Monday, February 15, 2010

How You Know You're Going to Have a Good Day

Much novel writing. Longer blog posts in the works. But for now...


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Monday, January 25, 2010


I admit it--I am one of those people. Whenever a new film adaptation of a Jane Austen novel comes out (and they've been thick as fleas these past few years, haven't they?) I'm in the front row with the cheese popcorn, mesmerized. Now, why a person ever needs to watch more than one version of Mansfield Park in her life, I don't know. I offer no rational explanation. Why does my cat punch holes in every paperback cover she can sink her sharp little teeth into? No idea. It's a force of nature. We cannot explain; we can only obey.

So: last night, Emma. The only wealthy Jane Austen heroine, and the most deliciously flawed. BBC. Romola Garai. I'm so there. Sweep me away, Masterpiece Theatre!

Opening credits. Toes tingling with anticipation. And then...a voiceover.

Fight off immediate sense of dread. Because too many times, voiceover = bad movie. (Is it just me, or have other people noticed that, too?) Voiceovers explain things, and this voiceover insisted on explaining stuff that would be perfectly obvious from watching the characters. Yes, Emma's father is a hypochondriac who fears the worst at all times. For Pete's sake, you've got Michael Gambon playing him--Michael Gambon, whose portrayal of Squire Hamley in Wives and Daughters* made me cry (and I do not cry easily--witness a theater production of Les Miserables, sobs and stifled weeping all through the audience, and me? A stone. That's how hard my heart is, people.) Michael Gambon, as I say, who can express a subtlety with an eyelid, and you have to sum his character up for us before the story even starts?

I wish I could say that this new Emma destroyed my voiceover prejudice forever. It's not terrible, but swept away? I felt a few breezes, but otherwise, not so much. The overtelling continued throughout the episode, with dialogue (not Austen's--she knew better) telegraphing what was to come, rather than letting the action play out for the viewer. Austen was the master of delicious scene-building--why not let us enjoy it, and the surprises that come with it?

I'm no Austen purist (here's proof), but alas, I was underwhelmed. However: two more episodes are to come, and I'll be there, front and center. A tepid version of Jane still beats most else, after all. Besides--who am I to deny a force of nature?

*If you're a fellow Austen and/or costume drama fan, and you haven't seen Wives and Daughters yet, GO. Order the DVD from, put it in your Netflix queue. Now. I'll wait. While you're at it, get the book by Elizabeth Gaskell. Big, fat, luscious read. You won't regret it, I promise.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Have Pink Glove, Will Dance

A friend of mine sent this to me and I loved it. Maybe because, amid all this politicized, polarized health care debate, it's good to be reminded that health care is people. People dedicated to helping other people beat disease.

Not to mention...dancing with pink gloves.

The guy with the mop is my favorite.

One of the many things I'm thankful for is that I live in the same town as these dedicated, professional, pink-gloved goofballs. Love ya, P-town!

A very, very Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Funnies

This week, Internet people have been making me laugh. I must share the bounty!

Go Fug Yourself: a mock trial in which you, the jury, must decide whether Carrie Underwood committed fashion fug in the first degree at the CMA Awards. From Exhibit A: "The prosecution frowns that this mirrored dress mostly eliminates her waist, and reflects the red carpet in such a way that it becomes an artistic interpretation of internal bleeding." Go! Vote! Carrie's fate is in your hands!

Prefer your scathing wit in a literary setting? Here, then, are the winners of
The Rejectionist's challenge to write the "THE MOST AMAZING Form Rejection in the History of the Universe." That's right, people--the universe. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? Ha! Apparently Hell hath never seen rejected writers unleashed...on themselves.

What's that? You're too lazy to read or vote, you want to loll on the couch and let the funny pour into your eyes? Behold, just for you: Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" music video...
the literal version.*

Which brings us, as always, to the eternal, unanswerable question...who are these people, and where do they find the time to do this kind of stuff?

*Discovered via my friend Jenny's blog...thanks for the mirth, Jenny!


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Gentlemen...Start Your Engines!

There’s the kind of dream vacation you think about for years, cutting out pictures of pink beaches and pinning them on your bulletin board, sighing, One of these days…

And then there’s the other kind of dream vacation. As in, Never in a million years would I have dreamed anyone could talk me into this.

Well, gentlemen (and ladies): Start your engines. This last weekend my sweetie and I flew more than halfway across the country to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a place I’ve never in my life thought about for more than four consecutive seconds. Why?


MotoGP is motorcycle racing. The GP stands for Grand Prix. The riders compete against each other at races all over the world for the annual MotoGP championship. (Three days at Indianapolis, and those are pretty much all the hard facts I know.)

