Category Archives: People

When My Mom Was My Age

There is an interview series called When My Mom Was My Age. I’ve wanted to participate, if only as an excuse to ask my mom some questions about her life at my age (37).

My hopes were that I would learn something from her, and gain some insight into my mother. I was going to post the interview up at my irl eponymous blog…but after hearing my mother’s answers, I balked. I didn’t even know if I wanted the answers up at all, because her answers felt so dark and filled with regret. It was, in sum, depressing to me to hear that my mother wasn’t happy at all at the age of 37, and was living, psychologically, day to day.

She regrets the many decisions made then–and coincidentally, or perhaps not so coincidentally, one of my life mottoes is, “Do not have regrets.” Listening to her, as I sit in the housekeeping years of middle age, I felt a deeper resolve to keep my life a happy adventure. I also noticed her child-centric answers, as I navigate my 30s unable to have a child and without child. Was it her children who held her back? Or her children who saved her? At the current age of 67, she still feels trapped by the decisions she made (or rather, didn’t make) in her middle age.

Which makes me feel awful. And yet enlightened. And awful. And yet enlightened. Who wants their own mother to feel their life is a cautionary tale?

And yet–I learned, even as my heart broke. And so, I’m posting the interview here on WUP.

I did decide to post a picture of my mom, when she was in her late 20s (I may remove it, later). She’s wearing her nursing uniform, back when nurses were required to wear hats on the job. She’s wearing eyeglasses–but she didn’t need them; she wore them because my dad wanted to obscure her youth and beauty. Or, as my mom put it once, “Daddy wanted me to look ugly, because sooo many doctors around me.” She’s smiling–and after you read the interview, you might think as I do, “What does that smile belie?”

Otherwise, there are no pictures of me and my mother, posted here on this anonymous blog. The interview is pretty much unadorned. She doesn’t go into details at points, and I know the dark context. It’s stark. Kind of like how I felt as I listened to her words, her voice creased and weary with time.

Where did you live?
I lived in Arcadia, California. I worked at Garfield Hospital.

What was a typical day like?
In the morning I woke up, I went to the hospital to go to work. I worked fulltime that time I was fulltime, working in the ICU, then coming home. Grandma was sitting on the sofa, and I had to cook, spend some time with you and your brother. Make dinner. Sleep. Then go to work again.

What did you worry about the most?
That time–ahhh, it was a tough time. Everyday, people picked on me, and give me a hard time. Grandma everyday was tough on me. Everything was a headache.

I only liked you and R. Everybody a work asked why I was smiling all the time; every time I don’t feel good, I just think about my kids, then smile. I was most happy face in the hospital. You two make my face so bright. I was the one, they called me the Happymaker because even though I have a lot of headache at home, my kids made me smile.

What did you think the future held for you?
My future. No. Just my children. Good school, and hoping when they grow up, they become doctors. Actually I wanted you to be a doctor and go to a good college. At that time, I was just thinking about your future, all the time. I didn’t think about my future at the time. Just my 2 kids.

How do you look back on that age?
If I had to do it again, I would have studied. Even if I fight with Daddy about school, I can study and make my life better at that time.

Do you have advice for anyone else at that age?
Advice. Just think of yourself for the future. Of course, children are there, but concentrate, do what you can do for your kids. If you’re hungry, don’t make your kids hungry. Do your best. Also, if Mommy goes to school, there are good effects to the children, because they can see Mommy study so hard, working so hard, making a good example for kids.

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Protected: Abandoned Landscapes, Round Two, Chapter Two

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Murakami at Zellerbach: summary

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As you know, I saw and met Haruki Murakami “in real life” this past weekend, at both his Cal Performances Zellerbach talk Saturday and his book signing Sunday.  I thought it would never happen–he rarely comes out to the West Coast, and I never seemed to find out about his east coast appearances until too late.  (Next stop: Jeffrey Eugenides!)

During his talk, I scribbled and scribbled.  I have a general obsession with recording things for posterity (hence this blog), further exacerbated by the fact that since my stroke, I haven’t had much confidence in my short term memory (even though it’s pretty much all okay now). And because of that and because any Murakami fan knows that he hates photographs and videography–I scribbled and scribbled, not wanting to forget a single world. (In an interesting way, he forced me to use words as a medium to remember him–what a writer!)

Above is a picture of the empty seats, before Murakami came up on stage (yes!  I had 6th row seats!). He sat on the left, his interviewer Roland Kelts on the right.

I ended up with a pretty good transcription, about 95% accurate.

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The auditorium of 800+ people hushed during the conversation between Haruki Murakami and Roland Kelts–it felt special, even though at times I felt the questions were more awestruck than intelligent, more awestruck than probing.  His answers often stayed on the well trodden path, but his humor and charm still very much pervaded the dialogue.

