#Christmasmiracle #Gradesposted #Wineandwhinearedifferentthings

It's a Christmas miracle! I have finished and posted all my grades! It's been a long quarter, my friends, and it has been a quarter marked by two time things:
1. Teaching (which I enjoy)
2. Driving (which I've never really liked but which I am grateful to be able to do). My big girl started community college in the fall and, as you know, she cannot drive because of the whole seizure drama. Likewise, because of the whole Asperger's drama we wanted to minimize the number of big changes she had to adapt to. Bottom line: I was driving her to and fro, to and fro. Blah, blah, blah. But--here is the good news--she passed her classes! So we are all very proud and pleased.

These thing were sacrificed upon the alter of being a responsible professional and mother: writing (sad), networking (sad), reading lovely blogs (sad), eating enough vegetables (sad), having even one moment of time to myself (tragic), a clean house (HA!)

I was helping a friend's daughter work on her college application essays, and, as part of the supplementary materials for one school, she had to come up with a hashtag that defined her and then explain why. Nerdy me, I thought that was the most fun thing I'd ever heard: Here are some for me:

#I_vant_to_be_alone #Pour_mommy_a_glass_of_wine
#Help #Dustbunnyapocalypse

PS: as for the photo: they are succulents in a planter in my front yard. Aren't they pretty?


The time we roasted a pig

Did you tell your Thanksgiving story like we talked about? Well, go on! Tell me all about it.  As for me, I really struggled. I considered telling the story of the cooking class I took while studying abroad in Sienna, Italy, and then I thought, no, I should tell everyone about the time I spilled soda all over a crowded Carl's Jr. and a friendly homeless guy said to me, "I would advice you to take advantage of the free refills." So many stories. I didn't know where to start. But finally, I realized the story I needed to tell was right in front of me. It was the story of my silverware.

My Uncle Howard was the youngest of my father's four siblings, and he fought in the Vietnam War. From time to time, my mother would put together care packages and we would send them to him, which always seemed to me a very exotic thing to do. We would fill them with things like crackers and sardines and homemade cookies and ship them off. One time, Uncle Howard visited us when we were living in Utah. It was decided somehow that we should have a pig party. The next thing I knew, there he was pulling a whole slaughtered pig out of my mom's Volkswagen Bug. Much of the rest is kind of a blur, except I remember these things:

We roasted that pig in a big pit.
A lot of people came over to eat that roast pig.
The meat was, alas, dry and bland.
Soon thereafter our neighbors built a fence.

My Uncle Howard used to bring us lots of stuff from his R&Rs. He brought us stuffed koalas and platypuses covered in real fur. (I think it was rabbit. Don't go all PC on me it was a long time ago). He also brought my parents the coolest set of flatware ever. He got it in Thailand, and it looks like this.

It's made of brass and wood, and it comes in a great big wooden box. The set includes fantastic pieces, including extra-long spoons and serving pieces with long necks that twist around like rotini.
My mother has since handed the set down to me, and I love that it didn't just come from Macy's. It came from my Uncle Howard, who, tragically, like many of my tribe,
had a drinking problem and was, ultimately, a tragic figure who died fairly young, ambushed, at least in my mind, by memories of loss and violence and an uncooperative liver.


The Tomato Pilgrim

Alas, this would be a better post in early summer, but this is my pilgrimage story that I told at my cockTALE party. You are ready for storytelling this Thanksgiving, right? The theme is FOOD. Tell a five minute or less story about food and ask everyone else to share one too. I'll post mine next week. Enjoy your holiday!

