You can usually count on running across an article or three or five like this one every year. Articles written by people who like to think they're driving the final nail into a coffin which holds the moldy remains of The Short Story. As if this will stop people from writing them. As if we will all jump up from the keyboard and start making candles or churning butter instead.
By "dead" they mean that nobody publishes short stories. But a cursory look at the "marketplace" (gawd, what a word) suggests otherwise. They also mean that you can't make money writing short stories. To which I say, "Duh." Lorrie Moore, veritable Goddess of the Genre, puts it more eloquently when she notes in her introduction to The Best American Short Stories 2004, that not since the "golden blip between Henry James and television," has a writer been able to live off the penning of a short story. F. Scott Fitzgerald used to write them to fund his novels. How's that for funny?
The death knell articles often snicker about short stories just being a warm-up for writing novels. To which I say, "Um, no." Short stories are compact and lovely, perfect as-is. They are often our first introduction to the written word--what is Goodnight Moon, after all, but a short story? or Where the Wild Things Are?--and we can return to them again and again to frame and re-frame, filter and re-filter, our experiences. And all in the space of no more than, let's say, twenty-five minutes. Well worth the time investment, at least for this reader.
So maybe I do not take the rumours of demise as seriously as I should. There's a group of UK writers who picks up my slack, though. They've started a whole web site that beseeches one and all to "Save Our Short Story."
And all of this has served to remind me that I still need to write a review of Oscar Peñaranda's Seasons By the Bay. Much to do, much to do...
...this tart. This Sour Cherry & Brandied Pear Tart. And I just put it in the oven, but I am now suffering from acute anxiety because it seems to me that the crust (bottom and top, which I also find worrisome; a tart doesn't generally have a top, right?) are a little thick. Of course, the crust is entirely butter and shortening--tended to with the lightest touch, with angel's wings, even--so it should be good regardless.
But still...a little thick, methinks. I'll know in about an hour.
I hate going to the store on the day before Thanksgiving, but there's little way to avoid it.
On this ridiculous day, all the men and women who only cook once a year and who therefore do not know their way around the grocery store, emerge from their homes with carefully color-coded, alphabetized spreadsheets documenting every ingredient needed to make their elaborate and probably overly-ambitious meals. It's not long before they realize they shouldn't have alphabetized the list; they should have organized it by department. Because they waste gobs of time criss-crossing the store and muttering to themselves and calling people on their cell phones and saying things like, "Can you pick up, like, twenty more votives?"
This wouldn't be so bad except this particular type of person possesses an exaggerated sense of entitlement which drives them to believe that they are the only person shopping and that it's okay to stop smack in the middle of an aisle to make their phone calls or to put their untrained eyes to work finding coarse raw sugar, for example, or champagne vinegar. They lack grocery intuition, which allows one to sense that there are others around you who are also trying to complete their shopping and maybe you are taking up too. much. of. the. dang. aisle. I like it best when they're in the produce department and searching for fresh sage, which the produce department always runs out of the day before Thanksgiving. They ream out the produce guy, and then they're back on their phones frantically shrieking, "I need sage! I need sage!" to some unlucky soul.
Have you seen this link from daily Kos? Kevin Sites, the journalist who filmed the video showing a Marine kill an unarmed and injured Iraqui in a Mosque, has blogged an open letter to the the group involved. Here's part of it:
In war, as in life, there are plenty of opportunities to see the full spectrum of good and evil that people are capable of. As journalists, it is our job to report both--though neither may be fully representative of those people on whom we're reporting. For example, acts of selfless heroism are likely to be as unique to a group as the darker deeds. But our coverage of these unique events, combined with the larger perspective, will allow the truth of that situation, in all of its complexities, to begin to emerge. That doesn't make the decision to report events like this one any easier. It has, for me, led to an agonizing struggle--the proverbial long, dark night of the soul.
I knew NBC would be responsible with the footage. But there were complications. We were part of a video "pool" in Falluja, and that obligated us to share all of our footage with other networks. I had no idea how our other "pool" partners might use the footage. I considered not feeding the tape to the pool--or even, for a moment, destroying it. But that thought created the same pit in my stomach that witnessing the shooting had. It felt wrong. Hiding this wouldn't make it go away. There were other people in that room. What happened in that mosque would eventually come out. I would be faced with the fact that I had betrayed truth as well as a life supposedly spent in pursuit of it.
