Category Archives: Alphabet: A History

I is for I

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The last time I blogged, it was July, and I was surrounded by heat. I thought that perhaps just for balance, I might blog I for Ice, since after all, it is now wintertime, and when I open my front door, it’s like opening a refrigerator door. Except there aren’t goodies to eat on my porch.

But after some thought, I decided that I is for…I.
(And yes, like Sunny said, I is for I…need to update this site more often).

I is for first person, singular. I is for being the narrator of my own story.

I is for a brand new year ahead, wherein I will prioritize my novel (which btw, is NOT written in the first person). I will prioritize my writing. I have been given the gift of time; the last time I had time to write my novel was in 2009, when I was laid off from my job. In shock, licking my wounds and doing budget calculations in my head with numb precision, I remember limping to my novel-in-progress, determined to make lemonade.

And I did. I finished a complete draft of my novel by year’s end.

I’ve been given the gift of time again. After 2010’s intense work schedule, wherein I vacillated between being grateful for work in the midst of the Great Recession, and being forlorn about having no space to write and wishing wishing wishing for a residency or some sort of fantasy scenario in which I could write every single day…

My dream has come true. I’m moving to NYC. To write. (Well, it’s more complicated than that–but the end result is that I will be in NYC, and have more time to write).

I is for I. I will write. I will have a fantastic 2011. I will take care of my health. I will get back into shape. I will revise my novel until I am proud.

And to my NYC friends: I will see you soon.


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H is for Heat

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I thought for awhile what to write for H. I’ve felt the pressure to write SOMETHING, because I haven’t written here in quite some time, and this blog, at least in my head, is not defunct. It is still very much alive, even though I’m blogging elsewhere on a more regular basis. I don’t want it to die. And yet, H does not inspire me. And if I’m not inspired, I do not write well.

But here we go. Sometimes, we have to write the crap to get to the good stuff: H is for Heat.

I have had a longstanding hatred for heat, having grown up in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley (not The Valley–the OTHER Valley) with its mountains trapping the trough with heat and and smog giving the summer sky a milky look. Temperatures were regularly above 90F and often topped 100F.

Exacerbating the situation was a guideline my dad set down, such that I would watch the thermometer like a hawk; if you are already hot, I think the worst thing you can do is WATCH the thermometer, but that is exactly what I did all summer long. My dad would not turn on the AC until the indoor temperature reached 85F. (This means the outdoor temperatures had to hover near 100F).

All summer long, my thighs would stick to the leather couch, my hair would stick to my face, flushed red from…heat.

Because of the “minimum 85F temperature” rule, I felt no incentive to keep the house cool; in fact, I did all I could to make the indoor temperature hit 85F.

Thus started a lifelong hatred with heat. With the Valley. I fantasized about becoming independently wealthy and traveling the world such that I would avoid summer and heat throughout the year. I would live in the Southern hemisphere from May to October! And then move to the Northern hemisphere! I would vacation in Alaska!

To this day, I will stand outside in a pair of pajamas, no parka, watching the snow come down up in Tahoe. My neighbors there think I’m crazy; I enjoy standing out there when the temperature is 12F waiting until my bones are chilled.

I love the fog in SF/Berkeley. The fog covers up any hint of summer. It quenches the heat. Right now, the East is having some terrible heat–I’m hearing about it from friends on twitter–temps near 100F! And with about 100% humidity to accompany the heat. They too, are fantasizing about trips to Alaska.

Me? I quail thinking about what they’re going through. And I’m getting ready for a trip to Alaska. Literally.

*Seriously: any yummy food recommendations along the ALCAN/Alaska Highway? Or should we stock our cooler really well in Vancouver and keep strictly to our cooler all the way up to Alaska?


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G is for Gatsby

G can only be for Gatsby–as in Jay Gatsby, as in my favorite novel of all time since I first read the book in high school, as in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

F. Scott Fitzgerald cannot be a more different writer than me, and cannot have lived a more different life, but it is not the things that are similar to me that I love most in life. I love my quiet, big picture, intrepid, irreverent, even tempered, tall, mathematics-inclined, scientist, engineer husband. I love my boisterous, rule breaking, front-of-the-crowd, flirtatious, not-afraid-of-change, best friend. I love Berkeley because it challenges me to be different, and because it comforts me for being different (in my little pocket of Berkeley, it’s even okay to be Republican; not that I am one).

