Thursday, February 28, 2013

Changing the oil

It's been five weeks since my last oil change, and I'm back for another. Weekend trips between LA and San Francisco rack up the miles fast.

 Just as my odometer hits the 30,000 mark, I find myself watching all the 9s click incrementally upwards and suddenly I am on month #3 of single-motherness. There is nothing magical about counting, but I find reassurance in the progress of time. Despite the spirals of activity that consume mornings, work days, afternoons, evenings, and sleepless nights, there is movement ahead. This, too, shall pass.

 I vividly remember my first pregnancy as a series of long waits. Now in the midst of a temporary commuter marriage, I have no time to wait. What is the opposite of waiting? Doing? Surviving? Just being? Instead of wrapping long strings of measurement around my life like a tailor, I am like the incompetent seamstress with a mouth full of pins simply trying to hold it together. Each stitch stretches the fabric a bit too tightly and tugs away at the threads of the cloth.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


My grandmother kept a journal for me. She was a bit infamous in our family for her crazy stories-- gossipy, matter-of-fact portraits of characters much too strange for fiction. I loved those stories and didn't want to lose them.

Seven months after her death, my grandmother's journal found its way back into my hands. When I opened the pages, her voice came flooding out. She didn't write revelations or poetic reflections; she simply wrote the way she always spoke to me. There are stories of her neighbor's knee surgeries, her tomato vines struggling against the weather, the difficulty of sleeping at night, the bane of cleaning out old keepsakes, and catalogues of who she called today or what package she will be sending tomorrow. What emerges from these sporadic entries is her crackly laughter and scolding tone, her keen observations, and an overwhelming presence of sitting very close to a woman who is no longer here.

I'm working with my 12th grade seniors now on their personal statement essays for college applications. Our single most difficult struggle is not what stories they choose to tell, not even their style or grammar (though that is a massive struggle yet to be reckoned with), but instead we are scrabbling together like two people chasing after a wild chicken to capture that elusive quality of Voice.

Perhaps I am wrong to say it: there is a craft to articulate what it is that is quintessentially You. No, what you wrote just now, off the cuff, filled with personal pronouns and single-mindedness is not the closest you can get to your You-ness. And yes, you might need some nudging from an outsider to help you find it. Just because a sentence is true doesn't make it honest; just because you are the author doesn't imbue an essay with your voice. So how do you turn the linguistic equivalent of a shrug into a song?

"I am who I am, doing what I came to do, acting upon you like a drug or a chisel to remind you of your me-ness, as I discover you in myself." - Audre Lorde

The dissonance of finding a universal connection amidst a dialectic struggle is exactly what I'm aiming towards. The best measure of when a student has really "got it" is when she hits all the right words and her singular story of an experience only she could have had, told with a voice that can only be her own, resonates with her most personal thoughts and reflections and it strikes upon a chord that all readers can understand.

But I'll be damned if I can figure out how to teach this. Lots of conversations. Lots of revisions.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I highly recommend buying strange produce that you've never seen before and can barely pronounce. I was in college before I'd ever tried a mango, a plantain, or even an avocado. Not that I buy any of these things regularly--though avocados are as common as apples in my region--but the joy of culinary exploration reminds me how large the world is and how little I know of it.

At our local farmer's market last week, I splurged on a four-dollar bag of wrinkled, dried dates. My kids are probably the only ones on the block who think jujubes are a fruit and only come in one color. I'm ok with that. They have plenty of time to venture out and taste the gummy candy jujubes later in life. Maybe in college.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

blurry clarity

It is always a pleasure to read the words of someone both wise and self-deprecating. It's even more enjoyable when he happens to be witty and liberal. But this post is not about you, my friend. Today, I want to write about how I see the world.

I conquered my fear of contact lenses. Ok, the actual act of conquering was not a victorious step forward but more like a stumble in pre-dawn darkness that resulted in a disturbing crunch of frame and lenses. Nonetheless, I have moved on.

After feigning good vision (and stifling the guilt of driving my three-year-old son illegally) through blurry morning traffic, I relented and took off during lunch to brave the freeways and--more terrifying--the optometrist.

Rest chin here, press forehead there, squint, blink, click, repeat, flinch at the puff of air, try not to go cross-eyed. 1 or 2? 3 or 4? 5 or 6? Which is blacker? Which is blurrier? Is that an O or a 0?

I don't know why optometrists make me nervous. Maybe it is because I spent so much time in dentist's offices as a child and never visited an eye doctor until my 20s. No one told me about eye dilations, and there is something quite wrong about leaving a medical office more impaired than when you first walk in.

But the doctor was nice, friendly, gentle, and efficient. I found her so likable and agreeable that when she asked about contact lenses, I think my exact response was "Sure." Thirty terrified years of refusing to touch my eyeball, countless nightmares of Clockwork Orange, and flinching and gagging through all fifteen agonizing minutes of my husband's LASIK surgery--all of that was tossed away a bit accidentally. It helped that I only need corrective vision for my right eye. Only one contact lens must be twice as easy, right?

