Monthly Archives: April 2007

holy moly


Last night, while we were out of town, a tanker exploded near the eastbound approaches to the Bay Bridge–yes, we’re talking about the infamous MacArthur Maze. The explosion has destroyed approaches to at least 3 eastbound freeways, including one that I take all the time.


Update: more Wow…a citizen’s youtube video of the fire.


Filed under The World

Revisiting the short story, and falling in love again

Superleggero means “Superlight”–in the realm of cars, superlight ain’t bad. It’s terrific.

The novel is widely regarded as the most desirable (and publishable) format of writing, at least for fiction. Ask a literary agent what she thinks of short story collections, and she’s likely to answer, “Whenever someone presents me with a short story collection, I ask if they can write a novel instead,” adding “Short stories just don’t sell.” (They don’t. A novel is considered a “best seller” when 5,000 copies are sold…a short story collection is considered a best seller if it sells 2,000 copies).

Additionally, the short story collections that do get published are with the understanding that the writer tackle and write a novel as a followup–take Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake and Daniel Alarcon’s Lost City Radio, for starters. Jhumpa Lahiri proved that she is a much better short story writer, and yet she’s pressured to write a novel–the Holy Grail of published writers. At the end of the fiction finish line is: The novel, the novel, the novel, the novel. The novel!!!

I started, as so many fiction writers have, with writing short stories. Being in an MFA program also encourages the short story format; writing workshops are just so much friendlier to nurturing short stories. Yet, the novel is the penultimate product for a writer, despite this lack of support or scaffolding for the learning writer. So it is that many of us make the leap across the chasm, with great hope and few tools. It’s what we have been taught to aim for: The Novel. So for the last couple of years, I have been writing a novel.

But recent developments have made me unable to even look at my novel, let alone write my novel. In addition, reading novels is an entirely different sort of exercise for me now, as my cognitive skills return in different form and/or return slowly. So what have I been doing?

In addition to memoir and nonfiction, I have been reading short stories, and slowly returning to the realm of fiction through beginning attempts at short story writing. The short story has regained prominence in my writing life these days…and I wonder, “Do I really want to work on my novel?” Should I change my thesis from my novel to a collection of short stories?

Elsewhere, others are documenting their 10 Favorite Short Stories–it has awakened my thinkings about the short story genre. It has encouraged me to read more short stories; today I read Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” courtesy of Literary Kitten’s Short Story Challenge. The story was amazing–I read it in the backseat of my car on a longish roadtrip today, in an eerie reflection of the short story’s similar setting. It pierced my psyche in all sorts of ways, this rich nugget of literature.

And yes, sometimes I remember the amuse bouche (short story) of an elegant and extraordinary 12 course meal more than I remember the entree (novel).

In the course of this “10 Favorite Short Stories” meme, someone (and I can’t remember who it was–so if you know who it was, please let me know so I can credit her (I’m pretty sure the person was a woman) properly) observed that the selection of the participants’ “10 Favorite Short Stories” has been incredibly diverse (as opposed to how a 10 favorite novels survey might come out). She concluded that short stories must pierce the psyche like no novel can, resulting in such a wide variety of choices.

Of course, this leads me to the observation of one of my writing professors/mentors, a poet and short story writer himself, during my first semester as an MFA student. “There’s nothing wrong with short stories you know,” he said with great weariness at the pressures of publishing. We all nodded blankly, our eyes focused past his shoulder on the novelistic horizon.

Now, nearly three years later, I think, “He’s right.”


Filed under Publishing, Reading, The Stroke, Writing

Thinking Blogger Awards Round Trois

thinking bloggerthinking bloggerthinking blogger

(Note: I didn’t expect to win a 3rd Thinking Blogger Award–I had to go google for the French word for “three” (it’s “trois” fyi and if it isn’t obvious by now, I speak very very very very very little French)–if I had known that there would be a third round of these awards, I would have picked a language I know, like Spanish! Or Korean, but then YOU would have been googling for the meaning of “dool” and “saet”)

Anyway, onward: I have been awarded another Thinking Blogger Award!

This falls on the heels of my 2nd award and my first award–I purposely leave you links to those rounds, because I pointed to some very worthy blogs.

I have to say–I’m surprised! Thank you to the Kellementology blog! Your award comes at a particularly pitiful moment in my life, and I gobble this award up with great joy. I’m glad my writing means something to others.

