Thursday, December 24, 2009
Upon shredding the pristinely wrapped box, I beheld the object of my longing. I was eternally overjoyed with this pink palace of Barbie wonderland—unaware that in a few days it would became the SWAT headquarters on my cul-de-sac for the mud-caked GI Joe’s, owned by the all-boy encampment that surrounded my house.
It was after the unveiling of my townhouse that we sipped the traditional hot eggnog, peppered with nutmeg. Then out of nowhere, my mom handed me my warmest coat and told me to get in the car. It was late—close to midnight, and I had no idea what we were doing. Since my mom didn’t drive, my dad navigated us through a thick curtain of California fog, into the heart of Los Alamitos, where he pulled into the parking lot of St. Hedwig’s Catholic Church. My mom and I got out, leaving behind my church-phobic dad to sit in the car, listening to his late-night yuletide radio.
Inside the small church, the dimmed lighting and Gregorian chorus had convinced me that we had entered a place perhaps even more sacred than Disneyland. My mom dipped her hand into a water basin and crossed herself. Oblivious, I followed her lead. We found a seat and took off our coats.
Most of the service made little sense to me, especially since parts of it were delivered in Latin. We stood. We sat. We stood again. We kneeled. My mom nudged me every time I yawned as the priest, Father McCarthy (I think), spoke in monotonic phrases. People surrounding me were repeating his words, and since I loved participating in everything, I kicked in and tried my best to repeat whatever it was he said.
The choir resumed when the incense man entered, waving a smoky metal ball, followed by more standing, sitting, and kneeling. After repeating more verses and whatnot, a gentle guitar began to strum a simple tune. Father McCarthy stepped forward and became wholly human to me when he said, “Peace be with you.” I was about to copy, but the response this time was different.
“…and also with you.”
He said it again. “Peace…be with you.”
We responded, and before I could process the scenario, a woman in front of us had turned to me, took my hand into hers, and said, “Peace be with you.” My mom prompted me to return the blessing, which I did wholeheartedly. With the guitar still strumming, we continued exchanging peace with everyone around us. I soaked up the hugs, the pats, and the words, literally basking in the omnipresence of peace.
The service ended with an a cappella singing of Silent Night. My mom, with her deep raspy voice, sang along softly. I wanted to sing, but the all-encompassing awe kept me silent.
After the service, we found my dad in the car, dozed off in his own heavenly peace, and went home. I don’t remember anything specific about the following morning. Christmas morning. Perhaps my dude neighbor friends came over with their new GI Joe’s to hang with my Barbie in her new lofty dwelling place. Who’s to say?
My mom and I continued to visit St. Hedwig’s and made every effort to attend midnight mass each year. After she died, I only went once more on my own. The “Peace be with you’s” still meant the world to me, and singing Silent Night brought my soul back to life.
And it’s still with me—this peace that passes all understanding.
May it be also with you.
(this is not St. Hedwig's)
Saturday, December 12, 2009
His mom had died before he started seventh grade, and over the course of that one school year, I observed his thick black hair become streaked with gray. It was obvious that he was distressed, but no one really knew what to do for him. He struggled academically and was a bit on the shy side around teachers, but his peers liked him, especially for his random sense of humor. Because of his large frame, we all referred to him as a big teddy bear of a guy.
Now, after almost two years in prison, Matthew’s case is on trial. I saw him on the news Thursday night and felt the same surge in my gut as I did two years ago when he first appeared on the news, high on crystal meth, shouting at cops and reporters "Thank you for everything!"
The details are complicated, but the bottom line is that the baby died as a result of crystal meth abuse. Little Cyrus had no one sober enough to care for him, and perhaps in Matthew’s crazed mind, he thought there was no hope for a baby surrounded by addicts. It continuously haunts me that maybe I could have done something back in Matthew’s seventh grade year to prevent him from diving into a life that spiraled him out of control.
When I read Peter Høeg’s book Borderliners, I couldn’t help but connect it to my experience with Matthew. Høeg defines a borderliner as “someone who could not finish the tests in time.” His tragic story takes place in a private academy for orphans in Denmark, a place of strict rules and abuse, where a child is not granted the right to speak out against its leaders. While Matthew was not an orphan, and our academy was not abusive, he was still a borderliner, a struggler who had to fend for himself and seemed to lack the emotional support he needed at home.
Høeg claims that when children cry, you talk to them about “tomorrow.” I never saw Matthew cry, but several times I remember seeing an expression on his face that would prompt me to chat with him about whatever was on his mind. He wouldn’t say much, and I wouldn’t prod any deeper than I knew he was comfortable with. Many times I wanted to talk to Matthew about his future to try to divert him from his sadness, but it never felt right to single him out that way. Instead, I tried to help him by simply treating him like I treated everyone else, hoping he might enjoy the feeling of being part of the norm.
I want to believe that Matthew knew I cared—that I worried about his PE clothes getting washed so he wouldn’t get a bad grade in an easy class—that I pinned reminders on his backpack to get forms signed and to do his English homework. It rarely ever paid off. He was always late with everything, and whatever he did turn in was never quite right. I’m sure Matthew has no idea that I cried in my empty classroom several times when the students all went home after school to their families, while I imagined Matthew going home to an unbearable emptiness. Høeg believes that if you have once sensed that someone cares for you, then you will never sink again. Perhaps I could have shown Matthew that I cared more. I could have brought him to my house once in a while so he could hang out with my family and learn how to play Scrabble or chess. It just didn’t seem right to interfere, but now I can only wonder.