My sweetie was concerned that before the weekend was half over, I’d liquefy into a festering puddle of boredom. (Like the two women we saw sleeping in chairs underneath the stands, behind the Indy Dog vendor.) But this is the thing about that other kind of dream vacation: discovering stuff you never knew existed. The T-shirts alone are another whole subculture. Lots of black, lots of old English font, lots and lots of skulls. The T-shirts supplied information…

Hell yes it’s fast


Those who dance are considered insane
by those who cannot hear the music


Ride it like you stole it

…and often, a powerful simplicity:

Your bike sucks

And then there are the brolly girls. Brolly girls hold umbrellas over the riders so that they don’t get hot/rained on/otherwise inconvenienced. Here’s a brolly girl practicing:

If you’re imagining four men to every woman at MotoGP (including the brolly girls), you’re about spot-on.

But if you’re also picturing bad mullets, chrome studs, and leather fringe, a la a Harley Davidson rally...nope. If Harley Davidson is the pit bull, MotoGP is the greyhound. Sleek. Stripped down. MotoGP isn’t about chrome. It’s about speed, baby.

Sunday—Race Day—dawns. After nodding off during the qualifying runs and practice laps the day before, I’m taking no chances. My satchel is crammed with a netbook computer, two novels, a magazine, and a newspaper crossword.

The thing is, I’ve never understood motor races. Horse races, yes. Horse racing is spirit and muscle and power and skill and immeasurable, limitless heart. In comparison, motor races always seemed so…well, mechanical. And loud. And endlessly repetitive, with all that going around and around and around. Yawn.

But it turns out that a motorcycle flashing past at nearly two hundred mph is…well, it’s like this:

Wow. Okay.

I got the crossword partly done. And then I couldn't help it. The motorcycles hooked me in.

Three laps into the race. The cyclist in the lead, a Spaniard named Dani Pedrosa, crashes his bike. Long skid over the grass, but he gets up. Whew. Then he gets back on the bike and rejoins the race. From the lead he's now dead last, by an enormous margin.

A few laps later, the next guy in the lead, Valentino Rossi, also crashes. Also rejoins the race, but his bike is too damaged, and he drops out for good.

That leaves one rider, Jorge Lorenzo, waaaay in front. Unless he crashes, too, it’s now a race for second place.

Bikes flash past. Zoom. Zoom. Last of all, Dani Pedrosa on his orange Honda Repsol. He’s by himself on the track, the rest of the field literally a mile ahead, but he’s flying. He has no hope of finishing anything but last, he’s already crashed once, and yet he’s not letting up one iota. Even a rank amateur like me can tell.

The field comes around again. A mile back, Dani Pedrosa. I squint. Look at the field. Then back at Dani. “You know," I say, "I think Pedrosa is catching up.”

“No way,” says my sweetheart. Another lap. “Damn, you’re right," he says. "He is catching up.”

Now we’re not watching the battle for second. Everyone's watching the battle for last. Every time Pedrosa flies past—gaining, always gaining—the crowd cheers. When he catches the rider in front of him and passes, the stands erupt in roars. I’m whooping right along with them.

Twenty-eight laps. The checkered flag comes down. Jorge Lorenzo wins. Good on ya, Jorge.

And Dani Pedrosa? Tenth, in a field of fifteen. Crashed his bike, ended up more than a mile back from the field, and still passed five other riders.

Yeah. That’s heart. From this out-of-left-field vacation, I found a new hero. And something to remember the next time things get tough.

No matter what, keep on flying.

I ought to put that on a T-shirt.

For some of the action, click here...I tried to embed it, but MotoGP won't let me. But it's a great video. And if you're dying to find out about engines and highsides and lowsides and what all the flags mean...then this is for you.

Many, many thanks to my brother, who invited us out for the MotoGP, and to all their family for putting us up... especially my nephew Michael, who bunked with his brother Ryan so we could have his room. You guys are the best!

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Today's Culture Report

Channel surfing today. Saw an ad for vitamins. For teens. More specifically, one version of the vitamin for teen boys: “For healthy muscles!” and another version for teen girls: “For healthy skin!”

Maybe the heat is clogging my brain. But…

…do not girls also need muscles?

…do not boys also need skin?

…does anyone in the year 2009 really think this crap will fly?

Where, oh where, is Don Draper* when you need him?

*Mad Men. MadMenMadMenMadMen. Loooooove Mad Men. This vitamin ad campaign, it needs some Mad Men. There would still be outdated, blatant sex stereotypes—but they would be subtle. They would whisper. Because Don Draper, he understands how to wake the fears and wants of our subconscious in a way that higher brain functions can’t decipher. That is advertising genius. Vitamin people, pay attention. Or, better yet, join us in the 21st century. It’s true—girls have muscles here. But we’re not scary. Much.