In my mind, the perfect tomato is big, as big as a grown-man's fist. It is deep red, firm. It is cut length wise into thick rounds and it is sprinkled with salt and pepper. I encountered such a tomato for the first time when I was five. It was in Fresno, and it came straight from my great-aunt Minnie's garden. Minnie was my grandpa's sister, and she had made an enormous luncheon because my mother had brought us to visit from Utah. I had never met my aunt Minnie or most of the people sitting at that table, but I ate tomato slice after tomato slice and I felt not only perfectly happy but also enthralled with the larger world those tomatoes introduced me to--a world that did not consist of frozen corn, frozen peas.
            I did not have tomatoes that delicious again until we moved to Northern California some years later and I had my grandfather's tomatoes. He grew them every year, and he grew so many that all summer long he would give us big grocery sacks full of them and we would eat them every night. By the end of the summer we would be unimpressed---pleased to have them and always ready to eat them, but also bored by how pedestrian they had become. We were like Adam and Eve. We didn't even know we were living in paradise until we were kicked out. Although that's not quite true because I did know how good I had at. For as long as I had my grandpa's tomatoes and a good decade afterward, I refused to buy supermarket tomatoes. I found them offensive in the same way that a lover of Michelangelo might be offended by a paper-clip sculpture I put on a pedestal and call La Pieta.    
            But as the Buddha tells us, change is constant. And my tomato paradise that I took for granted could not last forever. Eventually, I settled in Southern California and my grandpa moved to a retirement home. One day, I went to the grocery store, and I bought tomatoes. Then I went again, and soon I didn't even notice how bland they were.
            But when we moved to my house, I slowly began my pilgrimage back to the perfect tomato. My first attempts failed, the tomatoes I produced tasting watery and tough. But I persevered, learning more, getting stronger as I journeyed longer. Now I have raised vegetable beds. I flirt with homegrown lettuce and basil, but those are trifles. Everything I do with those beds, from what I grow and where I grow it is really all about growing tomatoes. Last spring I literally went to an event called "Tomatomania" to buy my seedlings. And I can tell you that this year I produced really outstanding tomatoes.
            But my tomatoes are not as good as my grandpa's or his sister's. So I pilgrim on, always hopeful that each new summer will give me tomatoes like the ones I had growing up. But I wonder if I ever will, and not only because I lack the heightened taste buds of a five year old, but because those first tomatoes were always more than tomatoes. They were my grandpa. They were his sister. And now that they are gone I wonder if, as good as it is, a tomato is just a tomato.



You are invited...to throw a party

Who: YOU!

What: Are invited to throw a cockTALE party. A cockTALE party is something I invented, well sort of. There are lots of venues these days where you can go and listen to people tell personal stories (I'm participating in one tomorrow! Feel free to come!), but in a cockTALE party you gather people you love and tell each other your own personal stories. Think of it as your own personal Moth.

Why in the world would I want to do that? Because stories are what define us and what connect us to one another. You are the only one who can tell your story, and if you don't tell it it will be lost forever.

How do I do this incredibly fun-sounding thing?  I tested it all out for you on Saturday. It was so fun! Here is what you do:

  • 1. Gather about six or seven people (or more if some people just want to listen. Anymore than eight and I think people will get too antsy).
  • 2. Invite them to come to your house ready to tell a five minute personal story focused on a theme. Our theme was pilgrims because it is almost Thanksgiving, and we heard amazing stories about times in people's lives when they felt they were sort of on a pilgrimage.
  • 3. Put out some food and wine (my husband made lemon drops and my guests also brought finger foods).
  • 4. Mingle and enjoy each other's company and start your stories when you're ready.
  • 5. That is all you have to do! Trust me, you will have a great time.

When: Whenever you want! But you could also incorporate this into your Thanksgiving dinner! How fun would that be! I even have a theme for you. Super easy: Food.

A few tips: 

  • 1. Keep your theme general enough so that people can interpret it in different ways and not so obscure that you'll scare people. I think now that pilgrims may have seemed too obscure at first, but, really, in the end, it turned out great.
  • 2. Mix things ups. I struggled for a while with the worlds collide problem. Should I invite one particular friend group or mix things up? I mixed things up, inviting friends from different parts of my life, and I think it made it really fresh and meaningful. But you do what you think best.
  • 3. Don't be afraid to go inter-generational. My teens came, and one of my daughter's friends came and told a terrific story that really highlighted how one word can mean something different at different times of our lives.
  • 4. Don't make people tell a story if they don't want to. My husband and younger daughter did not tell stories. People should participate at their comfort level.
  • 5. Don't worry if people's stories go over--or under--five minutes. It will all work out.
  • 6. Have fun and realize that sharing stories makes us human and it is an honor to have someone share their story with you.