I've written one poem in my life. This was in my 20s. Because I had no idea what I was doing, I sent it to Tin House. The poor thing was soundly rejected, of course, but someone--someone kind--had scribbled, "A cogent exploration of the topic" across the top of the slip. I keep it in mind because, well, "cogent exploration" is not a bad goal to aim for when writing something.
And all that is just my roundabout way of pointing you in the direction of Jean's supra cogent exploration of the ongoing fracas that surrounds the anthology Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation.
I get this way sometimes. Could be the moon, could be that the spousal unit is on a business trip, could be my favorite sweater fraying at the neck. Lingering election blues. Staying up late to watch Gwyneth Paltrow in the movie Sylvia. Could be any of these things.
And it has strange repercussions, this malaise. Like my sudden urge to be adept at embroidery (what the..?!!) Or to fashion handmade invitations for R & V's 5th birthday party. Or to buy more books which I fully understand--even while in the middle of the transaction--I will have no time to read. If only it drove me instead to write or at least clean the kitchen floor. But then I guess it wouldn't be malaise.
On an up note, I have nailed down the second speaker in the surprisingly successful (not surprising to me; surprising to the people who thought I was crazy) series I've organized for the Spanish-only-speaking parents at my local public elementary school. So that's good.
And on another up note, Bino Realuyo of meowing fame is now playing shortstop on my kickball team. Keep your eye on the ball, Bino...
...fantastic voyage. Come on, come on, come on take a ride...
Sorry. I'm deep into the 80s funk.
So, I don't know why it's taken me so long to find the essay "Requiem for a Literary Journal" by one Amber Dorko Stopper. In it, she chronicles her literary adventures from the time she decides to quit her day job and write full-time; stoically rebels against the notion of needing an MFA to succeed; starts night rally, by all accounts a well-received and properly eclectic literary journal; grows indignant at having to slog through hundreds upon hundreds of poorly written manuscripts from etiquette-challenged writers; faces economic woes; has no time left to write; and...
...well, just read it already. It's a fantastic voyage.
There are many, many worse ways to spend an evening than getting dressed in your semi-finery, eating something vaguely chicken-like, dancing to random Cameo songs with the exact same people that you used to dance to random Cameo songs with, and having the following harmless conversation with everyone you see:
Random Classmate: Oh my God!
You: Oh my God!
Random Classmate: You look exactly the same!
You: So do you!
Random Classmate: How are you?
You: Really good, thanks.
Random Classmate: Do you have kids?
You: Three. How about you?
Random Classmate: Me, too!
[brief exchange of kid pictures]
You: Isn't this crazy?
Random Classmate: Oh, I know!
You: Hey, I see so-and-so...
Random Classmate: And there's so-and-so...
[polite drifting away]
Perhaps it's the recent influence of The Lion King on my psyche, but the evening was a series of pleasant circle-of-life moments for me. We are all--what?--a little less than halfway 'round the circle, let's say, and enjoying the relaxed confidence of having made it this far intact, most of us with a partner (some on their second), most of us with children.
I wasn't at our tenth reunion, which was apparently plagued by senseless competition: do you rent or own? where do you live? are you married yet? where are you working? None of that nonsense at this one. The only discomfort I felt was at having to constantly avoid eye contact with a guy I knew from all the way back in grade school. He'd decided it would be a good idea to hire an, um, escort for the night. Kinda sad, but mostly ewwwwwww.
Many times in the past week or so, I have been admonished and sometimes plain ol' spanked for the "tone" of an e-mail or post. And I don't get it. I'm a writer, after all. If there were a "tone," I think I'd know it. Anyways, it looks like the newest member of my all-star blog kickball team, Shin Yu Pai, knows what (not to mention who) I'm talking about.
So to counteract any ugly that I've (accidentally? on purpose? I don't even know anymore) sent out into the world, here's a reminder that I can talk pretty, too. From a longer, in-progress piece:
Manny de Jesus arrived promptly at the Delgado house wearing a hand-me-down barong tagalog and carrying a corsage comprised of a single, heartbreaking gardenia. His hair was parted neatly down the left side and slicked back with a pomade that accentuated the wave over his right eyebrow. He was shown into the living room by Anna the maid who--intoxicated by the scent of the young man’s cologne--would dream of him that night and awake blushing, her bed sheets strewn on the floor.