Murakami began the evening by reading his story, “Rise and Fall of the Sharpie Cakes,” an analogy for his relationship with literary critics. He read the story in Japanese (“Maybe some of you won’t understand Japanese. But that is quite unfortunate—but not my fault! (laughter from audience) So make yourself comfortable and enjoy the sound!”) The topics of discussion ranged from his obsessions (“Elephant, wells, refrigerators, cats, ears, sofa, couch”), to his musical tastes (classical, jazz, the Beach Boys), to his writing process and to his writing as it pertains to Japanese society. Quite a range.

(And for the record–Murakami was dressed in mustard-colored sneakers (they looked like chucks), chino pants, a light colored tshirt, with a dark grey cotton blazer jacket.  His voice was baritone but slightly sleepy sounding, as if he’d had a good nap before the performance).

Though I transcribed the conversation in its entirety, I will not be posting it in public. But here are a few excerpts…

On correspondence with readers:
Roland Kelts: You respond by email to your readers.

Haruki Murakami: It’s fun! The other day I got a question from one of my readers, he asked me a stupid question. I like stupid questions. He asked me squid has ten tentacles and he wanted to know if those tentacles are feet or hands. [laughter from audience] So I answered, put out ten socks and ten gloves, and let him choose!

On his writing process and going into the “underground”:
RK: You have said that a writer has to go to a dark place, the underground. In “Talk About Running,” you use the term, “toxic humanity.” You say a writer’s job is a dirty job and you have to confront the underground. Can you talk about what you experience doing that?

HM: I get up early in the morning, four or five, and I go to bed at 9pm—in fact it’s time to go! [at this point, it was 9:05pm]. And then I work three to four hours in the quiet and dark by myself. I concentrate on my work. Why I work in the early morning is I think I’m going down to the underground, there is a dark room and a secret door and I see something there I am not sure but I see those things I observe and remember, I come back to the ground, I write it, and shut the door. It’s dark work, a dark procedure.

Then I walk around, jogging, in the sun. Balance work in the darkness and sun. I run everyday, even here in Berkeley. I have to be tough to go to the dark place. If I am not tough, I will be defeated. You have to come back! Otherwise you will be lost. I have to be tough and have confidence, stay strong.

So what I’m doing is just observing things, not making up.

On Dreaming:
RK: This question is from Annie Kim. Do you dream vividly? If so, how often do dreams influence your characters?

HM: It’s simple: I don’t dream. It’s true, I’m not joking. You know I go to bed from nine to four. When I get up, I’m empty. I don’t remember. Maybe I do but I’m empty when I get up. Mr. Kawai said as a writer it’s normal. But as a writer I use it. I think I can dream while I am awake. Novelists dream when they are awake. You can dream intentionally. It’s fun, really fun.

On his next book!!!
RK: No name on this question. Mr. Murakami are you going to write a long novel again?

HM: I finished my new novel last week [loud applause]. It’s going to be a heavy book. I hope you are not commuting [referring to an earlier question about the length of his books and how his readers hate how heavy and burdensome they are to read while commuting to work on a train]. The book is out next year in Japan, and then this country after another year. I’m very happy and relaxed now, as you can see.

I walk around the city of Tokyo and somebody comes up to me and says I like your new book very much and I say thank you, please buy my next book.

Others say they hate it. And so I tell them I’m very sorry, but please buy my next book.

A delightful exchange about his favorite music:
RK: What’s your favorite band?

HM: Classical music in the morning, jazz after sunset. Daytime: rock music. I like Radiohead [cheers from audience]. Tom York likes my book. He is in Tokyo now and I am here in Berkeley. I am missing baseball game and Tom York.

I like REM, Beck, Red Hot Chili Peppers. Sometimes I sing while swimming.

RK: How do you sing while swimming?

HM: It’s boring in the pool. So I sing.

RK: How? When your head comes up?

HM: I’m bubbling.

RK: In the water?

HM: You should try!

RK: There’ll now be drowning cases.

HM: I like The Beach Boys. So beautiful, surfing in the 60s. I met Mr. Wilson when he came to Tokyo. He’s strange. But he’s a genius.

I like Jim Morrison.

But you know, musicians I like, they are kind of drug addicts. And the writers I like, alcoholic. Carver, Chandler, Fitzgerald…

RK: But you’re so healthy.

HM: Oh I’m fine! I’m a junkie for vinyl. But healthy!

On collecting vinyls and Berkeley:
RK: Did you find a record or two, special find in Berkeley?

HM: I was here sixteen years ago when there were lots of stores. But not anymore—just Rasputin’s and Amoeba—both of them strange names, weird names! Something is wrong with this town!

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I met Murakami irl!

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Boo yah kashah! I waited in line to meet Haruki Murakami today, and to get my books signed (they originally said we could get the new “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” book + 3 other books signed, but alas, they limited the number further. I’d wanted to get another book signed for a friend as a surprise, but alas that was not to be). The BART train was delayed, but I finally got there, about an hour pre-signing.

