Summer Reading

What am I reading? So much good stuff! Here are my summer reads so far. Don't read too much into the order of things. It's roughly the order in which I read them.

1. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. This is actually the first of a trilogy of dystopian novels that follow a group of survivors in the aftermath of a human-created virus that has wiped out almost everyone. No one does dystopia like Atwood. All three books are smart, funny, wise, and action packed. Can someone just give Atwood her Nobel Prize already? She is as good at it gets.

2. The Wordy Shipmates and Assassin Vacation by Sarah Vowell. Okay. Strictly speaking I did not read them. I listened to them while driving, cooking, etc. Time well spent people! The first book is a history of the Puritans in New England and the other is about the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. I can only say that I wish I put my PhD in history to good use and wrote these brilliant books. Funny, smart, and so interesting--I can't help thinking that people would love history if all historians wrote like Sarah Vowell. Also, she is a great reader. These are definitely good audio book choices.

3. Not a good audio book choice: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Barbara Kingsolver: you are brilliant and this memoir of your year of eating local and growing all your own food is educational and politicizing. I'll visit the farmer's market more often, I promise. But MY GOD take it down a notch! Enough about your children who beg you for fruit and who can't get enough kale and raise their own chickens. And then you have the nerve to tell me how you all lay laughing on your bed one morning listening to your male roosters learn to crow. Show some grace. At least throw me a tantrum every now and then.

4. Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel. I know you love this book. Everyone loves this book, which is why I tried it a second time. I got farther this time, but I still couldn't finish it. Use some proper nouns, Hillary. How else can I tell who is talking?  Still, if you want to read about Henry VIII and his attempt to dump the first wife to get a new one, give it a try. Don't read it digitally. This is a book you will need to flip back and forth between. You need paper. People I respect love this book. I acknowledge that I might be wrong about this one.

5. Famous Baby by Karen Rizzo. On the surface, this seems like a book about mothers and daughters, but it is really about the stories we tell, the stories we don't tell, and who gets to not only tell those stories but own them. It is a quick read that is funny and breezy, so much so that you might miss the deeper questions it ponders. Don't miss them. They give this beach read worthwhile substance.


Things I am avoiding doing RIGHT NOW

1. Updating my website
2. Making my bed.
3. Confronting the dust bunny hoards.
4. Revising my manuscript.
5. Working on my new writing project.
6. Making a cake that I won't even get to eat. (It's for an event my daughter will attend.)
7. Ordering the photo books I've been meaning to order for two months.
8. Exercising.
9. Sewing the button on my favorite sundress even though it means I can't wear my favorite sundress.
10. Anything useful.

How about you? What are you avoiding doing right now?

PS: No good reason for the photo. I just thought it was a good picture of Scout.


Living the Dream

This photo, my friends, is called "Living the Dream," as in you are living the dream when you are able to eat all the homegrown tomatoes you can stuff in your face.

There is really only one way to eat your homegrown tomatoes: Slice them fat. Sprinkle them with a wee bit of salt and pepper. Stop. That's it. You could do more, but why go to all that trouble when they are already perfect.

If you have so many tomatoes that you actually cannot stuff them all in your face you have two choices.

1. Share them with someone who will appreciate them. DO NOT share them with some slob who would be just as happy to eat a grocery store tomato. That sad person does not deserve the heaven that you proffer. Find a true zealot.

2. If it is cook them or toss them, you may cook them. Here is what you do:

Stack in this order: a fat slice of tomato, a tiny bit of olive oil, a slice of fresh mozzarella, chopped basil, salt and pepper. Keep adding to your stack (or stacks!) until you have a lovely tower of deliciousness. Now, bake in a 375 degree oven until the cheese gets a bit gooey. Remove from oven and put on your plate. Now, drizzle your stack with 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon olive oil. A jaunty sprig of basil on top will only make it prettier. Enjoy!

(Credit where credit is due: This is modified from a recipe I cut out of the LA Times when they still had a weekly food section. Ah! How I miss it even now.)

Hope you are living your dream. And by the way, what is that dream these days?


Anime Expo

My youngest was hanging with her crowd this weekend--her crowd being the estimated 200,000 people who jammed the LA Convention Center to celebrate all things anime. Think Comic Con but Japanese-animation themed, more girls, and a generally pretty sweet-seeming crowd.

The die hards dress up, and when my girl jumps into something, she jumps in big. It was a four day event, and she had three outfits, which she coordinated with her best friend since kindergarten. They were a marvel to behold.

You should know that at Anime Expo people do not feel limited by Japanese animation and that there is a lot of gender bending. Day one: Fem Dr. Whos. That's the tenth Dr on the left and the eleventh one on the right.