Later this week I'll post the story I shared. If you do have a cockTALE party let me know! I'll be so excited. Tell your friends to have their own. Let's not just OWN our stories, let's share them!

PS: The photo is of the finger food my friend Cathy brought. She got the idea from what she calls The Google. I like to call it the Story Snake.

Happy Storytelling!


Where in the World Do You Want to Go?

I'm telling you, people, between teaching and grading and driving people around I am feeling spent.

Top five places I think about visiting when feeling whiny:

1. The British Isles (My friend Alexandria is very keen on Scotland, but I would like to see the old country--Ireland. Plus England, of course. Pemberly awaits.)

2. Hawaii. I've never been. That just seems wrong.

3. Greece and Turkey: I wanna see all the ancient Greek archeological sites. You know I like me my goddesses.

4. The other old country: Germany. I am descended mostly from German farming stock, so pass the bratwurst and hand me a dirndl dress.

5. Kyoto. Everyone says it's beautiful, and I wanna see the giant Buddha statue.

How about you? Where are you itching to go?


Five Keys to Maintaining Zen-like Calm in the Midst of Chaos

Well friends, you know I am all about stress-free living, what with my everything is bullshit and all that matters is love and my Kumbaya let me find you a goddess or read your tarot cards, and my let's all just have some chocolate and wine in my special meditation/wine-drinking/far enough from the house that you can't hear anyone yelling zone.

So I want you to listen to me and believe me when I tell you how to totally own a zen-like life when you are crazy busy with work and driving a million places and trying to keep everyone in relationship with one another, etcetera, etcetera, fill in the blanks of your own personal cocktail of chaos.

To maintain totally zen-like calm in the midst of chaos you must:

1. Think positive. For example, the next time you need to get your hair cut, don't think of it as an annoying errand that is eating away at your precious time, but think of it instead as a mini spa day that will nourish your soul! Think of the hair wash as a sort of massage and totally don't worry about your neck being pushed back into the small of your back and the fact that you feel like you are a chicken about to have its neck broken. As for the blowdryers, think of them as a refreshing sound scape reminiscent of beach sounds or tornadoes.

2. Multi-task. Here's a way to kill two birds with one stone: clean your house. It's nature's way of staying fit. All that bending! all that stretching! As with any new regime, at first you will be all, "Oh, I hate this; it's so boring," but--believe me--once you find your zone, you'll be an addict. You'll be all, "Oh, I can't wait to go home from my long day at the office and get my heart pumping with some serious vacuuming!" Soon, all your friends will be like, "You are so looking good!" and you'll be all, "Yeah. Meet my trainer, Mr. Hoover."

3. Put away your electronics and get down to business. Electronics are totally time sucks. Your digital scale, for example. Put that shit away.

4. Prioritize! People! Seriously! Do I really have to tell you that you should not have fun writing on your little blog until you have graded that seriously boring and increasingly larger stack of papers that is sitting not even two feet away? Work before pleasure. Did you not get the memo? And no. Dthis before you grade those papers either. Because that would totally be irresponsible of me--I mean you. So there.
on't look at

5. Delegate. Seriously. Does someone want to come grade these papers for me?


What I am avoiding right now

1. Grading papers.
2. Grading tests.
3. Cleaning the following: desk, bathroom, kitchen, living room. And changing my sheets.
4. Assorted paperwork. Curses paperwork! How I hate you!
5. Funny enough, writing. Hmmm. Why? Very mysterious.
6. Changing my daughter's hair appointment.
7. Making dental appointments. 
8. Figuring out what I'm going to make for dinner.