P.S. Speaking of stereotypes…the best stereotype-busting, genre-crossing, hilarious irreverence of a book I’ve come across in lo these many months is…

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. (subtitle: The Classic Regency Romance--Now With Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!)

Just started it last night. First four chapters, snorting and chortling and giggling. And I'm not even a zombie fan.

Full report upon completion.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Be the Cat

Miss Molly Brown sez: HOTTTTT!
Note that Molly is also maximizing surface area for optimal cooling. (One could argue that lying on a rug wouldn't help with this..but then again, one doesn't argue with cats.) Why is Molly (that's Miss Brown to you) doing this?

Because it IS hot. 103 on its way to 106 hot. Record-setting hot.

Last night, with all the scorchiness, my sweetheart and I couldn't face any form of cookery. So we--very cleverly, we thought--headed to a local pub for dinner. Where the waitress informed us that the wait for our food would be at least an hour, maybe more. Because it turned out everybody ELSE in the neighborhood had already decided the same thing and gotten there before us.


Before all of you who live in searing locales start snickering in your iced tea, consider this: you most likely have air conditioning. Most of us in Portland don't, because fifty-one weeks out of the year, we don't need it. Besides, most of us in the city live in old houses, and when you live in an old house (and I'm talking old like 1906, not 1972) installing air conditioning ranks pretty much dead last on the priority list. (At the top is "find out why the hot water in the upstairs bathtub comes out of the wall instead of the faucet," followed by two dozen items ranked in order of how loud we screeched "Oh, my GOD" when we discovered them. We old-house owners prefer to think of these things as "character." Until we scrape together enough money to fix them, after which we refer to them as "that disaster the previous owners thought was such a brilliant idea which could've electrocuted us in our sleep.")

Heat waves in Portland are kind of like snow in Portland. We get a week of each every year, more or less, and it rocks Portland's world.

Be the cat, Portland. Maximize cooling. And buck up--after all, it's bound to rain again soon.*

*weeps quietly at the thought

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

All A Writer Needs Is A Little Freedom

All over everywhere, folks are squeeing about Freedom. Apparently, this is a computer program you download from the internet that gives you freedom from...

(wait for it)

...the internet.

Freedom from checking your email every few minutes. Freedom from checking the comment trails on your favorite blogs. Freedom from Twitter, Facebook, your book's ranking...

not that I ever look at my books...umm...hardly ever, I mean...*cough* short: Freedom to do some actual work. The way Freedom works is, you set it for a specified time and during that time, the program prevents you from accessing the internet for any reason--even to check March Madness results (Cher bracket) on Go Fug Yourself. You can't argue with can't reason with it. It knows no mercy.

If that's not a writer's godsend, I don't know what is. It's just too easy, when hitting a bump in the fifth circle of hell known as the First Draft, to say I must know, at this very instant, how to say "hurry up" in French! Before I even know it, Google is activated and I'm knee-deep in French-to-English translation sites. And then I remember that I wanted to know what sort of fabric is crepe, exactly, and by the way, wasn't The Road with Viggo Mortensen supposed to come out last November? Where hast ye been, Viggo? And then...

No! No more! Where do I get this Freedom? I cried, cursor poised, ready to click through to my deliverance. And then I saw the fine print. (Why, why is there always fine print?)

Freedom is for Macs only.

*foam quietly at mouth for a moment*

Fine. Maybe it's just that Mac users don't have the self-discipline that we PC-ers do. So yesterday, I devised a little Freedom of my own: I disconnected my laptop from the internet. (I was surprised at how long I hesitated before clicking "disconnect." As if the mouse was a cleaver held over my sole supply of oxygen.) Every hour and a half, I allowed myself ten minutes surf time. (Okay, fifteen. And once was thirty minutes, but that was lunch.) Overall, I was pretty pleased with myself. And today?

Mm. Well. But look: the 2009 Go Fug Yourself March Madness champion, with video!

And cute cats!

And...and...Aarghh! I can't make it stop! Fred Stutzman, savior of Mac users, hear us! Are we not also helpless in the face of a strong wireless signal? Do we not also have work to be done? Where's our PC Freedom?!

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

What Separates Humans from the Animals

Who hasn't watched birds, and wondered what it would be like to fly? Me, I always figured skydiving would be as close as a human could get.

I was so wrong.