Day two: Fem Dean from the horror show Supernatural.

Days three and four: Fem Russia and Fem America from the Internet web series Hetalia.

These are wondrous days, people. Wondrous days.


My Amazing Friend Desiree Zamorano

I am so proud of my friend Desiree Zamorano, whose book The Amado Women was published this month by Cinco Puntos Press. The story of Desiree's publishing success is a tribute to talent, hard work, and perseverance. So I asked her to tell us a little about it. Go, Des:

As I puzzled over The Amado Women I knew I wanted to write about wildly divergent women  committed to staying with each other, providing a vivid, conflict-driven story.  Where could I find this? The answer is probably obvious to you, thoughtful reader, but it took me some time to arrive at.  I was thinking too hard.  I was immersed in it, and like the air we breathe it was invisible to me. Where could I find it? In a family, of course.
                Years ago when I began working on my writing all the short stories I read, by very prominent names, had narrators whose parents in particular were absent, invisible, or irrelevant.  I found that puzzling, and did not, at that time, have the skill to label my misgivings about that.  The fact for me was that as an adult I had equal amounts of catering to and reacting against the people who loved me most in the world.  My family, perhaps like yours, specializes in over-identifying with each other, with an expectation of taking on a family member’s issue as if it were our own.  This can be gratifying or embarrassing, but a response to this enmeshment is also to hide parts of ourselves from each other, in a simple way to avoid further complications or conflicts or drama.    Sometimes simply asking for the truth, or telling the truth can be as challenging as flinging downa gauntlet.  Fun, right?  But in any case, the rich and wonderful stuff for a great story.
                All of us have multiple, conflicting identities, as Elizabeth Strout displays so beautifully in Olive Kitteridge with Olive’s complexity, longing and incompetence. Not all of these identities are family-friendly, and some of us are convinced we are in the wrong family.  In one of her essays, Ann Patchett  mentions Dorothy Allison, author  of Bastard out of Carolina, (now there’s a sundering family drama for you) as being worried about having only one novel in her.  From this  Patchett realizes that it's really one story, and that Patchett's story for all of her novels is: a group of strangers meet and become a community.  I thought about that, then looked into my own writing.  What story do I tell, again and again?
                 My stories are all about displacement: how we long to belong. 
                In our lives we may wonder are we in the right family?  Will they accept the shameful parts of us? Can we survive with or without each other? 
I hope, gentle reader, you will recognize yourself, your struggles, your successes, in at least one of these Amado Women.

Désirée Zamorano will be speaking at Skylight Books July 15, 7:30pm and Vroman’s July 30 7pm.
Find out more about Désirée’s novel and her events here.


Feminist Rant II: Because I have to

I can't have a feminist rant one week and then say nothing when the Supreme Court passes a sweepingly stupid judgment that affects reproductive rights.  So here comes another rant, but first let's get our facts straight.

1. On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled against a provision in the Affordable Care Act that mandated that the health care businesses provide employees must include access to no-copay birth control. Religious nonprofits and churches are already excluded from that mandate.

2. The Supreme Court sided with two plaintiffs, including a closely-held single family corporation called Hobby Lobby, who had argued that provided birth control violated their freedom to practice religion. In point of fact, the issue for the Hobby Lobby wasn't birth control per se, but forms of birth control that they believe are types of early abortion, such as The Morning After Pill.

4. The ruling is strictly limited to contraception and cannot be used to justify exempting things like blood transfusions, vaccines, or psychiatry, which other religions may oppose.

5. For more specifics look http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/06/30/327065968/hobby-lobby-ruling-cuts-into-contraceptive-mandate

Ok. I'll keep the rant brief because others have written plenty on this already.

1. I respect religious liberty, but if this were really about religious liberty than why clarify that this cannot apply to other things, like those blood transfusions? Why is religious liberty when it comes to reproduction considered more sacred than religious liberty when it comes to blood?

2. I know that in the US corporations are considered the legal equivalent of people, but isn't it a bit of a stretch to say that corporations can hold religious opinions? Here's a thought: Once my girls turned 13 I was no longer allowed to email their pediatricians because my right to parent butted up against their rights to privacy. If my girls are on birth control it is secret from me--no matter what my religious beliefs may be. How come a parent can't even know if her daughter is on birth control but an employer in Oklahoma can effectively control the birth control choices of his/her employees by effectively controlling their affordability?

3. Don't think for one minute that this is not about women. This is one more in a countless line of stands that says women's lives are defined by their ability to reproduce. They are SO defined by that function a pill that keeps an egg from sticking to the side of the uterine wall is seen by some as the equivalent of a bullet in a baby's head.