By the way, have you seen this? It's on Neflix. Very spooky but also gripping and mysterious, all the more so because it's in French. And are you watching this? David Tennant is not my secret boyfriend, but he'll doing in a pinch. I would prefer to watch the English version, but Gracepoint is on Hulu+ so that is the best I can do. Speaking of secret boyfriends, I understand Chris O'Dowd is in St. Vincent, so I might have to check that one out.

What are you avoiding?


The Bullshit Manifesto

I hereby decree the following:

Basically, everything is bullshit.

ISIS and ISIL are bullshit.
Bombing people is bullshit.
Classifying people is bullshit.
Status symbols are bullshit.
Fame is bullshit.
Being passive aggressive is bullshit.
Being a right in your face asshole is bullshit.
Small talk is bullshit.
Gatekeeping is bullshit.
Living through your kids is bullshit.
The Ivy Leagues are bullshit.
Professional sports is bullshit.
Circling the wagons is bullshit.
Social media is bullshit (ironic, I know).
Selling things is bullshit.
Selling yourself is even more bullshit.
Chasing after material possessions is bullshit.
Having your face in a screen all day is bullshit.
Denying inequality is bullshit.
Denying patriarchy is bullshit.
Being hurtful is bullshit.
Practically every institution is, on some level, bullshit.
Keeping a stiff upper lip is bullshit.
Anything that keeps your from being authentic is bullshit.

Only one thing is not bullshit: Love.

Alone among countries, Bhutan tracks its Gross Happiness Product. It does this to see if its citizens are becoming more or less happy. Likewise, I believe we should each keep track of our Gross Love Product. When you make a decision, you should ask yourself: will this increase the world's Gross Love Product? If the answer is yes, go for it. If the answer is no, then it's bullshit. If you can not decide how your choices affect the GLP, you should unpack the concept of love a little. Are you making a compassionate choice? Are you making a respectful and kind choice? There you go. That should solve your problem.

Obviously, you cannot remove yourself from the bullshit world. Like I said, basically everything is bullshit so that would be impossible. It's okay to live in the bullshit world, you just have to know that you are surrounded by bullshit and artifice and you must try not to be sucked in. Remember: the remedy for bullshit is love.


My writing process: Hint it involves zombies

What are you working on?
How does your work differ from others in your genre?
Why do you write what you do?
How does your writing process work?

Desiree Zamorano, who blogs at The Restless Chef and who is the author of the novel The Amado Women, tagged me with these writerly questions, and since I do whatever the fabulous Desiree asks, I will answer them now.

What are you working on?
I am currently working on staying sane until I go back to work next week. Too-long breaks make me neurotic, especially when most of my time is spent making sure each of my teenagers feels EQUALLY aggrieved. Oh, Wait! This is supposed to be about what I'm writing! I get it.

I'm working on the second of three book series. Part one is resting until I can approach my third draft with cold-hearted detachment. Part one is called Optimized, and part two is called Optimystic. The series is about a high school slacker who begins to investigate a group of peers who are involved in the clinical trial of a new medication. The medication makes people Einstein-smart but, alas, also  makes them look and act like zombies. The question is: just how far zombie have they gone?

How does your work differ from others in your genre?
I like to flirt with the line of reality. What is real? What could be real? How do we know the difference? Also, I like that my characters don't live segmented lives. For example, my girl Mia can investigate the maybe-zombies all she wants, but she still has to worry about how she will get into the college of her choice.

Why do you write what you write?
I always start from a place of curiosity. What questions or issues can I not stop thinking about? Whatever they are, that's what I need to explore through writing. In the case of Optimized, the questions that really got me going were: Why are we so obsessed with winning and with categorizing people and institutions into winners and losers? How far zombie would a person be willing to go (or might a parent push them to go) to get into the college of his or her choice?

How does your writing process work?
Writing is hard. Revising is fun. With that in mind, I try to be very disciplined. 1000 words a day, five days a week: That is my goal. I start by re-reading/editing the work I did the day before. That tends to get my juices going. Then I plod along and I write those 1000 words, no matter how horrible they are--and they are usually horrible. When I'm about half way done with a draft I will usually go back to the beginning and make a lot changes because by then I'll have a better sense of what needs to happen or what kind of actions or way of speaking is authentic for a character. Then, after I do that, I plod through the second half. Then I revise the whole thing, which I enjoy. Then I get people to read it. Then I revise. I do that until I'm sick of the thing and can do it no longer.