“What does it mean to fail a child?” Høeg asks. I have seen over the years that it begins with underestimating and ends with indifference. Our school made it too difficult for Matthew to hang on past the eighth grade, so off he went to a gritty public school, where he got lost in the shuffle and eventually wound up on drugs. The second blow came when he was sixteen, racing on the freeway, which resulted in a crash that killed one of his friends. From that point, I have to believe that Matthew gave up.
I am hoping to visit Matthew when his court hearing is over. He will be detained somewhere for the rest of his life, which is what he deserves, but he should not be left alone, without a support system. Høeg adds, “If a man becomes totally, totally alone, then he is lost,” so I want to make sure that Matthew knows he is not alone, that I have been an absent presence in his life all these years.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Since August, I have been busting moves on the Zumba dance floors in Honolulu. Two to three times a week, for one solid hour of pure sweat, I have samba’d and mamboed and cha-cha-cha’d myself silly—all in an effort to prevent those diabolical blood clots from returning to my thick-blooded arteries.
According to http://www.zumbacize.com, an hour of Zumba burns approximately 600-1000 calories if done with full-out effort, which is hard not to do if you have an instructor that demands it. My Monday/Friday class is taught by professional dance instructor Chelsey, a ponytail-whipping fireball who makes one hour feel like ten minutes. She cranks out Latino and Middle Eastern moves and winds us down with two of the choreographed dances from Slumdog Millionaire, transforming the large room into a Bollywood production.
My Thursday instructor at 24-hour Fitness is Zumba Maniac, Wendy. She’s 100% Latina, and 100% fun! Wendy takes us from Mexico to Brazil to Spain and beyond. She blends pulsating Regaeton with suave Flamenco, and as soon as the music starts to blast, so do we. When the hour comes to a sweat-drenched end, all of us—young and old, men and women—look as if we have just completed day one of a Cuban boot camp.
At night I find myself in bed, counting out steps…in Spanish. Uno, dos, tres, cuatro--paso a la derecha…cinco, seis, siete, ocho--paso a la izquierda. Hip swivel, little dip, cha-cha-cha!
Thursday, December 3, 2009
And then there is Keri Kodama, a senior now, who has dillgently worked at not only the novel she started in my class four years ago, but also a second novel--both of which I am sure will find their way onto the best-seller lists of the future.
Now if you do your math right, you will see that this year's students averaged 14,996 words each. Most of them kept their counts as close to the 10,000-word requirement as possible, but three of them not only broke the prestigious 50,000 word "winner" status, but climbed to word counts that exceed most adult NaNo-ers. Here's the scoop on these three literary prodigies:
Mary Yeh's Nearly Departed (100,435 words)
Alex Mai's (81,960 words)
Bri'el Kashiwamura's Bittersweet Melancholy (81,936 words)
What's all the more impressive is that beyond their heavy-weight word counts, these three authors have written complete plot-driven stories that have do-able revision potential.
I guess you could say I have made it my quest as a teacher to never underestimate what a student can do with just a little bit (okay, a lot) of motivation...and perhaps a little bit (okay, a lot) of prayer.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
The good news? I am well on my way with a story that one month ago had seemed larger than life.
The bad news? The story is larger than life. I have long line to tow before it ever winds up on a winner’s block.
Near the end of the month, I noticed I was walking about in a cross-eyed stupor of sorts, randomly asking random people, let’s say at soccer games or in grocery lines, if they knew anything about Romanian twin-engine bomber planes or what exactly was Turkish Delight. By Thanksgiving weekend, I was obsessing over whether or not there were flushing toilets by 1944 in Ankara, Turkey. And where exactly is Ankara, Turkey? Well, I now know that it’s about an hour and a half from Istanbul, which is a precarious little piece of property that is both Europe and Asia.
The highlight of the month came last week when I was in such a hurry to get my main character, Lucia, out of the Turkish taxi and into the house she had exiled to that I literally forgot her two year-old son, Ioan, in the back seat—after the taxi drove off! I decided to work that into the story, and it not only piqued the tension, but it boosted my word count by an extra thousand.
Tonight I have harvested a sampling of sentences gleaned from a quick scanning over my newest field of words…
1st Place Best:
Ten years ago, Mircika used this workplace to assemble his invention of the machine gun turret—to Lucia, it was a chair basically that could turn in every direction with a vigorous set of bullets all lined up and poised to throw men into their pre-ordained body bags.
2nd Place Best:
Pawns may not sleep, her mind whispered, but queens do.
3rd Place Best:
After all, she reasoned, a secret is no longer a secret, even if told to a husband.
1st Place Worst:
She hadn’t eaten herself and wasn’t planning to either.
2nd Place Worst:
The rain had ceased and the sun was struggling to expose itself.
3rd Place Worst:
The hand flusher was the envy of many of their friends who were still wrestling with the bucket dumper thing.
She turned on the hot water and let it pour down onto her head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes…eyes and ears and mouth and nose.
So there it is…the best and worst of a month long written marathon. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s statistical post on the 119 novels that I will have collected from my equally exhausted 8th graders!
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Back in April of '02, Island Scene published a narrative of mine in their "I Remember When" segment. Here is a revised version:
One morning my mom brought down the old deep fryer, and I knew within a few hours the house would be filled with the warm, yeasty aroma of hot malasadas. It would take all day to make these Portuguese doughnuts, but it would be worth the wait.