4. From where I stand, from what I see, there is palatable aggression against women for being women. The aggression of those five judges who cling to their activist conservative agenda was big, so we are all up in arms. But most aggressions fly low under the radar and most of us fly ride along with them every single day. Every day somebody says you must be mad because "it's your time of the month," you were punched in the face. Every day somebody makes fun of Taylor Swift's many boy friends (as opposed to any male rock star's girlfriends) you've been punched in the face. Every day a TV shows celebrates hook up culture, you've been punched in the face.

5. When you are punched in the face, you do not smile and laugh. So don't smile and laugh when someone punches you in the face.


Madame Margaret tells your fortune

Ahhhhh! Settle in: this is a good one.

Representing your past you have the king of swords, but he is upside down. That is significant. It is meant to remind you of a difficult man in your past, a real task master who liked to have things his way. I think you know who I mean. Why are you thinking about him? I think it has something to do with this:

Representing your present you have The Chariot. This is a good card. It means success. You are about to experience a success you have worked very hard to achieve. Well done. But how does the difficult man fit in? Hmmm. Maybe he pushed you in a way you needed to be pushed. Maybe he helped you develop the thick skin you needed to achieve your success. Or maybe it's just the opposite. Maybe he held you back. Maybe he's become something of an inner critic, making you doubt yourself. Think it through because look what's next:

The Three of Pentacles upside down. It means that your success won't last unless you put in the time to see things through. Don't drop the ball or your hard-earned success will fizzle out. We don't want that to happen! You've worked too hard! Your success belongs to you. Don't let people who once held influence over you hold you back.


Today's Feminist Rant: Four things we confuse with feminism

1. It looks feminist to be able to wear whatever you want, but the freedom to buy clothing is not equality. Here is how you can tell: Men do not wear short shorts or deep V necks. If it were equality, men would want to wear those things too. As it is, your choice to show off your boobs and ass is not empowering. It is choosing to buy into a culture that still values women most for their ability to attract the male gaze.

2. It looks feminist to take part in hook-up culture, but the freedom to have sex without emotional entanglements is not the same things as having sexual choice. If it were real choice, women would be able to say no without being seen as prudes, they would be able to get passed out drunk (not that I encourage it) and not get taken advantage of, they would not have to get drunk to excuse hooking up, and they would be able to have real conversations about what they want emotional, sexual and otherwise without it feeling weird.

3. It looks feminist to be able to swear, smoke cigars, and take on the trappings of hyper masculinity, but all this really does is send the message that hyper masculinity is the ideal human standard. The ability to perform and compete alongside men should not be confused with the highest level of human success. (Katness Everdeen is not a feminist symbol; she is a symbol that women can still only be seen as heroic if they act like men.)

4. It looks a like a feminist victory that women make up over half of all college students, but is anyone wondering why--now that that has happened--talking heads are wondering how necessary college really is?

The personal is still political. 

OK. So just thought I'd go a little old-school political today as I am still annoyed by the horrible van that recently parked in our town and advertised topless maids. 


The Graduate

My big girl graduated high school on Friday. So I am officially old. As you may already know, it has not been a easy road. She has epilepsy (currently about one seizure a week), autism, learning disabilities. Until sometime in January she also had what we thought were chronic migraines. Turns out they were side effects of Oxycarbazepine. (I mention the drug because I want everyone to know that it can cause symptoms that look a lot like atypical migraines and if that is happening to you or someone you know you should get the hell off that drug ASAP and not lose five years of your precious life.)

But that's not what this post is about so let's not dwell on that. Instead, let us raise a glass to the girl, who has endured more than most people ever will and who has--except for when the goddam Depakote reduced all her blood count levels and the doctors thought she might have Leukemia--started off every day with a smile. 

She is blessed with a sunny disposition and with fortitude. I would love to take credit for those things, but those are all her. She is a skinny slip off a thing. The evil Topamax made her stop eating for a while. That was at the same time as the evil Depakote so it was all a bit of mess for a while. But she has decided once again that she likes brownies so I think all cause for alarm at her declining weight can cease and desist.

The thing I hate more than anything is when people pity her (or us) or feel sorry for us. Because if you pity or feel sorry for her (or us) you aren't really seeing her (or us). You are only seeing what you're afraid of. She is not your cautionary tale. She is not the inspirational story that helps you appreciate how good you have things. She is not about you. She is not even about me (although that one is harder for me to acknowledge). She is about her. And she is remarkable. She has much to offer and she will accomplish much.