn’t even known where Idaho was until I looked at a map. I hadn’t told my boss that I was leaving, let alone that I had applied to grad school.

I was trying to get a fine arts degree in performance sculpture. It had been my side hobby for years. More specifically, embalming had been. I loved picking all the mutated animals out of the gutters and river beds—the yellow fish with no internal organs, the three-eyed cats, the ooblek frogs that disintegrated into a pile of green gloop if you squeezed them too hard. My lifelong goal had been to catch one of those rats that were smart enough to build carts to carry their cat-fighting weapons, but I had yet to find a way to penetrate their walls and barricades. I’d spent two years combing the paths in the canyon where the canal had been dug, miles away from the big whites houses that all the French and Chinese and British business owners lived in. I’d embalmed them, put them in different positions, uploaded photos to my tumblr account and there it was, my creative portfolio. Was it good enough to get me an MFA? Idaho seemed to think so.

“I’m really excited for you to meet Boston,” the Department Head said, pushing open a rickety dark brown door with a clenched fist.

*****************************

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Filed under Dear Diary, fiction, graduate school, writing

26

Happy birthday to me!

Today was pretty much the best day I could have asked for.

I woke up late and ate breakfast at the Waffle Window with my family.

Then we went blackberry picking at Sauvie’s Island. I was dumb and wore a skirt and sandals, and have the bloody scratches up and down my feet and legs to show for it, but it was still totally worth it. We filled containers and containers of tupperware with them, and left more than enough behind for the birds and the mice (on the highest and lowest branches, as per Ma’s advice in Little House on the Prairie). I ate so many I got a horrible stomach ache and had to ask the beloved fam to reschedule the originally planned dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant for another day.

Later, at the Dollar Tree (where I was buying my oh so necessary supply of Tums and hand sanitizer, absolute essentials when a) prone to severe carsickness and/or blackberry greed, and b) working with large groups of grubby small children), the cashier lady asked me how I was doing. I said it was my birthday; she asked if I’d done anything special. “Blackberry picking at Sauvie’s Island!”

“Really?” she said, her forehead crinkling slightly. “That’s not special!”

“It is to me!” I replied cheerfully. I’ve never done it before, unlike ye native Oregonians…

Then I came home, ate a salad made out of greens and tomatoes from the flourishing and happy garden (thanks to my dad’s care, not mine!) and watched the recent BBC/PBS production of Hamlet. I really enjoyed the interpretation of Hamlet by David Tennant, an actor I’d never heard of but has apparently played both Dr. Who and Bartley Crouchy Junior in Harry Potter 4. I love Hamlet. I love how the most defining work of art made by a human being is about one man’s inability to act, about how we “lose the name of action,” and how his main attempt to do so (i.e. take action) is through the staging of a play.

Other things that have made my day, and my week in general:

– Joe Calderone’s recent performance, so liberating in its Amy Winehouse-Bruce Springsteen-ness. I love his Patti Smith-Rimbaud-Bob Dylan-Elvis vibe too.

– This poem, “Resurrection,” by Bolaño from The Romantic Dogs:

Poetry slips into dreams
like a diver in a lake.
Poetry, braver than anyone,
slips in and sinks
like lead
through a lake infinite as Loch Ness
or tragic and turbid as Lake Balaton.
Consider it from below:
a diver
innocent
covered in feathers
of will.
Poetry slips into dreams
like a diver who’s dead
in the eyes of God.

“Borges and I” by guess who, on page 324 of his Collected Stories:

It’s Borges, the other one, that things happen to… I live, I allow myself to live, so that Borges can spin out his literature, and that literature is my justification. I willingly admit that he has written a number of sound pages, but those pages will not save me, perhaps because the good in them no longer belongs to any individual, not even to that other man, but rather to language itself, or to tradition… I shall endure in Borges, not in myself (if, indeed, I am anybody at all), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others’, or in the tedious strumming of a guitar.