As she kneaded the dough, the familiar stories about Vovo began to roll. Vovo, meaning “Grandmother” in Portuguese, raised fourteen children on Ohai lane in the Pauoa valley of Honolulu. Times were rough in the ‘30’s, so when she made malasadas it was a big deal.
My mom spooned each drop of dough into the crackling hot oil, telling me how her brothers and sisters would anxiously watch the malasadas transform into various shapes. I listened as I watched the sizzling dough twitch and contort in the oil, trying to imagine which auntie or uncle would claim which of the randomly shaped animals.
Auntie Kiki’s three-footed pig ... Uncle Malin’s pregnant chicken ... Uncle Ben’s plump, bobbing seahorse ...
“Vovo, she’s one one saint, you know,” my mom said with her deep, raspy voice. “Raising all us kids and nevah complaining. She took us all Blessed Sacrament Church up Pauoa road every Sunday, and every day she wen’ pray laddat. Cuz you know, hahd times for her and Papa. Aye, all da beatings!”
“Mom, can I do the glazing this time?”
“Here,” she handed me a pair of metal tongs. “Careful yeah, da buggah’s hot.”
One by one, I dipped the golden creatures into the hot sugar glaze and lined them up on a paper towel. My mom pulled her apron up to her face to wipe her eyes.
“Sweat,” she said.
Tears, I thought.
At sunset, we sat out in our California back yard by the pool with some cold milk and devoured the hot malasadas.
“Mom, look, a two-headed turkey.”
“Aye, da cute. Eh, look mine. It’s one naked sheep.” I busted out a laugh so hard the milk sprayed from my mouth. We laughed and ate and laughed some more. Closing my eyes, I saw Vovo there on Ohai lane, gathering up her flock and heading for church.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Future Spouse, aka The Ironing Man, ironed everything under the sun. Empty cans of starch lined his laundry counter like trophies. So after the I-do's were said and done, I made a few lovingly unsuccessful attempts to press his garments, which tragically wound up costing him more to replace than the value of the iron itself. I had over-zealously burned the hell out of more than one of his favorite shirts, leaving an array of Star Trek shaped emblems in undesirable locations.
So I kept my distance from that Sunbeam...until years later, after moving to Hawaii. Our munchkin Ryan was two years old and was sleeping peacefully in his bed. I was up late, perhaps working on a new piano song, when I went downstairs to use the bathroom. It was dark, and with my poor vision, I caught a glimpse of what looked like something scurrying toward Ryan's bedroom. I flipped on the light switch and there on the carpet, underneath the ironing board was a six-inch long centipede. It stopped moving when I turned on the light, so I used the foot of the ironing board to temporarily pin the beasty creature, which began to wriggle every which way in frantic desperation to eat me alive.
I had to think quick and upon noticing that Mr. Ironing Man had left his appliance plugged in, I cranked it up to the highest setting and after a few seconds, I gave it the old finger-saliva sizzle test. It was ready, but I wasn't as I made eye-contact with one angry centipede that was bound and determined to escape and wreak havoc on me and my home.
Finally, feeling like Xena, Warrior Princess, I felt a surge of adrenaline as I raised the steaming hot iron over the centipede's head (or maybe it was its tail as it's hard to tell one end from the other). In one fell swoop, I seared that buggah good. Stinking, burning centipede flesh consumed the air. In horror, I watched the other end twist and contort, so to put it out of its misery, I finished him off.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Noah and Jack were after-school care friends for the past two years. Jack, who was one grade older, tried to teach Noah his times tables last year, and I remember Noah telling me how nice Jack was to try so hard to teach him such a difficult subject. Tonight when Noah brought it up again and was trying so hard to be optimistic about Jack’s passing, I had to do whatever I could to not cave in.
Noah has only two really good friends at his school, and Jack was one of them. He described Jack as “whiter than me,” which means that most of the kids at his public school are more local looking, and because of this, kids like Noah and Jack do not always get the popular approval from the darker majority. Noah told me how he saw Jack this past Friday and they played together just like any other day, and now he’s gone. Just like that.
The grief I’m experiencing tonight is multifaceted.
As a mother…I feel the agony that Jack’s mom must be experiencing. More than likely, she too is wide awake right now, thinking over all the memories and lack of memories to come. This is November. What will she do with Christmas? What will we do with Christmas?
As Noah’s mother…I feel his loss probably more so than he does right now as I know how death works on a person’s mind, especially as time passes. I lost my first boyfriend Paul when I was fourteen. He was killed on his bike by a drunk driver. We were out roller skating together the night it happened, but I didn’t find out until the next day. It didn’t make any sense to me at all. I didn’t even go to the funeral.
As a teacher…I feel the loss in Jack’s classroom. The empty desk will be empty for the rest of the school year. His teacher will see his name on the rosters until it is deleted, and then she’ll see the absence of his name.
I’m typing with my eyes closed. My face is overwhelmed with tears. I want to climb up the ladder into Noah’s new loft bed and hold him until he’s an old man.
Prior to writing this entry, I tried a number of distractions to keep myself from dealing with this gaping hole in my heart. I played around on Facebook, commenting on pictures and bantering with some students on my wall. I went to bed but it was too quiet, so I turned on my ipod and put it on shuffle. The first song that came on was by Casting Crowns. The song finally broke me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found
I once was lost, but now I’m found
So far away, but I’m home now
I once was lost, but now I’m found
And now my life song sings
I once was blind, but now I see
I once was blind, but now I see
I don’t know how, but when He touched me
I once was blind, but now I see
And now my life song sings
I once was dead, but now I live
I once was dead, but now I live
Now my life to You I give
Now my life to You I give
Now my life to You I give
Let my life song sing to You
So it’s 3:30 now. The noises outside are few. A brewing storm. An occasional car. A moped. A chirping gecko. A baby. A dog. The clock on the wall. My own breathing…
Goodnight Jack. Hold me a spot, k?