I love how the first guy comments that jumping out away from the cliff got boring. Which I can totally see, because yeah, having all that space around you as you streak through the air at 100 mph would be so dull. As opposed to streaking through the air at 100 mph an arm's length from solid rock.

Anthropologists argue about what separates us from the animals. Language? Music? (It isn't tool-making or self-awareness; those got shot down a while back.)

You know what I think it is? Whatever thought process it is that leads somone to say, I want to fly. I can't fly. How do I fly? I know: I'll invent a wingsuit and then I'll put it on and jump off a cliff. Maybe I'll fly, maybe I'll crash. Let's find out.

It's just so like a human being. Reckless and creative and visionary and stupid, and from the safety of my couch, it warms my geeky heart. Crazy people, fly on!

What about you? Do you see this and say, Man, I wish I could do that! Do you think it's cool but you'll just sit back and watch, thank you very much? Do you think people who do stuff like this are certifiable?

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Airports and Other Adventures

So Saturday evening I dashed home from Wordstock, kicked off the darling vintage-y heels, and packed a suitcase.

Now, I’m an airport fretter. I’m not scared of flying--I love to fly. But I’m the one who always wants to leave for the airport four hours ahead of time. In case of, you know, traffic jams. Or long lines. Or no spots in the economy lot. Or who knows. (You know you’re a champion fretter when you don’t feel you have to come up with specific scenarios. You just know something will happen, and if it’s an invasion of killer bees that shuts down the interstate, you can still turn to your partner and say, “I told you!!”)

But that Sunday, for some reason, I was zen. Dogs at kennel at 8 AM. Plane leaving at 9:57 AM. Plenty of time. Besides, we were already checked in for our flight, thanks to the wonders of teh internetz, as they say on LOLcats. What could possibly go wrong?

And at first, it all went so very, very well. We dropped the dogs off at Stay (is that not the best name ever for a boarding kennel? The folks who run it, Kim and James, are fabulous. Our dogs didn’t give a rip that we were leaving. They know the way to the play yard, and they were all, “Come on, Kim, let’s go play! Let’s play, Kim! Now, Kim! Kim! Kim!” Not one little whine, not a single mournful look. “Yeah, whatever, see ya. Whoo-hoo, Kim! Play!” Ingrates.)

Off to the airport. Lovely spot in the econo lot. Less than two minutes to wait for the shuttle. Disembarked at United and found, in the middle of an otherwise empty airport, the Line From Hell. But no problem, right? We’re already checked in. All we have to do is check our bags. YOU MUST CHECK IN 45 MINUTES PRIOR TO DEPARTURE, the sign warned. Yawn. Magic of teh internetz. We’re golden.

Got up to the counter. Self-help computer terminal won’t check me in. See a United representative for assistance, it says. It is, I kid you not, forty-four minutes to departure time.


Am directed to a second line. Get up to the counter for the second time. Am informed by a very nice, extremely harried United ticket agent that I have missed my flight.

Missed my flight? The flight doesn’t leave for thirty-six more minutes! But, no—wait for it—

“Your bag wasn’t checked forty-five minutes prior to departure time,” the agent tells me.

That was the unforeseen circumstance, the fret I should have been fretting. It’s not good enough that the actual live PERSON checks in 45 minutes prior. The BAGGAGE has to check in, too, and unlike the actual, live person, the magic of teh internetz DOES NOT COUNT.

The sign neglected to mention that part. Also the part about how you can no longer fly separately from your bags, as in, Can’t you just let us trot onto this flight and the bags can follow us later?



I fly a lot, and I’ve never run into this before. Maybe because I rarely check bags—I’m a carryon girl. But we weren’t the only ones, that morning. It seemed like half the line missed the same flight for the same reason. So if you were on the Portland to San Francisco at 9:57 AM on November 9, and your supposedly full flight had a bunch of empty seats and you were able to stretch out in luxury…you’re welcome.

The ticket agent (and she was really a lovely person, sweet as could be to us, although you know that part in The Fellowship of the Ring where Bilbo Baggins lunges to take the ring from Frodo, and his face turns, for one instant, wicked goblin-like with fangs? Whatever supernatural talent that is, this ticket agent has it. Some other passenger tried to skip the second line and sneak in directly behind us, and I swear the agent got ten feet tall and bared a mouthful of shiny danger. It was scary. I almost got back in line again) got us booked on another flight, WITH bags, to Colorado Springs, and all was rainbows and puppy breath, and we were happy, especially since we then had time to get coffee and lemon poppyseed scones.

Can I just say? Colorado Springs is DROP-DEAD GORGEOUS. Pike’s Peak, the Garden of the Gods. Sunshine. Three hundred days of sunshine a year, those people get. They get as many days of sunshine as we Portlanders get of overcast and rain. I can’t think about that too much, or I’ll get depressed.