– A 1999 interview with David Foster Wallace:

I was cripplingly shy at Amherst. I wasn’t in a fraternity and didn’t go to parties and didn’t have much to do with the life of the College. I had a few very close friends and that was it. I studied all the time. I mean literally all the time. I was one of those people they had to flicker the lights of Frost Library to get out of there on Friday nights who’d be out there right after brunch on Sunday waiting on the steps for them to open the doors.

            There were happy reasons for all this studying, and sad reasons. It was at Amherst, with its high expectations and brilliant profs and banzai workload, that I loved to read and write and think. In many ways I came alive there. But I was always terrified. Amherst terrified me—the beauty of it, the tradition, the elitism, the expense. But it was less Amherst than me: I was a late bloomer and still deeply in adolescence when I entered college. I had an adolescent’s radical self-absorption, and my particular self-absorption manifested as terror and inadequacy. This is the sad part. The same obsessive studying that helped me come alive also kept me dead: it was a way to hide from people, to try to earn—through ‘achievement’ or whatever—permission to be at Amherst that I was too self-centered to realize I’d already received when they accepted me.

            So ‘the things about Amherst that, in hindsight, disappoint [me]’ are things not about Amherst but about who I was when I was there… It took years after I’d graduated from Amherst to realize that people were actually far more complicated and interesting than books, that almost everyone else suffered the same secret fears and inadequacies as I, and that feeling alone and inferior was actually the great valent bond between us all. I wish I’d been smart enough to understand that when I was an adolescent.

(I also really love the part in this interview where he talks about Lord of the Rings and the Velveteen Rabbit.)

I’m citing all these disparate links not to make this entry seem like something that should be on godforsaken tumblr, but rather more to reflect how sponge-like I’ve been feeling lately (my horoscope for this week seems to say the same, right on the mark as usual Rob Brezny!!). I’ve been reading a lot of quotes and advice by authors on the whole writing thing, blog entries and reviews of contemporary and Latin American literature, and have maxed out the number of books I’m allowed to place on Hold at the library. I feel like I’ve been one great big wet squishy yellow sponge for the past month or so, absorbing words, ideas, experiences, emotions. I feel like it’s going to be time soon when I’m gonna be wrung out, and let wet dribbly water ooze out everywhere and blur this computer screen, kill the keyboard, stain the notebook and smear the words.

Tomorrow is 26 + 1. Here we go.

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Filed under Bolaño, David Foster Wallace, Dear Diary, quotes

Some dates

November 4th- 9AM: Meet with Michael. I think? Figure out my bill with him.
Somehow find time to go to AT&T store to get phone replaced.
5.15pm- Go to creative writing event thing at alma mater, talk with old professor from 2005.

November 5th
– Go to 8.30am -2.45 pm traning for Job #2.
4.30 – 7.3opm: Go to board meeting for Job #1
Somehow find time to email professors recommendation letter requests.

November 16th- Take GREs.

November 17th- FLY TO ENGLAND.

December 1st- FIRST GRAD SCHOOL APPLICATIONS DUE (I don’t know if I’m gonna make this one, quite honestly).

December 5th- FLY BACK TO PORTLAND.

December 15th- NEXT ROUND OF GRAD SCHOOL APPLICATIONS DUE

December 17th-23rd- GO TO MEXICO (maybe)

January 15th-
LAST ROUND… ETC… USA APPS DONE.

March 1st-end of June- UK APPS… DONE.

It’s official, folks: WE ARE ON A MISSION.

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Filed under capslock, Dear Diary, future

More names

Faces and names from Woodburn that I want to write about, but haven’t figured out how to yet (the names have all been changed):

– Rosita, the main lady who cooked for us. So cuddly and huge and welcoming. Reminded me of my nanny from Colombia, in the way she frowned at and ordered the kids of the local community around. “Jonathan, no seas tan cocino!” (Jonathan, don’t be such a piggy!) she would scold Gemma’s youngest son, after he threw yet another enormous palm-full of barkchips at me. “Julie you forgot to lock the door!” she would constantly cry out at me, after I came close to leaving yet again without properly closing the community center. She cried after every single group of volunteers left and insisted on hugging each teen one by one. “She’s kind of like everyone’s mom,” one of the teens said, and I had to agree, and not just because of her fabulous cooking. In the little first day introductory ritual, in which the group of brand new volunteers would go around in a circle and say their names and what their dreams were (so reminiscent for me of working for Kiva and asking that unavoidable end of the interview question: “so what are your hopes and dreams?”), Rosita said that her dream was to take ESL and computer classes and get her GED.