Sunday, November 8, 2009
In the past, I have tried to set up the romanticized writing environment, complete with oil lamps, cozy pillows, and carefully burned CDs; but perhaps because I'm a closet musician, I usually catch myself analyzing the metrics and circle of fifths, which in turn usually ruins my stream of consciousness--also known as "the zone."
Using earphones makes it worse. When I got my first ipod a few years ago, I thought I had died and gone to music heaven as I dug up hundreds of obscure songs for a mere .99 cents a pop, which soon turned into (gasp) hundreds of dollars over a six-month period. I had to cut back, but now am glad I made, and still make, the investment. So there I was one night in my picture-perfect writing environment, trying to write a scene where my main character was making a life-or-death decision--while in my ears Leonard Cohen (whom I love) was singing (sort of) about Suzanne, who is half-crazy as she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China. My pen (or keyboard) had to shut down while I imagined how nice it would be to have some tea and oranges from China as I listened to the rest of the song:
And just when you mean to tell her
You have no love to give her
She gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you've always been her lover...
See? I'm doing it right now...trying to write a decent blog entry without getting lost in a song!
So before I go off on another meandering tangent, here's the current list of what I've been listening to and some of the lines that make it happen...
1. Bulletproof Weeks by Matt Nathanson.
So what happened to bullet proof weeks in your arms
What happened to feelin' cheap radio songs
What happened to thinking the world was flat
Yeah what happened to that
2. Down by Rakim Y Ken-Y.
(also one of the best reggaeton songs to Zumba to!)
Pero todo fallo en todos los intentos (gotta hear it to fully appreciate it)
Translation: But everything went wrong in every attempt
3. Summer Again by The Afters
(absolute poetics set to music)
As she falls I try to catch her
For one last touch of warmth from summer
As one thing leaves to become another again
I remember when
Oh to be with summer again
The days were warm and we wore them like skin
Now I feel the effects of October again
4. Writing to Remember by Matt Brauwer
(has a slight country feel but it throws a powerful punch)
They say that you can’t go back
I wouldn’t try even if I could
Cause somehow in the darkest hours
Something always came around for good
5. Sky Blue and Black by Jackson Browne
(I'll never grow tired of this song...)
You're the color of the sky
Reflected in each store-front window pane
You're the whispering and the sighing
Of my tires in the rain
You're the hidden cost and the thing that's lost
In everything I do
Yeah and I'll never stop looking for you
In the sunlight and the shadows
And the faces on the avenue
That's the way love is
That's the way love is
That's the way love is
Sky blue and black
Other songs I'm listening to this month are directly and intentionally selected to give me a feel for the time and place element of my Romanian setting. I'll be adding Turkish tunes soon as well as Brazilian as my story progresses...
6. Romania by Elana Timaru
(a lullabye sang in Romanian)
7. Dark Eyes by Zoltan and His Gypsy Ensamble
(an instrumental--love it!)
8. Romania by Gary Sills from his album, Restless Hearts
(a piano piece that I must learn--in December! It's not the same song as #6)
9. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; I Love You Sweetheart of My Dreams; & Ask Me Now by Thelonious Monk
(I can imagine these three in the movie!)
10. Solace & Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin
(Joplin is my soul mate!)
So there it is, my top-10 (13)...
Noapte buna si Dumnezeu miluieste!
(Goodnight and God bless)
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
As the other prom-goers arrived, we enjoyed chocolate chip cookies and guava juice out by the pool. The girls, dressed to the nines, paired up with their respective dates, and we snapped an onslaught of pictures by the pool and in the house. Cristina, dressed in a sleek red with white polka-dotted dress, confessed her love of all things Disney, especially Minnie Mouse. After all, she told us, her dad used to work at Disneyland. Of course, since I used to work there, I jumped in and asked her dad about his Magic Kingdom career, which he admitted was probably before I was born, which it was. This conversation led us into an unusual discovery of beyond coincidental circumstances.
Cristina’s dad John told me he had lived in Long Beach, California. I told him I was born in Long Beach and lived there until I was three. He asked me where specifically, and I told him, “West First Street.” He responded, “I lived on East First Street.”
“What years did you live there?” he asked.
“1965 to 1968. You?”
“1957 to 1966. But,” he added, “my parents remained there for the rest of their lives.”
So we lived on the same street for one year, but that was just the beginning. John told me he went to St. Anthony’s, a Catholic School in Long Beach, and graduated in 1960, which happens to be one year after my half-brother Miles graduated—FROM THE SAME SCHOOL! Needless to say, we were both stunned by this amazing discovery.
“What are the chances of that?” John asked.
“It’s a small world after all,” I chuckled.
Our conversation drifted when I noticed Cristina had donned a sequined pair of Minnie Mouse ears. I had to get more pictures, so I left John to converse with my husband, and this is where it gets unbelievable.
Somehow in their conversation, the topic came up that I am a writer. This alone is weird because anyone who knows my husband knows that he has not been one to boast about my wanna-be writing career. Perhaps he mentioned that I was working on a masters, which could have possibly lead him to say that I was a writer of sorts, but for whatever reason, his statement sparked an immediate response from John, who proceeded to tell my husband that he had been looking for a writer who could create a novel based on the true story of his Romanian parents and himself having to suddenly and permanently flee in 1944 from the incoming Russian Communists, leaving behind their family estate and loved ones in Romania.