The line went up Van Ness Avenue and then wrapped around onto Turk…where I got in line. I befriended (or rather, was befriended by) other Murakami fans adjacent to me in line. I brought my laptop (in case I wanted to write), my journal, an issue of New York Magazine, an iPod, and my crackberry…but none of it was really necessary (or effective). The people around me were so excited, the chatter was endless. At one point, I put my headphones on and turned on my iPod, but to no avail. I was still hit up for chatter. I had my headphones on, with my iPod on, and I texted on my blackberry…to no avail. I was still hit up for chatter. I was feeling introverted, but I guess I had to come out of my shell.

The small talk gods were demanding, and so I gave up all my accessories and gave in to the will of the crowds around me, gave in to the social nature of people standing in line for one common goal, with one common interest.

I just wished the people around me–I just wished I could get something out of the chatter. It felt very meaningless, this surface talk.

I stepped out of line briefly to check out the line–wow! Thirty minutes before the reading, the line now snaked all the way back to Franklin. 300+ people in line to see Murakami.

The small talk gods, however, had something in store for me, and rewarded me for my patience and participation. The woman in front of me started talking about little Korean and Japanese dolls, these ball-jointed dolls, and BING! I was intrigued! Her passion was intoxicating! Her male companion (he was so funny–he didn’t get a book to have signed until I noted that he could sell it off on eBay for profit–zing! he was off to get a copy) finally came alive and looked up from his book! They became totally engaging, interesting people!

The dolls resonated with me because it resonated with the novel I’m writing. I have been struggling with one facet of the storyline–looking for some Korean historical connection/link to my protagonist’s dilemma (sorry for being cryptic, but I don’t like to talk about my novel’s details). OMG. What a gift! In a line for Murakami! In the most unlikeliest of settings, really, from the most unlikeliest of people, total strangers.

They shared information about the dolls, about the culture of the dolls. They were sharing the information with me because they love this particular doll culture. I was listening because I felt it was a huge gift, an answer to my novel’s dilemma. I thanked them for gifting me with something of great value.

The line began to move as we discussed these dolls. And before long, i was in front of Murakami (with very little fanfare–except for the fact that one person in line ahead of us tried to take a picture and he was almost body tackled by several other fans! Murakami is notoriously camera shy and has been known to call of his book signings when someone takes out a camera).

As usual, I get tongue tied around Famous People I Admire. I mumbled “Thank you for coming here,” and he quickly scribbled his autograph and my name on my books. I stood, 2.5 feet away from Haruki Murakami, as he sat and signed books with admirable cheerfulness. I’m sure all he saw of me was my red tshirt covering my potbelly and muffin top.

And then, in less than a minute, the moment was over. He said Thank You and I said Thank You and then I was exiting. The line usher smiled at me and I waved, and then I was blinking in the sunshine, the Blue Angels screaming overhead, the cars rushing forth.

I.met.Haruki.Murakami. My favorite writer.

p.s. I also did hear him speak last night at Zellerbach–and scribbled a 99% accurate transcription of his reading/conversation. Thrrrrilling! I’ll have to post some highlights of that talk up soon.

p.p.s. I am not sure if it’s the advent of Autumn (my favorite time of year), my friend’s visit last month, my recent vacation or what…but my head is filled with a kazillion ideas! I almost can’t believe I have to go to work this week, I feel so primed to sit and write all week.

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A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar

My “Hedgebrook BFF,” Randa Jarrar, is now officially a published novelist. Her debut novel, A Map of Home is out on bookshelves (virtual and real) for sale. Woohoo! I would love to give her a standing ovation–for this wonderful book, for the great reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly and more great reviews to come.

My copy hasn’t arrived yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing it on my doorstep (any day now, right, Amazon?). And, of course, to reading it–which I shall, turning the pages in bed each night before falling asleep.

Randa has a book tour, one that has her stopping in the Bay Area: Reader’s Books in Sonoma at 7:30pm on September 18…and Books Inc. on Van Ness in San Francisco at 7:00pm on September 19. I’ll be at both readings, cheering her on, and I hope you’ll be there, too. Go meet her. Go hear her read. She is a fantastic writer with a scintillating personality and a big heart. No one can make me philosophize, laugh and crack up like she can.

And as I imagine, her book will do the same.

Oh. And ahem–buy the book. 🙂

Update 9/3: The book arrived today!

Update 9/7: I finished reading it–my thoughts are up on my book list 08 page. It made me laugh, even though its humor stemmed from sadness and struggle (the very meaning of the narrator Nidali’s name)…and in the end, I cried. I am so proud of Randa, and so very touched by Nidali’s story.

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Happy dance for Junot

Junot Diaz’s book, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction today! I just sent him a congratulatory email and did a happy dance for him.

If you haven’t read the book, read it. It’s a remarkable work of art by one of my favorite writers and people.

Here’s a recent post-Pulitzer interview where he wonders how the universe will now balance out.

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