— Nine-month pregnant Gemma from Oaxaca. She was still going out into the field to pick up until a week ago. “Gemma es una brava para pescar los blueberries,” Rosita told me; Gemma is a real kick-ass at blueberry picking. In the four hours they worked, Rosita made $10, Gemma picked a whole pint (I can’t remember how much she made). Blueberries are apparently some of the hardest fruits to pick, with strawberries and cucumbers being the worst. She’d lived in Oregon for about three years, two and a half of those in a crowded house with fourteen other people (most of whom used drugs) with an alcoholic husband who beat her. She eventually left with her three kids after hearing an add on the radio about local farmworker housing services. One of her eyes was half-closed all the time–a problem with the lid? “Es una cosa muy linda, lo que estas haciendo,” she told me at the end of one week, and it meant more to me than anything written on the end of the week review sheets. Gemma’s dream was for her kids to have office jobs and “not work in the fields like me, since I want them to have a better life and not suffered like I have, since the work es duro… muy duro.”

— Jonathan, Gemma’s two year old son. Supposedly very shy and a total momma’s boy, followed Gemma EVERYWHERE. Once he got in awful trouble for getting into her bathroom and messing up all her soaps and shampoos and creams and things, pouring them all over the mirror. Whenever Gemma would ask him “Quieres un bebe, Jonathan?”, pointing at her belly, he would shake his head emphatically and bellow “NO!” No was his favorite word. “Jonathan, don’t you want to come live with me in Portland?” I would say. “You can live with me in my house and we can go to the zoo and ride on the Max! Wouldn’t that be fun, Jonathan?” His eyes would gradually growing more confused, then fearful, then finally angry, and then it would come: “NO!”

–Magdalena with her long braid from Oaxaca and her huge family: husband, daughter, daughter’s husband, daughter’s son, teenage son, teenage daughter (who was gorgeous!). They mostly spoke Mixteca with each other. Crazy to imagine having to learn to speak Spanish as a 2nd language, on top of English!! They all used to live in one of the labor camps we visited but finally moved to the affordable housing unit three months ago, as their squalid, cramped living conditions was considered to be the state of an emergency. “Oh, esta bueno,” she would say to anything I ever asked her or commented upon. “Is it okay if we send some volunteers to take showers in your place?” “Man, I really messed up my foot day.” “I ate so much… I’m sooo full!” (the most common). Magdalena’s dream was to get papers for her and her family. They used to be corn farmers but immigrated to the U.S. when they were unable to make enough money to feed themselves there. I asked the husband of her daughter what was the trick to good blueberry picking. After laughing for a bit at the absurdity of the question, he opened and closed his hand like a claw. “Es en los manos,” he said, it’s in the hands.

–Maria, whose job was (in her own words) to “arrange grapes so that they look pretty.” She always dressed real tough, in rubber black boots and dirty pants, maybe because every time I saw her she had just returned from the field. She had three sons, Jesus, one whose name I can’t remember and baby Bryan, who was ALWAYS crying for some reason or the other. Mostly when she took her cellphone away from him, so that he couldn’t watch streaming youtube videos of “Freddy vs. Jason” on the Internet, or when his popsicles would fall on the ground.