Okay. Your turn. I'd love to hear all about your writing process, either in the comments or on your blog. Go!

PS: The photo is of my lovely workstation. It's looking pretty organized--that's should be your first clue that I am in a worrisome neurotic stage!


On Vaccines and Choices and Lesser Lives

My big girl had a wee bit of a meltdown on Saturday. You may have heard that a growing number of parents are refusing to vaccinate their children. The LA Times had a big story about the growing number of unvaccinated kindergardeners last week. You can find that story here. My girl heard me talking about the article with my younger daughter. She heard my younger daughter ask me why parents didn't want to vaccinate their kids, and then she heard me say, "Some people think vaccinations can cause things like autism."

And that was when the meltdown started. Actually, the meltdown didn't start right away, because at first she had to really think about it, she had to put all the puzzle pieces together. It was a while before I heard her crying in her room. It was a funny kind of crying, part grief, part heartbreak, part anger. She said to me, "What's wrong with those people? They would rather risk their child dying of some horrible illness than have a child like me, someone with autism."

Ah. There it was. And she was right. In all the debate over vaccinations, the unspoken truth is the one she recognized right away, and that most of us read right past. There are people who would risk their children getting something like polio or measles--illnesses that once routinely wiped out entire families--than have a daughter like mine, a daughter who is disabled.

Now, as the parent of a disabled child I can tell you right now that I would rather have a child without a disability too--so don't think I'm getting all judgey on you. I'm not. I'm just asking you to think about a truth that is veiled for most of us, unless, of course, it is a truth that is faced directly by you and you see it for what it is: a statement about what our society likes its humans to look and act like.

When my girl said all this to me, I said, "I can see why that would feel hurtful to you. But remember too, Autism is a spectrum. You are very articulate. You are in community college. But some people on the Spectrum never even talk. All most parents really want to know is that they can die and their kids will be okay. Some parents never know that. It is very hard."

"But even if they can't talk they are not less," she said. "They are just as good as anyone."

And this, too, is true. Is my daughter less because she has autism or epilepsy or learning disabilities? Is she less because she is not at Stanford? Will she be less if she cannot succeed in community college? What if she can never hold a job? What if she can never live independently? Will she be less then?

You're probably thinking, no, of course not. So would you want her as your daughter?

You can say no. I won't blame you. I know how profoundly hard it is to live with a person with special needs. These are not philosophical questions for me. This is my real life. And it is hard. I know that as much as I think my daughter is as fully whole as anyone else, that I live in a world where she will not be treated as whole, where she will have fewer opportunities, where her challenges will often make other people's lives more inconvenient. Not everyone will want to work with her. Not everyone will feel like she can pull her weight. And that that is a very difficult thing to contemplate as I get older and worry about what will become of her.

But think it through. Think it all the way through, the way she did. If you do not want a daughter like mine, if you would rather risk your child getting a deadly illness (and unless you are ready to deny history you must admit they are deadly) then aren't you playing a sort of eugenics game? Aren't you saying I am really only interested in this baby as long as it doesn't have a disability that  I believe might be caused my this vaccine. I would rather have my baby die than suffer through the parenting of someone with this disability or than see them suffer through that disability.

Hey! You can say yes! I won't judge you. Because parenting a special needs kid is not for the feint of heart (and believe me I am totally the feint of heart so I know).

But maybe what we really need to do is worry less about whether a vaccine might cause autism and more about how we can build the networks we all need when the myths of perfection or independence begin to unravel, as they will for all of us. For we are all of us imperfect and we are all of us dependent, and if we could see that our humanity lies in those imperfections and those dependencies then maybe we would see that we are all of us whole and good enough and that none of us is
less and that, because of that, we will always have someone's back and someone will always have ours.