Upstairs, Baby scowled at her reflection and quietly cursed as her mother twisted her hair into an elaborate celebration of the feminine. Hairpins stabbed Baby in the head hard enough to make her bleed, and though she eagerly agreed with the idea that beauty is pain, she had not counted on this. She saw Corazon in the mirror, laying on her stomach on their parents’ bed with her chin cupped in her hands and her feet stuck in the air, watching. Baby stared at her for a moment and felt her own face grow red. “Stop it!”
“Stop what?” Corazon said, scrunching up her eyebrows. She noted, with alarm, that her sister was very near tears. Baby wailed.
“Hija,” their mother said to Corazon, “please go downstairs now and see if Emanuel is here.”
“Oh, he’s here,” Corazon said, her chin still in her hands.
“How do you know?” Baby turned to look at her.
“I can tell. Can’t you just tell? Come on, come on, come on. Let’s go.”
Baby stood up and spun around; her pale blue satin skirt remained perfectly still.
“Very prety, hija,” her mothered murmured.
At the top of the staircase, there was a scuffle. Baby refused to walk down first and stood with her hands on her hips, shaking her head slowly so as not to loosen any of the pins. She resolved to be the last one down the stairs because that way Manny would not be able to allow his gaze to linger on the lovely Mrs. Oscar Delgado or the perfect Corazon without appearing very rude. “You go, Mommy. Then Corazon.”
“Me? Why me?” Maria Delgado harbored a secret fear that her husband, seeing the women of the family all in a row, would pity his wife’s disappearing beauty and bemoan the loss of her once slender hips.
So the task fell to Corazon who felt, as the others did, that first position did not suit her own particular goals. But the night belongs to Baby, she silently reasoned, and I am much too young to be in love with anyone but my own father. With that, she walked down the stairs.
A favorite thing: 1:15 lunch alone at the Crepevine every Wednesday, reading.
Today's selection: "This Is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," a short story by Sherman Alexie. Great story.
But not even Thomas Builds-the-Fire, the irresistible tragicomic storyteller of this tale, could keep me from becoming distracted by the equally irresistible music being piped into the restaurant.
It started with Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go For That." My ears began to twitch not because I like the song (in fact, I've always found it kinda creepy), but because it is inextricably tangled up with sappy teenage memories of sophomore year. Next came that little ditty called--I'm making an educated guess--"It Only Takes a Minute." You know it, right?-- "It only takes a minute girl/to fall in love/to fall in love." This was followed by Donna Summer's sublime "On the Radio."
Sherman Alexie was losing his considerable hold on my imagination.
By the time "Staying Alive" came on, it was over. I looked around and saw at least three other patrons fully prepared to push aside some tables and create an impromptu dance floor. Lucky for everyone concerned, we came to an unspoken agreement to restrain ourselves. I closed my book and turned to the four line cooks, visible from the chest up in their white chef jackets and black baseball caps. I thought, please start dancing. please? all four of you. like you've been practicing for weeks waiting for just this moment.
They are good line cooks, but lousy mindreaders. After "Car Wash," I was outta there.
We took the girls to see The Lion King over the weekend. I was torn between watching what was going on onstage, and watching them watching what was going on onstage. Because, really, these are the moments I love most. They expect wonder--expect to be fascinated--at every turn. Lea spent the first act perched on my lap, shaking. Excitement? Fear? I wasn't sure.
And Risa sat through almost the whole thing with her hands pressed against her cheeks and her mouth hanging open. When Simba decides to return to the pridelands, she and Vida jumped out of their seats yelling “Go Simba! Go Simba!” It’s corny, I know, but I wish we could just freeze them at this age. Before they get all cynical and jaded at…what? Nine? I’m thinking that they’ll lose their innocence right around the time that they reach the height where they can see all the machinations going on below Disney’s “Small World” ride.
Update. Turns out this is a done deal. Hager is not the chair (it's actually a woman from Stanford), but he is indeed on the committee. Here's the whole roster. Apparently, this e-mail was originally circulating some months ago. Interesting, isn't it, that it's surfaced again? A reaction to the climate, I suppose. I thought about just deleting it here, but...nah.