— Ernesto and Chui, Rosita’s sons. Chui was chubby and into break-dancing, teaching afternoon classes at the local education center. The kids performed for us several times and were pretty damn bendy–I’m approaching two years of taking yoga classes now and am still nowhere CLOSE to being as flexible as these eight-year-olds (a bit discouraging, to say the least!). Ernesto was stoic and withdrawn but still smiled and make jokes with us every once in a while. He was always helping his mom out in the kitchen, most notably barbecuing the meat for the Saturday night despedida lunch of tacos de carne asada. He was almost deported yesterday when he got stopped by a cop on a motorcyle (Woodburn has increased its police presence this weekend, thanks to the three-day Mexican cultural fiesta it’s hosting) for talking on his cellphone. The car got towed since he was found to owe over $1,200 in ticket fees (from two tickets with accumulated late fees he could never afford to pay) and driving on a suspended licence. The car is basically gone since they obviously don’t have the $640 necesarry to pay to get it back (not to mention the ticket fees). Now he and Rosita can’t go to Astoria to see about a potential job in a cannery on Monday, since they no longer own a car. When Rosita told me this story, I felt upset enough to the point of feeling deeply depressed about the fucked up, ruthless cycle of poverty, but then when I saw how not-as-upset she was, I slowly started to see things from her perspective: all she lost was her car, as opposed to her son, you know?

There’s a couple more. To be continued, maybe, just so that I won’t forget.

In book-reading news, I’ve been reading Ricardo Piglia (finished the short story collection Assumed Name and started the novel The Absent City) and am really enjoying him… especially the Roberto Arlt/Borges fanboy homages!

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Filed under Dear Diary, Mexico, perspective, social justice, update

“from the center of my life came a great fountain”

This morning I went to the DMV, so that I could take the test in order to get a learner’s permit. I went yesterday as well but my number didn’t get called by 4pm, which is the cut-off time for test takers (they made it to 311 and I was 314). So I gave my card to a Mexican family that seemed very pleased, which made me feel amazing. I went in again this morning at 8AM, paid $5, sat down in front of the computer and got 17 out of 25 right–68%, far below the required 80%. I messed up on really stupid things, like what a yellow stoplight means (you get ready to stop, as opposed to just get more cautious–I blame driving in Colombia for this faulty impression of mine!), or what to do when a blind person is crossing the street without a crosswalk during a green light. My friend told me that there are 35 questions, so I didn’t even last long enough to complete the test before failing irrevocably. I get three more tries, so if I fail on Monday (which I won’t! Postive thinking! I won’t! I won’t!), I have to wait 28 more days, and there goes any possibility of stress-free commuting for my job this July. Ahh, well. No point in worrying about it.

The idea of me driving is still very weird to me. I still can’t picture myself behind the wheel. It’s something I’ve put off for a very long time, out of laziness more than anything else. It helped that Corey was very anti-car and driving culture, and I am (was? no. am) as well, I suppose. More than anything I’m pleased about the idea of not having to take the Greyhound to Salem or Woodburn anymore, and of getting to go camping, hiking and to the coast when I please. In that sense, driving definitely represents such FREEDOM to me… though my bike definitely makes me feel free, when I can ride it (I hurt my knee in the same way as last year, by slipping on a puddle in a bar and dislocating. An injury dating back to falling down on the high school basketball court, this is the fifth or sixth time it’s happenned. So I’ve been quite immobile this week, which doesn’t really matter since the weather’s been so grey and horrid.)

Reading the DMV manual is pretty… I don’t think “fun” is the right word. “Interesting” is better. More than anything else, I’m enjoying the kind of language it uses: it feels so instructional. It’s just so different from anything I usually read! Sometimes the language is so blatanly obvious, it borders on the poetic and philosophical. Like: “Remember, children are often very unpredictable.” “Never discharge a firearm, bow and arrow, or other weapon on or across a highway.” (I like how ‘bow and arrow’ is specifically cited here, as opposed to being lumped in with ‘other weapon’!) “Do not leave an injured animal to die.” (Makes me think of Donnie Darko: “Every living creature dies alone.”) “Never assume another driver will yield the right of way to you. Be prepared to stop.” These phrases feel like quotes Melissa Bank or Lorrie Moore would place at the beginning of a short story collection, words that can be twisted into metaphors about life. “Driving is not the time to solve business or family problems, plan a trip, daydream, or read something other than posted signs. You need to continually concentrate on what is happening in front of you, behind you, and on both sides of you.” Talk about a Buddhist sense of presence and awareness!