And now I must, in turn, award 5 other blogs an award (and moving forward: each of my awardees must now award 5 other blogs. Don’t forget to include the link to the Original Thinking Blogger Award post).

Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. I f*cking love him! He makes me so deliciously angry and alive!!!! He makes me think and get really really pissed off (in a meaningful way)!!! He is Angry Asian Man
  2. The person who awarded me my first Thinking Blogger Award, Susan of ReadingWritingLiving should name her blog “ReadingWritingLivingThinking” because her posts are so heartfelt and cover topics from adoption to writing to family to Rosie O’Donnell (hisssss). I held off on giving her a Thinking Blogger Award, not because she didn’t deserve it, but because I thought it would be weird to reciprocate the award so immediately–I am glad I have a 3rd chance to award her blog!
  3. Don’t forget W over at Loud Solitude, a place I visit to read about the writing process and deep ponderings about family and life. Put your thinking cap on.
  4. One of my favorite parts of ZYZZYVA are the letters to the Editor. Howard Junker prints the most amusing and thought-provoking excerpts of these letters on the back of the litmag. Now he has a blog called ZYZZYVASPEAKS (is that supposed to be in italics, or just caps?)–which provides me with endless amusement and thoughts such as, “How dry is his humor? Am I supposed to wince or laugh at this?” or the more earthly, “I never thought of it that way before.” You want to get an idea of what the editor of a wonderful litmag thinks about? You got your answer.
  5. Finally, there’s Paul Davidson (aka “Pauly”) at Words For My Enjoyment. Mostly, I wonder, “How could he think THAT!” with each of his posts, which are alarmingly creative and present a skewed but hilariously funny perspective on matters such as celebrities and grocery shopping. His most recent post is titled, “I am the Master Tracer”–yes, as in tracing outlines.

Now–go forth and MULTIPLY!


Filed under Memes

good news


My little darling dog is wriggling and running around again. She is a bit gimpy, but very much herself again.

These days, I’m reading Floyd Skloot’s In the Shadow of Memory, a book that Barking Kitten recommended to me–the book is a memoir of his life after an illness attacked his brain and left him with cognitive deficits. It’s amazing to read the book, seeing a mirror of my life in his words! I now read his book with a pen in hand, underlining passages that speak for me–the ways in which his writing process has changed, the ways in which his emotions now run amock, the ways in which he forgets things, the ways in which he hides his deficits, the ways in which his aphasia occur. He is so spot on!

I wish I had read his book earlier in my recovery, but of course, earlier in my recovery I couldn’t read very much–still, months later, the book and his words give me incredible comfort and reassurance and hope. His work also gives me perspective on my own recovery (which admittedly, is way more rapid than Skloot’s). It continues to be a mirror–in that I’m watching a writer try to recover his brain and writing.

Likewise, I realize I have a mirror in my doggie, who was paralyzed, had spinal surgery, and is now recovering. She came home walking, suffered a few days, and then turned a corner towards wellness. She went off her medications earlier this week, and day by day, her personality has been returning to her previously sweet and feisty (yes, you can be both) self.

Watching her recovery gives me a window into my own process–her personality was diminished by her injury and by the pain, much like I was diminished by the stroke in the early days. Then she fought, and her personality and spirit has returned, her progress taking steps forward.

I believe my doggie will return. I believe things will get better. All I have to do is wait and love.


Filed under Life, SuddenDeath, The Stroke

no dreams!


I read my bloglines subscriptions everyday. Yes, it’s an obsession of mine to read blogs, and I’m not satisfied until the “unread” blogs on bloglines indicates: 0. It takes awhile, I’ve got 143 feeds–I try to keep it under control, I unsubscribe to blogs now and then, and others I merely peruse…but still, it’s my way of keeping connected to the world, much like this blog is a way for me to be connected to people, to you.

Today, I discovered that two people, Nova over at distraction no.99 and Elizabeth of Fluent, posted about their dreams. It’s as if last night was a dream nexus for writers.

I read their dreams with great wistfulness and interest. Hrm. Wait. Why was I so wistful? Then I realized–I haven’t had a dream in weeks and weeks…maybe even months.

Oh boy.

My dreams have often been a way for me to connect with my creativity and imagination. In fact, so important have my dreams been that I have a category called “Dreams” for blog posts having to do with my dreaming.

What does it mean that I don’t remember my dreams (I doubt that I don’t dream–but could it be possible that I’m not dreaming anymore)? And is this a facet of my very sluggish imagination? Did my stroke have anything to do with this absence of dreams?