Gatsby is the American Dream–its seductive nature, its possibility and its rotting underside. He is a character who lived with infinite hope and who is the ultimate Romantic, who collected his fortune for a love that was not so much real as it was imagined in his mind. He is the man who sits at the end of the dock, his arms outstretched towards the green light.

Gatsby is the Jazz Age of the 1920s, a time period with which I have been obsessed for two decades. It has wrought my aesthetics–for I love Art Deco. It is a time period that partied hard without disregard for the possibility of a fall that did come a decade later.

Gatsby is not so much different from my own perspective. In so many ways, I understand Nick Carraway, the observing narrator of the book; I grew up in the 1980s, another “decade of excess,” albeit one clothed in padded shoulders and acid washed jeans instead of flapper dresses and marcelled hair. I have been a bystander to great wealth, mystified and amused and intimidated and scornful and seduced by things that are “full of money,” whether a voice like Daisy Buchanan or the lustre of fabric on a haute couture dress or the burnish of tarnishing silver. I have watched this wealth disappear; I have watched people grow from the terror of money torn from them, and I have watched people wither and die with a shriek after money has gone away.

It is not much different from my mother’s family–she was once wealthy, and then the War came, and the money was gone. She and my father raised me to never covet money, because they had seen the addiction.

Gatsby is careless people.

Gatsby is a beautiful world with danger underneath–women like moths fluttering to the light in their party dresses, as “in his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.

Gatsby is tragedy. Gatsby is a car. Gatsby is that car luring the love of your life into its passenger seat and then its driver’s seat. Gatsby is a vehicle for destruction and death. Gatsby is materialism but materialism gone too far.

Gatsby is consumerism, as described, “Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York—every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves.”

Gatsby is a relatively short novel, one that on a craft level, I look upon with awe. F. Scott Fitzgerald told eons in only a few lines; when Gatsby, showing off, throws dozens of fine and beautiful shirts on a bed to which Daisy cries at their beauty…well, that speaks worlds about the two characters. I have watched people do the same–show off their closets. I am conscious to never cry.

Gatsby is beautiful language. Gatsby is that last beautiful and mystical line, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Gatsby is my favorite novel of all time. I wish I could write a book like that.


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F is for Fall

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F is for Fall. Every year, I wait for the sunlight to wane into pale yellow streaks that color a white wall ivory, for the evening temperatures to fall, to celebrate leaves that turn into fiery colors until they drop as if burnt to a crisp, and break out my scarves from the closet. Oh, Fall.

I’m creative during Fall. I like cooler weather…and perhaps because of my lifelong pattern of returning to academic studies in the Fall, my work ethic seems more honed. Or maybe it’s because I grew up a chubby child ashamed of her pudgy self, and prefer to wrap myself in clothing. I’m not a summer sort of person, I’m never comfortable in a swimsuit, I don’t like to tan, I don’t like the heat, I prefer to do summer activities like hiking in the Fall (Autumn is when the mosquitoes die–hooray!), and I don’t even like the long days.

Give me a sweater. A jacket. A scarf. Boots. A book. Ingredients for apple tarte tartin. Pumpkins. Cinnamon. A blanket. Fuzzy slippers. Hot tea. Give me Fall.

——

Joining Charlotte’s Web, The Contact Zone, Asiatic Fish, and Fog City Writer in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. It’s called Alphabet: A History.

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E is for Earthquake

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We were in marching band practice (yes! band geek! complete with band camp!) in a parking lot across the street from campus when suddenly I heard the sound of an eighteen wheeler truck going down the street…only there was no truck on the street. Where was the truck? It was 7:42am in the morning, and the street was empty, save for the occasional sedan.

We heard the sound of the truck above our music, the sound was that loud. It was that loud. It was THAT loud. Our brains alerted us, nary a split second later, that it could NOT have been a truck, and so we stopped marching and lowered our flutes, clarinets, saxophones, trombones, trumpets, and baritones and stood, confounded.

And then the oddest sight: concrete lamp posts waving in the air like dandelion stalks in a strong, yet indecisive breeze.