Some other sentences feel like the incantation for a mysterious spell that I don’t understand, from a mysterious world I’m only just beginning to know. Who knew, for example, that when parking downhill, you must turn your wheels inward, and when parking uphill, they must be outward? I chant it to myself like a little dance: “downhill-inward, uphil-outward.” And I STILL don’t get the whole when you get to make a right/left turn during a red light thing–that really screwed me on the test this morning. Things that seem like they would be so instinctive, such natural, taken-for-granted forms of knowledge for everyone else, are just baffling and incomprehensible to me.

This week, I also tried reading Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs: I liked the first 3 chapters, got disinterested in the 4th one and haven’t picked it up since. So instead I reread Eat Pray Love, now officially one of my favorite books of all time (yes, it is! Shamelessly so!). God, I was going to write an entry just with quotes, but considering I underlined passages on basically every page, I don’t think that’s the best idea. This is the kind of book I might like to write someday, I think, with some Cary Tennis vibes thrown in as well. There’s a part (in Italy!) where she quotes a line from a Louise Gluck poem, which I immediately proceeded to look up, and then to love.

The Wild Iris

At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure sea water.

“At the end of my suffering, there was a door.” I love it.

I’ve spent most of day cleaning, rearranging and decorating my room. I’ve been helping my friend who’s going to graduate school this fall to clean up and pack most of his stuff. I’ve ended up taking (being given?) a lot of his things: the $900 mattress he bought as soon as he graduated (I’m going to pay him $200 for it in the fall, as soon as I have more money in my bank account!), a painting of a plantation that has a tiny Pan’s Labyrinth-like black demon hidden in the upper left corner behind a tree, towels, a sweatshirt. It was really crazy, going through his stuff and finding the essays that he wrote for Writing 121 at PCC, when he was learning English, or tiny framed photos of him in his band uniform as a kid abroad in Latin America. Possessions are weird; it’s like they don’t ever really go away, but just get passed on. Even when you throw them away into what you hope is the black void of your garbage can, they still just get carried away to a different site, to a dump under the earth, where they sit until Lord knows when.

So helping him sort through his stuff inspired me to do the same for mine, but unfortunately I ended up not throwing that much stuff away. Instead I went kind of crazy taping old documents and photos to the wall, some of them dating all the way back to high school… freshman year… my semester abroad in England… senior year. Now the wall looks kind of cluttered and crazy and I’m wondering if it’s going to make anyone who comes into my room (specifically me!) feel claustrophobic.

The family tree my uncle made me… drawings… postcards… thank you cards… photos… magazine cut-outs… I dunno. It makes me feel very high-school, in a way. But I haven’t really had this stuff out since graduating in May 2008: not in the Milwaukie house, not in the NE house, not when I was in Mexico or Colombia. So it feels good to put it up again, like I am reclaiming my space, marking my territory, making it my own. “From the center of my life came a great fountain, at the end of my suffering, there was a door.”

Still messy. Ugh...

I found a LOT of random papers I couldn't bring myself to throw away!

A lot of old gifts from people, too.

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Filed under centers, Dear Diary, photos, poetry

An update: “Any minute now, something will happen.”

Today was my first organic gardening class at the local community college (still a 1-hour bus ride away for me… such is the bike commuter’s life). I like reading and learning about gardening because I feel like so much of it can be reapplied as an appropriate metaphor for life in general. So many of the phrases that I wrote down as notes in class feel like they could be rewritten as a personal philosophy. Unfortunately both pens I brought to class ran out of ink, so most of my pages are scarred with my frantic white scratches, trying to get them to work again. What I did manage to scrawl down, though (painfully, one letter at a time), feels full of potential. Like, don’t grow the same monochromatic thing. A good garden is a diverse garden. Or how about: never use up all your fields in one year, instead, rotate. And utilize practices that minimize adverse effects on ecosystem. Simple and basic, yet still surprisingly moving. I feel like these phrases are good advice for one’s brain and energy. I especially enjoying the idea of “lying fallow”–of accepting that there are seasons in which things flourish, and then longer periods time in which things lay dormant.