I had wandered back inside to catch the tail end of this conversation and was immediately intrigued with the idea of creating such a story. The rest, as they say, is history—Romanian history, that is.
John asked me if I knew anything about ghostwriting or co-authorship projects and if it was something I would be interested in doing. I told him honestly that I didn’t know much about the legal technicalities, but that I was definitely interested in retelling the story for him. I explained to him that without conscientious intention, most of my stories have a common motif of displaced persons, so his story is right up my proverbial alley (except for the fact that I knew nothing at the time about Romania or its involvement in World War II). John then told me he had envisioned this story to be reminiscent of the classic Casa Blanca, starring Ingrid Bergman.
“Well,” I told John, “my maiden name is Bergman, and my favorite black-and-white film has always been, and always will be, Casa Blanca.”
We exchanged numbers and made plans to meet up right away, which we did and have done several times since. John and his wife Cathy have worked hard to keep the documents and photographs preserved. They also have shown me the few family heirlooms that were salvaged from his parents’ estate in Romania and traveled with them to Turkey, then to Rio de Janeiro, across the Atlantic to New York, then to Ohio, across the United States to California, and now dwell safely in Hawaii. What has helped me most, however, is the four-hour video footage of John’s mother Lucia talking at age ninety-two about her remarkable life. I have watched and re-watched this video, taking extensive notes and generating in my mind the voice of an astute, even perhaps sneaky woman who has lived out a plot that I could have never generated on my own.
If done right, this writing endeavor will deliver a riveting plot, a rich exposé of Romania’s ambivalence toward World War II alliances, and a mind-blowing twist of fate at the end. I see it as a film and am writing it with a screenplay in the forefront of my mind.
So as they say in Romania, “Nu lasa pe maine ce poti face astazi” (Don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today).
Saturday, October 31, 2009
From what I understand about publishers, they have an underground syndicate of cover masters who do not want authors to interfere with the artistic process of cover design. This is probably because they know what's best, or at least think they do.
As one who reads a lot, I usually don't take covers too seriously, especially if I already know the book is going to deliver. But if I'm strolling Borders without a specific mission, you can bet that I'm picking up books with covers that draw my attention. Case and point. While browsing online for books on Shelfari, one book immediately caught my eye. Robert Olen Butler's Hell has a cover that screams for attention...
How does one ignore that cover? I have not yet read it, but since his Pulitzer Prize-winning Good Scent From a Strange Mountain is on my top-ten favorite books, I will be reading this one after I finish the three other books I am currently reading, which are going to be shelved during November as I NaNoWriMo myself into oblivion and beyond.
So now I've got two hours before I start writing my new novel to decide if I will fold the heap of laundry on my sofa or pay the neglected bills that are sitting right here in front of me. Maybe I'll make that important decision tomorrow. Maybe not.
Nota Bene: Bum-bye means "later on some other day...bye and bye"
Friday, October 30, 2009
This will be my (gasp) seventh attempt to break the 50k and become a “Winner” as deemed by founder Chris Baty and his impressive team of dedicated novel-generators. While I’ve never been crowned "Winner" yet, the fruit of my NaNo labor consists of four novels in various states of completion, the most recent also serving as a portion of my MFA thesis. At 49,000 words currently, this baby is just a few words away from an agent’s desk.
My NaNo nerves this year are at an all-time high as I am using the upcoming month of madness to pen/pound out a historical fiction piece that I’m being commissioned to write. It’s an epic plotline based on a true story of fleeing Romania during WWII. I’ve been researching for this since May of ‘08. I can even speak a few important sentences in Romanian, like, Am de fucut niste comparaturi, which means, I need to do some shopping. I also have a handful of Romanian recipes to try in order to get a literal taste of the land. And the music, it’s well, how do you say, so Romanian.
Now not only am I taking on the challenge myself, but for the past five years I have been inflicting NaNoWriMo on my English students. This year, all 119 of them are signed on with the young writer program and are (for the most part) psyched (scared out of their minds) to begin this Sunday. I listened to their plot ideas today in class, and wow, I’m so impressed with the wild outpouring of genuine creativity. Their minimum word count requirement for an A is 10,000 words, but every year I have at least one student who breaks the 50k. The record, held by current sophomore Kyle Park, stands at 63k words of sheer brilliance.
The kick-off party served its purpose. Our two delightful ML’s (Municipal Liaisons) are brand new to the state—one from somewhere in the south and the other from Long Island, New York—but they are raring to launch our mid-Pacific state into NaNo-land. We will be having word wars against Los Angeles and Long Island, two high-volume cities in previous years, as well as some other city I cannot recall at the moment. It will be exciting to see how we tally up at the end of the month.
In the meantime, I’m wondering how my blog will fare during my 30-day pilgrimage to NaNo-land. Given the collaborative nature of my Romanian mission, I probably won’t be putting up any significant excerpts, but I may resort to posting interesting pictures of my month-long journey, ie: This is me tearing out my hair strand by strand on November 29 with 8,888 words to reach the goal by midnight.
Let the madness begin!
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Let me keep this short and sweet.
I'm not sure what compelled me to buy this one-pinter of Ben & Jerry's tonight. I never buy ice cream for myself. Ever. But it was late. I was tired, and it looked so innocent just sitting there in the cold. It was lonely.