It was then, as we stood still, watching those lamp posts waving in the air like metronome pendulums, that we saw the cars bobbing up and down, and strangest of all, we felt the earth beneath our feet move.

It was an earthquake, later named the Whittier Narrows earthquake. (Seriously, they should come up with sexier names for these things, like how Hurricanes get named human first names–like Katrina).

I’d lost my earthquake virginity; that was my first big earthquake. Before that day, “earthquake” was a distant and exotic word, like “avalanche” or “famine” or “war,” one that I thought would never walk into my life. Most of all, it was an ABSTRACT term but that day it became a concrete term describing the earth rolling under my feet, in the same unsteady way one feels when walking off a people mover onto solid ground. Or like the deck of a boat, swaying underneath my feet. Odd. Logic-defying.

Immediately, two kids starting screaming and crying. I scoffed at them, but deep inside, if I had been entirely honest with myself, I could identify with the terror of having the earth, something that was supposed to always hold steady, something we’d always known to hold steady, move beneath your feet.

***

Many kids went home that day crying or in reluctant terror, even though I stuck out the school day in awed silence.  Those of us who stayed in school played out our shock in numerous ways, including entertaining stories of where we were when the earthquake hit.  One of them, my friend C, kept her eyeliner as she’d applied it that day, a jagged line sprouting from her eyelid; she had been in the middle of putting on her eyeliner when the earthquake hit.

And me?  For months afterward, the sound of an eighteen wheeler made me think earthquake.  For months afterward, the vibrations on the ground from a passing eighteen wheeler made me think earthquake.   Years later, in New York City, I’d feel the subway move beneath my feet and think earthquake.

***

Joining Charlotte’s Web and The Contact Zone in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. It’s called Alphabet: A History.

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D is for Dirty

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I used to carry around disinfectant wipes and/or a bottle of purell with me all the time. Before the days of wet wipes and packaged purell, I would carry little packets of rubbing alcohol wipes–you know, the kind they have in bulk supply at doctors’ offices. On public transportation, I would wipe down the seat before I sat down, or wipe down a pole before wrapping my hand around to hold. Or anywhere public, for that matter. During flu season, I’d wish I could sanitize the air of viruses, and all year round I feared bacteria floating through the air, let alone those residing on said seats and poles and handrails.

I was always this way–when I once rode the RTD (L.A.’s MTA used to be called the RTD–the misnomer, “Rapid Transit District”) to the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA) with my friend in high school (hello, from the suburbs of LA this is a huge expedition), I diligently wiped down my seat before sitting down, to the stares of other riders.

My mother was a nurse who, when she cleaned the house, called the act, “disinfecting,” using surgical grade cleaners to wipe down kitchen counters until she stripped the finish off of surfaces. Nothing was clean until the germs were gone. She would chant, “Once you get something dirty, it will never be the same again, never the same clean it once was when new.” That line stuck with me.

My friend would brush the leaves off a wooden bench. Was that bench clean? No, because the germs were still there. Wipe, wipe.

This compulsion only increased when I worked at a medical facility, surrounded by disinfectants and germ-killing procedures. It also didn’t help that there was a lot…and I mean A LOT of greed in that particular corner of the medical industry. Surgeons would scream at me if surgeries were cancelled; not only were they dismayed at the cancellation and the impact on their schedule, they were mostly furious at the loss of revenue.

Until then, I’d always seen doctors as role models, as highly educated and deft practitioners of saving lives and good health. Ok, maybe doctors could be super horny and full of drama, like in St. Elsewhere or ER or Grey’s Anatomy but no one’s a truly greedy asshole, not even McSteamy. It shocked me to see that patients could be seen as revenue sources, and it shocked me to see the behavior of very very greedy doctors. It felt…corrupt. I felt dirty. I felt unclean. I felt I would never the same as when I was new. I felt I would never be clean again. I felt dirty.

And so I would wash my hands.

I would wash my hands again.

I’d get screamed at. I’d feel pressure to make money in an industry vertical that I’d before seen as altruistic practitioners of medicine ala Marcus Welby, M.D. I would go into a dark empty room and cry. I’d never heard such profanity directed at me in a workplace before.

I’d wash my hands again.

I’d wipe my keyboard.
I’d wipe my desk.

I’d get screamed at–why is everything cancelled? We’d undergo inspection by the Department of Health Services. They’d scrutinize every single corner of our facility, pore through our procedural manuals. Were we clean enough?