Filed under Dreams, The Stroke, Writing

yes i know

yes i know.  this blog reads like an awful tragedy, without any bright points, and i write in it with great fear that it will turn into a platform for utter self-absorption.  and really, how can it be at all entertaining?  but alas, it is my life right now.

i will look for a bright point to post on as soon as i can.


Filed under Life, Miscellaneous

new phase


i have had enough of phases–tragedy broken down into palatable steps. The grieving process and its phases after my stroke, and now the grieving process after a death in the family. Denial, bargaining, anger, depression…these steps are just small bites of eating horrid news and experiences.

So horrid would these experiences be, if they were to be swallowed all at once, that they could kill us, I think. I have had enough of grief, and I wonder if I would rather just swallow it whole–but it does not happen that way, the grief has a strange mercy and visits us in doses, hiding its bitter pills from my grasp.

So we eat the poison in little steps, barely palatable, with the hope that they will make us stronger and more immune and more learned about stuff we would rather never get to know. There is no manual, and everyday lies like mystery–the grandest novel of all.

Today is the end of sheloshim. It is now a month after we buried her, according to the Jewish calendar, and today we put a stage of our grieving past us. The men shave their beards, and we step into another phase, one that carries us gradually and further back into life. The prayers are said, the yarzheit memorial candles are lit, and a path is lit before us.

And even though it is supposed to be the end of this kind of mourning, and we are supposed to move towards remembrance and not grief, I am so very sad today.

I am sick of phases–they are just a part of something very long and difficult. And I am just not up for that today–I can barely breathe from the difficulty. The candles are just outside this room, in the hallway, casting shadows in the middle of a sunny day–even the light contains so much darkness.

When will this end?

And why does the end of sheloshim hurt so very much?   We had looked forward to this day as a lifting–but instead, we are dumbstruck by the pain.  And from what?  From letting go?  From remembering?  What?


Filed under Life, SuddenDeath, The Stroke

the end of a month

It has been a month since she was buried–and so ends sheloshim, the first month of grieving. The men in our house have shaved off their beards, a remarkable visual marker of this transition. After a month of not being allowed to cut their facial hair, and growing unkempt beards…they’ve appeared downstairs, each clean shaven, their faces re-emerging in lightened form.

I had anticipated a big shift today, after prayers and such, but now visualized, it is incredible.


Filed under Life, SuddenDeath

10 Favorite Short Stories


Nova listed her 10 favorite short stories, which I think is a fantastic idea–short stories get short shrift, even though they are brilliant literary nuggets. People don’t read enough of them, people underestimate them, and publishing houses scowl at them (it really is harder to publish a collection of short stories than a novel–mostly because said people don’t buy short story collections).

In fact, I don’t even count short stories on their own on my “book list”, even though I am reading short stories all the time, in various litmags or copied out of collections for my enjoyment. Especially these days, when a novel is too daunting to read for multiple reasons.

Hrm. Maybe I ought to make a short story side-list.

Anyway. Here’s to short stories!

Here are my “10”current favorite short stories:

  • Toni Cade Bambara–“The Johnson Girls”
  • James Baldwin–“Sonny’s Blues”
  • Aimee Bender–“Debbieland”
  • Michael Chabon–“Along the Frontage Road”
  • Roald Dahl–“Lamb to the Slaughter”
  • Peter Ho Davies–“The Ugliest House in the World”
  • Junot Diaz–“Nilda”
  • Jhumpa Lahiri–“A Temporary Matter”
  • Yiyun Li–“Extra”
  • Haruki Murakami–“Honey Pie”
  • Tobias Wolff–“Bullet in the Brain”

And there you have it.


Filed under Reading

why oh why do i open old emails


On the leg (why the HELL did I write “on the leg”–stupid aphasia). After my previous post on lacking self-soothing mechanisms, I read an old email from one of my MFA peers who decided to dump our “friendship” in the wake of my stroke. Yes, I was reading the actual “dump” email. (“First, let me thank you for your good intentions…That was very nice to wish me well,” it begins. Not a good start).

Why? I guess because an MFA friend of mine asked me if I was going to that person’s reading. Ugh. I hadn’t told many people at all of being dumped (the person’s email reads, “I apologize that at this time in my life, I can’t maintain our friendship.”). I told my friend briefly why I wouldn’t be going–because I was unceremoniously dumped, post-stroke.

