Sunday, April 27, 2008

Los Angeles Times 2008 Festival of Books

Ah, lovely, literary Los Angeles. This morning, I went with four students and a colleague to UCLA for the festival of books. Since there were six of us, I drove one of the cars and even though I do not have air conditioning, and even though it was 98 degrees out, and even though I had warned the students that I'm a bad driver, one brave soul chose (willingly) to ride with two teachers. (This, unfortunately, becomes a relevant detail.)

UCLA is a beautiful campus. While I didn't see the ocean, I sensed its nearness, and I loved the eucalyptus trees towering beside the parking lot. The festival itself was crazy. There were panels and tents and events and, this being LA, even film stars. Julie Andrews was there to promote her memoir. (Apparently her childhood was filled with darker themes than dog bites and bee stings.) I mostly wandered around the exhibit tents and bought books, including Screaming Monkeys an anthology my teacher at Iowa State University had been working on at the time. It was fun to see it in print

So there I am, armful of books, moving from small tent to small tent when I see a novel titled: Skunk, A Love Story. Because I am a bad person, I hold the book up to my colleague and said, "hey, you should get this." I'm a little serious because she loves animals, but I'm mostly joking because--Skunk, A Love Story?

The man on the other side of the desk says, "Oh, are you interested?"

I noncommittally mumble something.

"Well, if you are, I could sign it for you."

We chat for a bit about skunk research. Apparently, he made some stuff up (that you can get high on skunk musk, for instance). In the end, I didn't buy the book. But it is getting good reviews on Amazon.

After eating a frozen sandwich, I attended a memoir panel. It was the first panel I've ever attended. (really!) Five years of creative writing classes and somehow, I never attended a literary panel. Now I have and the world is slowly righting itself. This panel was about place (natch) and self. There was even a debate about Truth and Accuracy. So all the memoir-y lions were taken out and dusted. Nevertheless, the panel was engaging. I didn't have time to buy books afterward, but I must, must, must get The Unheard by Joshua Swiller. The author was funny and smart and spoke unsentimentally about living in Zambia. I know, I'm so sentimental, but I'm beginning to realize that it's a disservice. You could tell he loved Zambia, but he just wasn't going to paint his experience with rose petaled sunsets.
On the drive back, I first pull in front of an on coming car. (long, angry honk) Then as I'm changing lanes and then changing lanes again, I nearly side swipe two different vehicles in my blind spot. This all happens in 5 flustered minutes. For the next hour, every time I change lanes, I notice the student in the back seat is also anxiously checking the next lane. When I dropped him off at his dorm, and he nearly hurls his body out of the car, I say, "well, you'll have some driving stories to tell."

His response: "Indeed. I sure will."

"Less of the indeed part," I say, ever the schoolmarm.

"Ha ha," he says. "You drove fine."

As he walks in front of the car, I assume my vehicle is in reverse and I almost hit him.

Friday, April 18, 2008


My nephew and I are taking taekwondo--half a world away from each other. Aidan is four years old, and he has just been promoted to a yellow belt.

I have been demoted to a purple one.

I got my black belt in Korea several years ago. Each morning, I woke up at 5:45 to attend class--a fact that still amazes me. My classmates were 15 middle school boys and 1 very angry middle school girl. They were all superior athletes and when I had to preform my pumsays, they would stand out of the teacher's eye range and demonstrate the steps I was getting wrong. I found the whole situation amusing, particularly my lack of talent--I think that's why I persevered through those dark winter mornings.

When I tell people I am no good at taekwondo, they usually think I'm being modest. I should be so lucky. I just joined a taekwondo institute in Riverside. The first day of class, I wore a track suit and practiced with the white belts. Afterwards, the instructor begged me not to wear my black belt to class and discourage the other students. Instead, he gave me a purple belt--and hinted that he was being overly generous.

On Mondays and Tuesdays, I'll be taking classes with adults, but on Wednesdays, I will be joining the teen class. That should be interesting (or terrifying).

Monday, April 7, 2008


Back in July, I did this complicated apartment search. Much to my delight, every apartment in Riverside had a.) a balcony b.) a pool. (No fridge, however.) For a while, I was dreaming crazy and looking at places with fireplaces and fitness centers.

Now that it is warmer, I have been sitting on my balcony, reading. I just finished Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee. It is very good. Disturbing, but good. His sentences are a marvel. He has stripped them of any excess, and yet, they have still retained their warmth. He also uses a lot of dialogue, but it doesn't feel talky.

It is Saturday, market day. Lucy wakes him at five, as arranged, with coffee. Swaddled against the cold, they join Petrus in the garden, where by the light of a halogen lamp he is already cutting flowers.

Friday, April 4, 2008


There's a lovely farmer's market in Riverside. I thought my father was coming to visit this weekend and so I bought ingredients for stew and for salad and for side dishes. Turns out, I got the dates wrong. My father's coming next weekend. I guess I'll be eating well this week.

Swallow the Ocean

My MFA buddy Laura Flynn came to La Sierra and gave a reading on Wednesday. It was a triumph. She read from her memoir Swallow the Ocean--which is a poignant book. Laura also talked with one of my classes and had dinner with senior English majors.

It was tremendous fun to play host. Here is my office. Here is my school. See all the students smiling at me in the hall. (Yeah, I know, they probably want to stab me with a shiv, but they do smile sweetly.) It was like a rhyming show and tell.

So listen up, Minnesota--it was a beautiful 70 degrees in Riverside, and it was snowing in Minneapolis. How's that? Now don't you want to come see me? Laura couldn't stay very long, but if she had, I could have taken her to the beach, to the Getty museum, to the spray tanning place down the street. In other words, it would have been a cultural extravaganza--and if you come visit, all this plasticy goodness awaits. (And don't believe those people who call Riverside the armpit of California.)

As you'll see from the pictures, Laura is 6 months pregnant with twins. She was a very good sport about what turned out to be a very full day. If you haven't read Swallow the Ocean yet, put it on your booklist. It's really good.