I was in a blind rage when I forwarded the following message this morning. So in case I missed you or you're not in my address book, I'll post it here:
I hope many of you have already received this e-mail. This is not about being a Republican or Democrat; it's about our rights as women to own our reproductive freedom. Please take action.
President Bush has announced his intention to appoint Dr. W. David Hager to head up the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee. This committee has not met for more than two years, during which time its charter lapsed. As a result, the Bush Administration is tasked with filling all eleven positions with new members. This position does not require Congressional approval. The FDA's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee makes crucial decisions on matters relating to drugs used in the practice of obstetrics, gynecology and related specialties, including hormone therapy, contraception, treatment for infertility, and medical alternatives to surgical procedures for sterilization and pregnancy termination.
Dr. Hager is the author of "As Jesus Cared for Women: Restoring Women Then and Now." The book blends biblical accounts of Christ healing women with case studies from Hager's practice. His views of health care are far outside the mainstream for reproductivetechnology and modern gynecological practice.
Dr. Hager is a practicing OB/GYN who describes himself as "pro-life" and refuses to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women. In the book Dr. Hager wrote with his wife, entitled "Stress and the Woman's Body," he suggests that women who suffer from premenstrual syndrome should seek help from reading the bible and praying. As an editor and contributing author of "The Reproduction Revolution: A Christian Appraisal of Sexuality Reproductive Technologies and the Family," Dr. Hager appears to have endorsed the medically inaccurate assertion that the common birth control pill is an abortifacient (causes abortion).
We are concerned that Dr. Hager's strong religious beliefs may color his assessment of technologies that are necessary to protect women's lives or to preserve and promote women's health. Dr. Hager's track record of using religious beliefs to guide his medical decision-making makes him a dangerous and inappropriate candidate to serve as chair of this committee. Critical drug public policy and research must not be held hostage by antiabortion politics.
Members of this important panel should be appointed on the basis of science and medicine, rather than politics and religion. American women deserve no less.
There is something you can do.
Below is a letter to be sent to the White House, opposing the placement of Hager. Please copy all the text of this message and paste it into a fresh email; then sign your name below. Please forward e-mail to email@example.com
I oppose the appointment of Dr. W. David Hager to the FDA Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee. Mixing religion and medicine is unacceptable in a policy-making position. Using the FDA to promote a political agenda is inappropriate and seriously threatens women's health. Members of this important panel should be appointed on the basis of science and medicine, rather than politics and religion. American women deserve no less.
I cannot find what I call (for lack of a better term) my Lolo Larry's "archives." After his death, I somehow ended up in charge of two boxes of photos, newspaper articles, and some personal correspondence all of which spotlight his standing as the finest professional golfer ever produced by the Philippines. I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast, but he was like hot butter on breakfast toast...(nod to Eileen, new poet darling of the hip-hop crowd!). At least that's what it says in the boxes.
But I can't find the boxes.
And now, of course, my clan is annoyed with me. My cousin, who lives in Manila, is in the process of creating a foundation to assist young, economically-challenged golfers. He plans to name this organization after Lolo, and has the marketing machine in motion to boost awareness and whatnot. It would help if he had the boxes, so he asked for the boxes.
But I can't find the boxes.
This weekend, in attempt to help me, the spousal unit searched the entire upstairs. Nothing. Except one article (circa 1970), which made me laugh because it began like this:
Larrupin’ Larry, who he? Abundio “Larry” Montes, that’s who. He’s still swinging and winning at sixty. And who doesn’t know good old Larry, 13-time winner of the Philippine Open and all-time great of Philippine sports?
Golf champion of champions, man about town, good-time Charlie, flashy, groovy one and bon vivant, that’s Larry Montes. Where’s he now?
What kind of writing is that? "Groovy one and bon vivant?" It's looney! Anyways, in the hopes of buying some more time to search, I posted the whole article on my family blog. You can read it here, if you like. In the meantime, I have more searching to do...
In the last few days, the following things have made me laugh:
1) HBO keeps airing From Justin to Kelly. For aesthetic reasons alone, I am unable to watch the entire thing. However, viewed in bits and pieces, it is a wonderful way to temporarily disassociate from the madness. For example: the scene in which an entire town--let's just call it "Goober Town"--extemporaneously breaks into song and dance, the song being "That's the Way I Like It (Uh-Huh-Uh-Huh)" and the dance being...even worse than the song. Click on that link up there. You know you wanna.