And then I read the old email again.

Man, it hurts as much today as it did then. (“I need to remain absolutely committed to my process, and that means that I can’t be in this now,” the letter continues).

In other news, when I return to campus this Fall, I hope I can protect myself. I am done with being hurt by MFA peers. (The email ends with, “Hope you are making a steady recovery. Take care of yourself!…Sincerely, Xxxxxx”)


Filed under Life, MFA, The Stroke

self soothing


I learned recently that the thalamus is part of a mechanism in the brain that “self-soothes.” For the first 6 months of a baby’s life, there is a lot of fear and crying because the baby has not learned how to self-soothe yet. There is no mechanism in the brain that reassures, “You will get fed, you just have to wait a little more,” or “Someone will come to change you,” or “Look, you always get held, eventually.” There is just a lot of emotions without management of said emotions.  The mechanism of self-soothing pops in at around 6 months–courtesy of the thalamus’s development.

And the thalamus is precisely where I have been struck. And this explanation of a lack of self-soothing explains my short fuse and sudden lack of coping tools! I find myself these days suddenly filled with anger or sadness and not knowing what to do to manage my feelings.

Often, I end up walling myself off, or walking out of a room to get some air, out of fear that I’ll lash out or continue to be hurt. What is wrong with me? I have been so frustrated. I assumed it had to do with my stroke of course.

Because of this lack of confidence and ability–I’ve continued to isolate myself in recent months.  My world has gotten pared down to just a few people, and I’ve only just begun to build it out in very very small steps.  The smallness of my world has become clear to me in recent days, with family tragedy taking me into a very large emotional circle, and expanding my social interactions.  Grief is quite a wieldy thing.

But my handling of grief by itself is not the only evidence of my limitations these days–I went to a wedding, filled with jubilant guests.  I found myself cringing in the music, and shying away from people and conversations.  It was too sudden a shift from my small small isolated world.  I felt emotionally naked–not an item of clothing on me to hide behind or give me strength and confidence.

What had happened to me?  I hardly recognize myself at moments, though I’m sure I do a fair job of hiding these deficits.

But now I see–the actual terms and clear explanation themselves soothe me. I have lost the ability to self-soothe!

Identifying the problem is half the battle. I feel victorious already.

The hope of progress is an amazing thing.

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Filed under Life, The Stroke

fantasy scenes


These days, to distract from my sometimes grim reality, I am retreating as best as I can into a world of books, literature, movies, and stories. Complete with a soundtrack, really! There are a number of scenes and music that make me happy, no matter what I’m faced with.

I read cookbooks and food magazines and imagine all the wonderful smells emanating from my kitchen, and a table full of friends. Sometimes the scenes happen in wintertime, and the table is filled with various cooked tubers and pies and rich stews, with a crackling fireplace.. Or it’s summertime, with the patio table laden watermelon and sorbets and a hearty barbecue entree, overlooking a San Francisco skyline view.

I recall Autumn, with its beautiful chilly air and the fiery red leaves and the smell of wood burning in fireplaces and putting on a sweater for the first time in months. Life is so beautiful when I recall these images.

I recall music that gives each image heft–Mozart’s Requiem or the Cranberries or Sia, The Fray, Snow Patrol, Enya, The Who, The Killers, Depeche Mode, the list goes on and on. There is music for each scene and mood, and I am overwhelmed just thinking of this emotional combination.

Novels and short stories engage me in another life, with its flavors and daily rhythms apart from my own. A little vacation.

And even movies. Right now, I am watching “You’ve Got Mail” because–well, because it’s on satellite right now. I love the scenes where Meg Ryan’s character walks through the streets of Manhattan, picking up flowers and navigating her way to work to the tune of the Cranberries’ “Dreams.” Her life is so incredibly quaint–her little apartment that she cannot possibly afford but of course she does afford because she is a movie character and audiences can’t bear to have a charming leading woman live in a hovel. Friends who gather and sing around a piano for Christmas. A cute little store. Tom Hanks (F-O-X!) and the unbelievably down-to-earth charm that a multi-millionaire cannot possibly exhibit with so much ease (most multi-millionaires I know are unbelievably guarded for very good reason).

The meet cute. The beautiful complexity of New York City (the “other” city I would live in).

Right now, it makes me want to visit New York, my hometown (really). I haven’t made it to New York in years, but I so want to walk around in that feeling of escape for just a little while!


Filed under Life