I picked out a new frame for traditional glasses and dragged my feet about scheduling an initial appointment to be trained with contacts: "I'm awfully busy today and tomorrow. Perhaps next week? After 4 p.m.? Not on an even-numbered day?" Turns out they had an opening to train me right then and there. With my substitute teacher already lined up and paid for the afternoon, I thought I'd be stupid not to agree.

It is a good thing that eye doctors train you to put in and take out contact lenses before sending you home with a flimsy plastic circle and scant advice and admonitions to not jab it in too forcefully. My lesson in eye-poking stretched a bit longer than the average contact newbie. At one point, I put it in backwards (admit it, you've done it, too). At another, I pushed it too far to the outside edge and momentarily had trouble blinking it back to my retina. But soon I got it, and I was anxious to leave with the lens in place. From blurry to clarity; what could go wrong?

Having touched my eye at least seven times, I felt cautiously optimistic last night, preparing to remove it. No such luck. My husband offered to stand beside me and give encouragement, for which I'm grateful. The fourth time, I brushed the contact a bit too slowly and it folded over lazily in the edge of my eyelid. Out of reach. Hmm. I tried to find it, tried to pull it back, tried rolling my eyes around, blinking, winking, moaning, and bitching, to no avail.

Half an hour later, my eye was unpleasantly bloodshot and quite irritated. My better half kept me calm, relaxed, and distracted. My plan was to wait it out, think about something else, hope the contact would work its way back out or that my eye would stop hurting and the contact would magically appear on the edge of the sink. If not, I'd try again in half an hour. A bath, an episode of Scrubs, and two children's bedtime rituals later, I was still uncomfortable and unseeing. The Internet was not particularly helpful--is it ever? Do people really try to put in a second lens to better see the first one stuck in your eye? I surely hope not. So I kissed my husband good night, left him with our sleeping little ones and drove through the darkness of night, rain, and a traffic accident (not mine) to Urgent Care.

It's always a good sign when you are low on the triage list. The nurse stifled a laugh after noting my weight, blood pressure, pulse, height, and medical history when he heard my predicament. I was tempted to jab him in the eye. Thank God for Bobby Flay entertaining the anxious masses in waiting rooms across America as he cracks bad puns about sticky buns and pretends that food challenges can be smack-downs. [I will not be surprised the day I see a cage match stir-fry contest on the Food Network.]

Finally, the end was approaching. You must know that feeling if you've somehow read this far. :) The doctor on call looked, filled my eye with numb stuff, yellow stuff, and bright lights. Asked me to lie down, sit up, look everywhere in the room, and finally flipped my eyelid inside out and stretched up high to discover that indeed there was something stuck up there in the crease of my eyelid and eyeball, rolled into a thin plastic blue ball of translucence. He fished it out, wiped antibiotics inside my eye, and thanked me for the challenge. Then he tried to talk me into LASIK.

One step at a time.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I'm going to miss browsing the news online if the rumors are true about Rupert Murdoch. That said, I have a friend who writes for AP, and he deserves to get paid fairly for his work. Hopefully the largest sources of news will still keep a few teaser stories or headlines up for the news voyeurs like me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Be aggressive

My daughter won--no, received--a completely undeserved trophy for her "participation" on a youth soccer league this year. I know I sound like a horrible mother for scare-quoting my own daughter, but you weren't there to strap the shinguards on a wailing kindergartner and to give 95 versions of the same speech: "We signed up, we have to go.... Do it for the team! ...You don't have to be perfect--just try your hardest... Your goal should be to try to kick the ball two times today.... If you stop screaming and kicking me, you'll get a juicebox at the end of the game." Her best was to sit on the sidelines and cheer on her friends. I signed up only because she begged me, and I would have been perfectly happy to have the only child who never kicked the ball on the team. (She did kick it once during the last game. It floored me.) The lack of aggression didn't bother me; it was her complete antipathy that was difficult. It got so bad that I just started calling her the "goalie" in a division that isn't supposed to have goalies. It was the only way I could justify her standing in one place the whole time.

Although soccer seems to be a rite of passage in our small SoCal town (even I played 4 years as a kid), I'm not saddened that she won't be joining a team next year. For someone who loves competition, I am appalled by the behavior of a few vocal parents, overzealous coaches yelling at children, and this YouTube video:

That said, I am wholeheartedly in favor of excessive aggression when it involves a quadriplegic. Not kidding. This is rugby in raw form.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On holiday

L woke me up this morning to announce that banks are closed today. L is five. Somehow, this important fact is of pressing importance. She asked me if there were holidays when the dinosaurs roamed the earth. I explained that there were no holidays because dinosaurs didn't have days of the week or months. In fact, they didn't keep track of time. They were as unaffected by bank holidays as a five-year-old is today.

Why do we keep track of time? If I remember my Daniel Boorstin correctly, it's to guide our productivity and to give us all the illusion of accomplishment even when the task at hand is not quite finished. That certainly describes the way I'm spending my Veteran's Day: grading an infinite pile of notebook paper reminiscent of this Ig Nobel scientific experiment.