I actually walked away from it once, thinking to myself, What kind of woman would buy something called "Chunky Monkey"? Geez! So I went back to see if it was still there, and since it was, I assumed it was meant to be mine--all mine. The nutrition facts say it has only 290 calories--for 1/2 cup. Truth be told, there are four servings in that pint-sized cup. That's 290 x 4=1160 calories! It would take a solid hour and a half of serious sweat to burn that off.
So I brought it home. Everyone was already sleeping. There'd be no threats to share. After letting it thaw a little, I ate half the pint: 580 calories. The other half is right here next to me, but it's going to spend the night in my freezer (behind the frozen okra).
So I'm going to bed now. Tomorrow night I'll be at the gym for an hour and a half, grappling with my chunky-monkey hips and thighs.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Last weekend my son Ryan piloted a four-seater airplane under the supervision of his girlfriend's father who flies for Hawaiian Airlines. After a full day of soaring over the islands, Ryan was able to successfully take off and land the plane on his own. The thrill of it confirmed his desire to consider a potential career in the sky.
If there are waves on the South Shore, Ryan will figure out how to defy them.
He even invents his own airborne methods to enable optimum thrills.
I have to believe Ryan inherited this love of air from me. As a gymnast in high school, my favorite apparatus was the uneven parallel bars. The slow-motion delays in mid-air before sticking a dismount always delivered an adrenaline surge beyond words. Sure, the ever-present fear of landing on anything besides feet threatened to steal my focus, but even after several bad falls and a broken tailbone, the quest to become airborne prevailed.
Unlike Ryan, however, I don't think I would get the same high in the cockpit. I love traveling by air. I even pursued a career as a flight attendant out of high school. But somewhere along the way, I have developed an annoying aircraft phobia. It's not the fear of crashing that haunts me as I can always rationalize that driving on a freeway is far more dangerous. My fear is more irrational, more agoraphobic than the common complaint of passengers feeling too confined. Unlike most air travelers, I actually enjoy the enclosed feeling in the aircraft. It's a camaraderie of sorts to me. Like we're all on one big happy journey over the clouds together. September 11 put a damper on this pie-in-the-sky mentality of mine, but not entirely.
It wasn't until a really long trek from Honolulu to St. Louis that I contracted my first in-flight case of agoraphobia. I remember settling in with a good book and a NY Times crossword puzzle. I read for a solid two hours then gave in to the drowsy hum of the plane's engine and slept just long enough to start dreaming. That's when the plane turned into a sickening carnival ride. The flight attendant announced that due to a [diabolical] storm system, we would be experiencing [death-defying and tumultuous] turbulence for a little while. Try three hours.
Trying to reason with my inner flight attendant, I reminded her that we wanted to do this for a living, but she shouted back to me as I looked out the window that we were suspended by absolutely nothing...in the middle of the entire sky. This clammy epiphany made me uncomfortable. It was like the feeling I once had playing outfield in a softball game. It's hard to explain, but it's like being trapped in a wide open space.
Using the crossword puzzle as a distraction, I racked my brain to complete half of it, which I now regret as the jarring motion, combined with the straining eye work of the puzzle, spun me ad nauseam into a dizzying state. I put the puzzle away, closed my eyes, and breathed deeply. This helped, but not enough when someone behind me hurled. I was next in what would become a domino-effect of puking passengers.
As soon as we landed, we had to rush to catch the next plane to Orlando. Wishing for a set of sea legs, I pitched and reeled my way into a shop and bought a pack of Dramamine. I took four then boarded the next plane.
All I remember from that flight is the older man next to me. He was wearing a turban, and I woke up twice with my head on his shoulder. When we landed in Orlando, I tried to gather myself and apologize to the man with a soft shoulder. In his melodic New Delhi accent he told me it was no problem and that he had a daughter about my age. I was hoping I didn't slobber all over him or snore, but decided not to ask.
So ever since that harrowing ordeal, I have flown with trace elements of fear wrangling in the back of my thoughts. And now with the vision of my crazed son taking off into the wild blue yonder, I have to completely regather my senses and try to think happy thoughts.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Tonight I became a princess as an evening production at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki proved itself the most regal setting in Hawaii's musical kingdom. In the most vintage of Hawaii's settings, I was serenaded by not only one handsome prince, but by the three handsome and seriously talented princes of Maunalua.
Maunalua has put the Hawaii back into Hawaiian music. Comprised of lead singer (and my so-called long-lost Portagee cousin) Bobby Moderow Jr; bassist/vocalist Kahi Kaonohi; and guitarist/ukuleleist/vocalist Richard Gideon, Maunalua has won three Na Hoku Awards (the Hawaiian equivalent of the Grammy), and this past January, they jammed at the inauguration luau for our first "local boy" President, Barack Obama.
Held in the nostalgic Monarch Room of the newly refurbished Royal Hawaiian Hotel, this one-hour performance begins with the traditional blowing of the conch shell and a bone-chilling oli (chanted greeting). The stage is set to look like a typical Hawaiian home out in the country, complete with flower-bedecked front porch and corrugated tin roof.
Bobby first takes his spot on the front steps and plays solo as if warming up for an upcoming luau. Kahi and Richard join him on the porch and banter with each other local style before they launch into their first song. From this point, everything seems suitably impromptu as hula dancers join in and the jesting between songs continues. The vocal harmonies and leo ki'eki'e (falsetto), blend so perfectly that the three voices become one.