2) My friend D. distributing a faux issue of Time with our fully mandated (pfffft) President on the cover and the headline "We Are Fucked."
3) Vida crushing extraordinarily hard on G., a boy in her class at preschool. Every morning before we arrive, she gets dreamy and says things like, "Oh, I just think he looks so great every day." It should be noted that Vida, who talks to everyone (with complete disregard for whether or not they want her to), is rendered speechless in front of G. And she seethes if Risa speaks to him.
4) This little film, a short but thorough exploration of the age-old question, "How can you not like muffins?"
In an attempt to brighten my blog, I am now inviting one and all to comment on a matter of dire importance: what approach should someone--let's say, me--take when deciding what to wear to her high school reunion?
...on what looks not to be a good night for John Kerry. Or America. Or the world.
I just received an e-mail from poet Victoria Chang, who says that the comments I left on her blog contributed to her deciding to shut it down. I am so, so, so sorry that she's reacting in this way. I e-mailed her a response, and I want to post it here as well:
I think it's generous of you to take responsibility for your misstep. I don't apologize for what I said or how I said it, but I am indeed sorry that you feel compelled to leave the blogosphere. You seem to think that the opinions I expressed translate into "Victoria Chang is a heinous and spiteful woman, period." So not true. I felt you acted badly in this one circumstance, and for some reason that I still cannot fathom, I felt compelled to call you on it. Anyone with half a heart could see where Bino was coming from. That's why I was so impressed with your "let's talk about it" approach. And why I was so disappointed when it became clear that you didn't really mean it.
Anyways, thanks for the advice, but rest assured that I do not run around leaving semi-hysterical comments on the blogs of people I don't know. This one thing just really pushed a button for me, is all. I'm unsure of how to translate your warning (is it some sort of veiled threat?) that my "tone" could harm me in the future and that behaving like this in a public forum could be a "dangerous practice" for me. I haven't said or done anything that I'm even remotely ashamed of. But, again, thanks for your concern.
I hope you re-evaluate your decision to stop blogging. Your readers value your postings; why would you let me, of all people, stop you from sharing your thoughts with them when someone as fabulous as Oliver de la Paz wants you to continue? Please go back and read my comments when you've cooled down a little--why are you reacting so extremely to my saying that you behaved in a way that I found unbecoming to a poet/someone with a conscience? You say that I didn't give you enough credit for holding back? Well, I think you gave yourself too much.
I don't want to fight. This all--rather embarrassingly--comes down to: I thought you were being really mean to Bino, and you think that my saying so was "aggressive" and rude. I hope this e-mail convinces you that I'm not a terrible person; I'm actually quite charming. Hahahahahaha!
In peace and with respect,
So what I've learned from all this is that 1) really, sometimes I should just keep things to myself and 2) really, sometimes I should just keep things to myself.
And also, I do hope Victoria decides to keep her blog.
...and it's also forcing me (I don't know why; do you?) to eat many assorted crunchy things, mostly pumpkin seeds.
I'm obsessed. I check daily Kos every ten minutes to discover and become enraged over the Republicans' latest voter intimidation tactics. I get teary-eyed reading the many auto e-mail messages sent out by the Kerry campaign. I just dropped off a copy of Fahrenheit 9/11 to a neighbor who says he's still undecided (not for long!). My children cheer when they see a Kerry/Edwards sign and say, "Oh, no, there's one for the other guy," when they spot one for, well, the other guy.
One moment I am certain of victory, and the next I am wringing my hands and biting the inside of my cheek. I shuffle around the house, muttering. I absent-mindedly keep pushing my hair behind my ears, a nervous tic I display only in the most uncertain situations. Is it possible that the spousal unit scheduled his current business trip just so he wouldn't have to watch the results come in with me tomorrow night? Gads.
Anyways. I think it's important to put names and faces with numbers (the number being 1,117 at the moment), and that's what this web page right here is all about. I can't believe how many of these men and women were only 20 years old.
Gotta refill my bowl of pumpkin seeds now. Vote smart, and I'll see you back here tomorrow.