I think I’m definitely in a dormant phase for now. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m okay with the fact that my reading has slowed down significantly, when compared to last year, when I was commuting for 180 minutes a day, five days a week.

Maybe I’ve been sort of dormant in general. I’ve definitely been busy, and not just with work, settling back into PDX, running errands and establishing new/old routines (yoga, bike riding, etc.) and so on. I just got back this morning (6AM flight–woo!) from a 4-day jaunt to L.A. to visit my college lady friends. It was a great little visit. We went to the Disneyland, played with kitty cats, watched youtube videos about bears bouncing on trampolines, ate out a lot, and walked around in the bright L.A. sun together (how cold and chilly and grey Portland seemed in comparison this morning! I mean, it HAILED, for goodness’s sake). And now I’m back in Portland, the city where it seems my roots (ha ha!) are going to set for now.

I have been reading, though: William Faulkner’s Light in August, Maria Luisa Bombal’s House of Mist and The Shrouded Woman. I have yet another pile of random library books (mostly more Latin American literature) that’s been sitting on the hallway floor next to the shoes for ages, and my e-mail inbox is filled with holds notifications for books from the Central library that I’ve never picked up. The schedule for events and readings at Powell’s this upcoming month also looks pretty intriguing (William T. Vollman of Poor People, Bill McKibben of Deep Economy, and Dave Shields of Reality Hunger, a book I’d like to read). So: I’m not too worried.

Thus, in the spirit of “lying fallow” (at least for now), here’s a poem I really like, maybe my favorite one that I’ve read all year:

Drinking While Driving by Raymond Carver
It’s August and I have not
Read a book in six months
except something called The Retreat from Moscow
by Caulaincourt
Nevertheless, I am happy
Riding in a car with my brother
and drinking from a pint of Old Crow.
We do not have any place in mind to go,
we are just driving.
If I closed my eyes for a minute
I would be lost, yet
I could gladly lie down and sleep forever
beside this road
My brother nudges me.
Any minute now, something will happen.


A book from the future?

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Filed under Dear Diary, gardening, poetry, portland

Portland life and stuff and things

On Tuesday I put on

  • my black dress I’d bought in high school, the same one as my sister’s
  • the white shirt from the Nuevo Laredo puglas market,
  • the grey jacket the female loan officer gave me in Acuna,
  • the blue socks my boyfriend’s mother gave me in New Orleans for Christmas,
  • the black leggings my mother gave me in Cali three years ago when I was sad and had said that I’d always wanted to own a pair of leggings
  • the blue shoes I’d bought in Target, the same as the ones my sister had bought (unknown to me at the time of my purchase–another eerie example of twin psychic-ness? eeee!)

and set off on the red bike, beat-up and ugly, that I’d bought myself three years ago to help mend a broken heart, and my boyfriend’s green T-rex snowboarding helmet that an Australian folksinger addicted to heroin had given to him as a gift. I rode off for my first day at work at my new job. It felt good. The Portland weather was blustery yet surprisingly warm; I didn’t need to pull on my rain pants (left behind at my house by my friend, who’d worn them during rugby practice). My belly was full of lentils and brown rice and smoothie. Later that evening I made plans with my little brother for the summer: roadtrips to California, Sasquatch music festival in the Columbia gorge, Shakespeare plays in southern Oregon.

It was a good feeling. I felt like I knew how to be happy. I felt like I knew how to live my life.

Today I went to the first day of the Portland farmer’s market downtown, where I admired the vegetables, marveled at the crowds and delighted in the flowers.