The songs range from traditional Hawaiian to a rendition of the Crosby, Stills & Nash song, Teach Your Children. Two Shadows, written by Bobby Moderow Jr, has me hoping for more original pieces in the future.
Next Thursday at 7 pm will be the last of Maunalua's nine appearances at the Monarch Room as part of the Curators of Hawaiian Music Concert Series. Contact me if you're interested in going as Bobby gave me the thumbs up to comp "Tenney's Twenty".
My hope is that the Royal Hawaiian Hotel staff will in the near future bring Maunalua back to the Monarch Room as a permanent fixture.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
That's right. He loves you and me--even when we screw up our pronouns.
But I'm not as forgiving. I have sat in many a church service, wedding, and funeral and have heard the most sincere orators flub it all up: God just wants to bless you and I...He loves you and I...I ask that you pray for my wife and I. No! No! No!
Somehow, perhaps out of a deep-seated fear of not being proper enough, people have resorted to using "you and I" no matter where it shows up in a sentence. This is a mortal sin in the literary world, a sin so bad that it will make those of us who know the rule (or in my case, teach the rule), cringe in our pews.
The rule is simple. If you were to take out the "you and" or "my wife and" from the above sentences, you would be left with the following: Jesus loves I...God just wants to bless I...I ask that you pray for I.
See the problem? The logical solution is to replace the "I" with "me": Jesus loves you and me...God wants to bless you and me...I ask that you pray for my wife and me.
The only time "You and I" is used is when it comes before the main verb of the sentence. Again, this is pure logic: Jenni and I love Jesus...You and I have been blessed...My wife and I will pray for you. Go ahead and take out the "Jenni and", "You and", and "My wife and"...see what's left? This is why it is never acceptable to say Me and Jesus have a good thing going on; or Me and my friends love Jesus. Unless you're an unschooled caveman, you would never say, Me love Jesus.
Now, for the love of Jesus and me, go and sin no more.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
With my loofah hanging next to him, I wondered how I would remove it from the hook without once again terrifying my little shower friend. Like a speeding figure eight, he scurried back to the Aussie bottle. I lathered. I scrubbed. I rinsed, leaving the lizard alone, but the real drama began when I turned off the water and stepped out. Because it’s an old house, the drain takes its sweet time, leaving a few inches of water to slowly work its way down and out.
Towel-wrapped, I decided I needed to capture the little guy and set him free outside, fearing otherwise he’d become a play toy for our serial-killer cat, Blue (more on him in the future). I crouched down and cupped my hands around the lizard, but in a fitful rage he escaped through a crack between my two thumbs and plunged headfirst into the draining tub. Much to my surprise, he swam with Michael Phelps finesse. He even flipped himself upside-down twice in order to rest a second before flipping back over to finish his cross-tub journey.
Once to the other side, perhaps out of pure exhaustion, he couldn’t get himself attached to the slippery tub, so I intervened again and tried to scoop him out. This is when he released his wiggling tail into the water—a survival device—making it impossible for him to continue swimming. Panicked, I cupped the poor little tailless critter and tossed him onto the tile floor. His limp little body didn’t move, and I was sure he was tragically dead. I tapped him with my pinky finger, and he twitched. There was hope. I blew on him, tapped again, and off he went to the far corner of the bathroom.
Relieved, I left him alone…just long enough to grab my new iphone. He hadn’t moved much, but his eyes were wide open as I knelt in front of him to snap his mug shot. This time I could hear him telling me off. “Eh, what you doing now? My tail going take t’ree weeks for grow back laddat, and now you going take my pict-cha? You like me say Cheese, too?”
When I opened the bathroom door, my waterlogged friend stammered out into the hall, heading toward the sleeping cat.
I got dressed, dried my hair, and headed out to the movies to see “Where The Wild Things Are.” It was okay.
In bed last night I imagined being awakened by an angry tailless gecko. “I tell you where da kine, wild things stay,” he’d whisper. “I stay looking at one wild buggah right hea!”
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Whenever an invitation from Zaffron proprietor Tai Khan comes our way, I fast after breakfast then head off at dinnertime for his Indian buffet in Downtown Honolulu. Tonight we dined with Tai, his wife Sheila, and friends Jason, Priya, and Stefan. The food as always delivered the best of North Indian flavors. The basmati rice topped with egg curry and spicy tomato chutney hit the epicurean spot, as did the keema beef curry, aloo sabzi, garbanzo beans, and fragrant biryani rice. The naan (white or wheat) was served steaming hot from their tandoor oven. I sampled the assortment of chutneys, and found the pineapple variety added the perfect punch to their tofu curry. As if that weren't enough, Tai and his wife Sheila reminded us to delve into the halwa for desert. Served piping hot, this semolina-based bowl of pure cardamom comfort, coupled with a second cup of homemade hot chai, lulled me into a blissful state of Indian La-La Land.
All the while, I'm sitting in front of a wall-to-wall Rajasthani horse mural on cloth, thinking to myself, I've got to find one of these on ebay...
Our dinner mates also lent to the magic. Jason and Priya, both scientists, gave us a taste of their technical lives as Priya described what exactly she does with computers, which unfortunately I cannot put into my own words...something to do with...it's beyond me. Jason teaches nuclear physics at UH, so I didn't even attempt to go there with him.
(Priya and Jason)
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Disclaimer: I am not a big bad grammar snob, in fact, I make all sorts of mistakes, especially when speaking to important people (or at least to people who thrust their importance at me). It's only because I have taught grammar for fifteen years to resistant teenagers that I feel entitled to offer, sacrificially, what I do know about this mean and scary subject.