I’d wash my hands. I’d wipe my keyboard. I wiped the surface of every single thing. I’d watch the scrub techs mop the floor of the surgical suite with a special mop only used for that room. With industrial grade disinfectant that smelled sweet and artificial. I’d wash my hands. I’d wipe my keyboard. I’d wipe the doorknobs.

I’d hold my breath. Once I even wore a surgical mask. I took it off at the behest of my coworkers, but I’m telling you, I felt SO MUCH BETTER wearing that surgical mask.

I quit that job. I applied to, and got into MFA programs. I kept carrying around surgical gloves and purell and wet wipes.

I went through a bottle of purell each week. I went through my portable packets of wet wipes more than once a week. I wore surgical gloves when I used the computer lab at school and had to use a shared keyboard. A fellow MFA student leaped up and said with a smile on her face and concern in her voice, “Jade, what is UP with the gloves?!” I would wear surgical gloves when I went to a buffet, the thought of touching the same serving tongs that some stranger had just used seconds before me gave me the heebies.

I quit going to buffets because the thought of people breathing on my food, and possibly coughing and sneezing onto the open vats of food gave me heebies I couldn’t mitigate.

And finally. And finally, I said I couldn’t deal with this. More specifically, my husband said to STOP. STOP. STOP. STOP.

So I stopped carrying purell and wet wipes. I put my hands on things. I washed them afterwards, but I did not use purell and wet wipes. No purell. No wet wipes. NO disinfecting.

I chanted to myself that viruses eventually die, and that shopping cart over there had probably not been touched in an hour. At first I picked abandoned shopping carts in the far corner of the parking lot. Even then, I made my husband push the cart when possible. And then I was, one day, okay with using one that someone had just abandoned a few seconds previous. And no wiping.

I still wash my hands a lot. But I refuse to carry the purell and wet wipes. I met a friend I hadn’t seen in years and years. She asked me if I had a wet wipe. I said no. She was surprised. I told her, I don’t carry them anymore.

She said, eyes widening with surprise, that’s good.

***

Joining Charlotte’s Web in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. It’s called Alphabet: A History.

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C is for Corpse

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I’d never seen a corpse before. But there he/it/the body was, in a small studio apartment the size of a basic motel room, on the bed, on his/its/the body’s back, the face frozen in suffering, spelling out every single effort of last breath and pain. Not a peaceful death even if perhaps it occurred in sleep, the eyes closed.

If I had not known this was my friend’s deceased father, I might have initially guessed he was asleep, until the stillness of his body would make it clear that he had passed.

She had called me an hour earlier. “My father died last night.” He had been fighting, and losing, his battle with prostate cancer. “I don’t know what to do, he was Jewish, I don’t know what to do.” She was not a practicing Jew–she had grown up in Russia behind the Iron Curtain, with little knowledge of Jewish practices. She wanted me to help.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll be over.” I didn’t know much, either, just what I’d learned in my studies during Orthodox conversion. Just what was in books. Asking me to help was an act of desperation. I spotted my copy of Maurice Lamm’s The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning and slipped it into my purse before driving over the bridge to the City.

And now there I was, feeling inadequate in the room with her father’s body, a corpse, armed with…a book.

“Hi.” What else could I say?

“Hi,” she said, and I could see she was very far away, by the way she moved. She was a nurse, and she worked with a familiarity with the dead, businesslike and well-practiced in the art of caring for bodies. The only evidence that this was not a normal patient was the way she periodically sighed as she idly straightened his blanket.

Together we opened the book and figured out what to do. We should get a candle. It was the Mission, a candle was fetched. It was an altar candle. Was this okay? I shrugged, it should work. It was lit. We should say a prayer. We should not leave him alone. We should try to bury him today. We should try to find a burial plot. There was a Jewish cemetery nearby. Buy the plainest wooden casket.

We whispered, we moved around the room as if he was asleep. But he was not asleep. He was dead.

I am ashamed to say that I felt a great fear of his body, the corpse, sitting in the room. When the mortuary people came to take his body away, I watched with great awe and relief as they, with great grace, carried him away.

***

Joining Charlotte’s Web in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. It’s called Alphabet: A History.

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