I did lots of little, simple things. I went to the library and checked out too many books, some that I’d read before (The Mad Toy, Artificial Respiration), others that I hadn’t (The Shrouded Women, Onetti’s The Shipyard in English and Bodysnatchers). I bought Street Roots and gave out most of my change (I had to pick out all my Colombian coins first) to some panhandlers. I went to Powell’s and spent ages in the different sections: magazines, self-published zines, fiction, writing, self-help, poetry. And now the kitchen where I’m writing is filling up with people looking over my shoulders and asking me “what are you writing?” (my biggest pet peeve ever!!), and I just remembered I need to start marinating my fish so that I can start cooking my soup, so I’ll just end this very simply. I came home and felt the need to write it down: I had a good day.

Also, this video by Cary Tennis.

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Filed under Dear Diary, happy, portland

Writer’s Block: My Word

If you could have the writing ability of one author, who would you choose, and why? Would you exchange writing styles permanently?

Wow, good question. It’s interesting because as much as I admire the writing styles of some of my favorite authors (like Faulkner or Onetti), I would DEFINITELY never want to write like them. I dunno… it just feels like something very weighty and painful, to be able to write like a genius, you know?

Overall I prefer authors whose writing styles could be described as very simple, almost basic, as opposed to ornate or fancy. I’ve already said that if I could write like any author, it would be like Anne Tyler, namely for the loving and vivid characterizations in her novels. Give me Murakami for his descriptions of food, and Bolaño for his moments of insight, realization and description. Give me Tolstoy for his realism and his kindness towards his characters. Flannery O’Connor has some killer plot twists but I think I’d stop there. Give me Vonnegut for humor (a characteristic sorely lacking in most fiction). Give me Ali Smith for creativity (drawing the line at her more post-modern stories, which I enjoy but do not wish to emulate), and Melissa Banks for honesty. Give me “Mrs. Dalloway”‘s poetry and beauty. (Wow, this is turning into an ode to books and authors I love in general.) And finally for overall writing style, give me George Orwell–you can’t fail there with diction, word choice, clarity and overall “voice” of the writing.

And of course I would never exchange writing styles. What would be the point? Because then it wouldn’t be mine anymore!

Also, here’s a fascinating article on “Borges y yo,” my favorite Borges short story. The comment at the end left me wondering whether or not it was Borgesian-styled fiction–I honestly couldn’t tell. The link at the bottom to another piece by the author, Notes Towards the Memoirs of a Book Thief, is also excellent and very Arlt-esque. The idea of inscribing a book to oneself before stealing it is especially ingenious. The only book I ever remember stealing myself was “Saint Maybe,” but I might even be remembering that wrong, it could have been my sister who stole it. I definitely stole the Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath. Sorry, Colegio Bolivar library. Guilty as charged. We were the only ones who ever checked it out anyway.

Some other interesting articles related to books and writing I’ve stumbled upon lately, via the new Glory in my life that is Google Reader:

  • Ten Rules for Writing Fiction – I like Elmore Leonard’s, Roddy Dole’s, Geoff Dyer’s and Anne Enright’s the best. I especially like this bit: writing is all about ­perseverance. You’ve got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of ­going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That’s what writing is to me: a way of ­postponing the day when I won’t do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.
  • More good writing advice from Salon.com: A Reader’s Advice to Writers

In other news:
– Next week is technically my last at the office, because I’m leaving next Friday to fly to Cali and visit my mummy, the Princess and whatever other pets may still be lounging around.
– I took a day off from the office yesterday because of tummy troubles and it was a blissful godsend.
– Today has been blissful as well: Corey and I watched Big Fish (a better movie than I remembered, surprisingly touching and Quixote-esque) in the morning and went to the beautiful botanical garden in the afternoon, which was HUGE. There were a ton of animals like ducks (<3), geese and enough tortoises to make you slightly alarmed. At the snack stand, we got to see a squirrel steal a lollipop from the store, and a tortoise eat the runny black poo that dropped out of a gosling’s butt. Hilarious, memorable stuff.
– Now we’re going to go out to dinner to a cevicheria :) Not that many days left here in Bucaramanga… always moving, always heading out somewhere, to something

Marching
home, now
going my way
going to something
to something
to something…

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Filed under colombia, Dear Diary, silly