So here it is, plain and simple.
Lay means to place and must have a noun connected to it. Example:
If you want to use it in the past tense, then simply change it to laid. Example:
Other examples of lay used correctly:
INCORRECT: (but this is how everyone says it...)
See, there's no specific thing to place anywhere?
Now, let's deal with lie, which means to recline. Example:
Changing it to the PAST TENSE is where we all start to go astray. Example:
Last month, the protesters lay across the road.
Bonnie Raitt did it: Lay down with me/tell me no lies/just hold me close/and don't patronize me...
A few years ago, one brilliant student of mine posed the million-dollar question:
"What about the verb "to lie" when you're talking about telling a lie?"
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"In the past tense, we don't say, 'I lay about my age last weekend to get into an R-rated movie.'" He continued, "Shouldn't we then be able to say, 'I lied down under the mango tree last night'"?
"No," I answered."
"Why?" he persisted.
"I don't know...I just work here," I told him and moved on to a feisty rant about why English teachers are all nuts.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Job #1: At fourteen-and-a-half years old, I received my first bona-fide paycheck from Los Alamitos Fish and Chip. Owned and operated by an ambitious Vietnamese family, LA Fish and Chip offered all the expected London fare with a South East Asian twist. My job was to fry up the orders in the back kitchen as they were shouted at me. The language barrier caused the most grief as I tried in earnest to decipher what exactly it was that I was supposed to prepare. Let’s say someone ordered one fish and chips, one shrimp/no chips, and two fish with extra chips—it sounded like this: One feesh cheep, one sheep no cheep, two feesh eshra cheep. Now say it really fast—a few dozen times, and there you have it. Thank God for Farrah, their four year old daughter, who would stand next to me and interpret.
Job #2: I have no idea what it was called, but it was a ritzy ice-cream parlor in Seal Beach, praised for their fine espressos and lattes. The owner was rarely ever there, and I worked alone most of the time. The five-mile bike ride, the loneliness, the forearm cramps from scooping ice cream, and the wrist burns from the milk steamer made me almost miss the feesh, cheep, and sheep job.
Job #3: Mr. T’s Auto Parts. I delivered auto parts every Saturday morning in a bright yellow Volkswagen Rabbit diesel truck all over the backstreets of Long Beach, Compton, Lynwood, and Watts (remember now, this is before the security of cell phones). At first I felt like a pony-tailed bimbo, but once I got my bearings (and ball-bearings) straightened out, I whipped around town dropping off axles and pistons and rack n’ pinions to macho mechanics who grew to respect me for my expert knowledge of gaskets and heads and hoses and fuses.
(this is not the actual truck, but it looked exactly like it)
Job #4: Le Polynesia. For ten years, I had the privilege of being a performer with this crème de le Polynesian crème of a dance troupe. We frequented yacht clubs, restaurants, and conventions as well as benefit shows for hospitals, veterans, and community fund raisers. Under the faithful instruction and leadership of Jr. and Ilima Montgomery, we were taught to preserve the languages and authentic dance forms of Tahiti, Hawaii, New Zealand, and Samoa. My most embarrassing moment on stage caught me with a huge chunk of my Tahitian skirt missing as I turbo-danced in front of a rowdy group of military dudes. Thankfully this happened before Youtube.
Job #6: Ricabob’s Restaurant. Located directly across the street from the Los Alamitos Horse Race Track, this place taught me how to carry a lot of food on one arm and how to say no to wealthy gamblers with impossible promises. I also learned how to spill a Bloody Mary on Evel Knievel’s lap.
Job #8: Disneyland. During my five years at the “Happiest Place On Earth,” I sold skulls and snakes in Adventureland, Daniel Boone hats and rifles in Frontierland, light sabers in Tomorrowland, and Matson shiploads of stuffed Mickey’s and Minnie’s everywhere else. I also personalized hundreds, perhaps thousands, of those felted mouse-ear hats. My biggest challenge was trying to fit names like “Sharayahkenika” or “Mahealaninuikealoha” in the small space on the back of those popular hats. My last two years as lead/scheduler on the east side of Main Street taught me to appreciate people who never called in sick, especially the magicians. Let’s just say, I don’t do magic—at least not on purpose.
Job #10: Aloha Animal Hospital. My first job in Hawaii, where I sat behind a receptionist counter, checking in a menagerie of wealthy animals with hangnails and chipped teeth. It was there that I fell head-over-heels in love with Sam, the Newfoundlander with enormous webbed feet and enough drool to create a slip n’ slide for all the dainty-footed Pomeranians and Pekinese puff balls.
(this is not Sam, but he looked exactly like this bad boy)
Job #11: Liberty House (now unfortunately Macy’s). I managed the Christmas department while six months pregnant for my first son and continued working/waddling there until I birthed my ten-pound wonder boy, Ryan (thank God for c-sections!)
Job #12: Private nanny. ‘Nough said.
Job #13: Preschool assistant. Ditto.
Job #14: Writer for University of Hawaii’s OPELE office (see my earlier blog post Angel in the Infield).
Job #15: English teacher—15 years and counting. Almost 1,600 students later, I can still say it’s the best job ever!
Job #16: Curriculum writer for Ohana Learning Foundation. Earned loads of money creating on-line lesson plans during my maternity leave for son #2. In spite of the generous non-fiction income, I'm sticking with the poor folks of fiction.
It’s been a wild ride, that’s for sure, but worth every clocked-in hour of it.