And the wildlife... We saw at least a dozen mule deer grazing in people’s front yards. A most beautiful fox scampering across a pasture.

And coolest of all, this fellow:

The person we were with said that in 35 years in Colorado Springs, he’d never seen a bighorn sheep on the side of the road like this. We watched him for several minutes, until he jumped the guardrail on the far side of the highway and meandered, safe, to the creek below.

We visited for 4 days, then headed back home…only to find our own wildlife up to shenanigans while we were gone.

This is Seamus O’Leary.

This is Seamus O’Leary’s fat lip.

Stay tuned.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Pop Quiz: Romance Novel Edition

OK, everyone, quiz time: What's wrong with this cover?
If you figure it out, and you want a shot at winning the actual book (or a gift certificate to the online bookstore of your choice) then skip on over to Smart Bitches Trashy Books and enter their caption contest. (Think fast...entries close tomorrow). Best caption gets the book. Second and third best get the gift certificates. (Which begs the question: If you're not a romance novel fan, how do you engineer a caption to be the almost funniest?)
If any of you win, let me know and I'll post it on the blog!

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

This Is How I Know I'm Not From Here

Yesterday’s weather forecast from Oregon Public Broadcasting:
“Very pleasant at the coast today: Overcast, with highs 65 to 75 degrees.”

Leave it to the state that invented the term “sun break” (as in, “showers most of the day, occasional sun breaks in the afternoon”) to consider "very pleasant" a cloudy, cool day at the AUGUST.

Off the beaten path. That's Oregon.


Monday, July 14, 2008


OK, it’s been a little more than a week. And this post is not about public speaking, as I’d previously promised. Mice and men and gang agley and all that. It’s summer. Go with it.

The ins and outs of public speaking will be coming soon. But first, Melissa Marsh of Grosvenor Square has nominated me for a Blogging Excellence Award. I’m flattered, and really don’t think I deserve it. But—never one to turn down a pat on the back—I’ll take it!

Here are blogs that I nominate in turn:

Smart Bitches Trashy Books. I’m not currently a romance reader, although I’ve devoured a few in my day. But this blog is on my daily rounds, because these gals dish it up straight and are hilariously funny to boot. In addition to reviewing romance novels, they provide insights on pop culture, snarky analysis of romance covers (Warnings: Has Profanity. Not Work Safe. Do Not Read While Drinking a Beverage or You’ll Be Replacing Your Keyboard), and even, when warranted, investigative journalism into plagiarism and the mating habits of the black-footed ferret.

Pub Rants. Written by Kristen Nelson, a very nice woman who happens to be an up-and-coming literary agent. Her daily (or rather, nightly) take on the business of publishing is a must-read. Other literary agents’ blogs that are top of the heap: Nathan Bransford and BookEnds Literary Agency.

A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. J.A. Konrath is a mystery writer, and no, I don’t read mysteries, either. But if you want to read about book promotion from an author who’s dived in feet-first and not yet come up for air, this blog is it. Konrath is the inexhaustible king of self-promotion, and he doesn’t just talk about it. He does it, and invites his readers along for the ride, whether he’s figuring out how to get on the conference circuit or engaging in a three-month, cross-country quest to personally visit 500 bookstores. He dispenses tons of information, his opinions are strong, the comment threads can go from fawning to contentious in the blink of an eye—all ingredients for great blogging.

barista brat. I don’t even remember how I discovered barista brat, but I’m a devotee. As a longtime Starbucks employee, her take on the world of the green apron is often amused, sometimes annoyed, occasionally bitter—but always fresh. On hiatus for three months, she’s back at last. If you’ve ever worked (or you currently do) in a service profession, and you’ve ever longed for karmic justice to be dispensed on an unpardonably rude customer, you must read this post.

The Heart of the Matter. Barry Eisler has been a lot of things: a corporate executive, an attorney, a covert something in the CIA (what exactly isn’t clear from his bio—I imagine that’s the covert part) and a writer. He’s the author of the John Rain series of thrillers (um, no…I don’t read thrillers, either. Stop asking me) but his blog is not book- or publishing-related. It’s about politics, and far from the ever-popular pasttime of slinging insults and reducing complex issues to soundbites, his blog posts are well-reasoned and insightful. I don’t always agree with him, but I’m always interested in what he has to say.

Up next: public speaking. Pinky swear, I promise.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008


This past Sunday, my sweetie and I were standing in line for coffees when I smacked my forehead (this isn’t just a literary conceit—I really do smack my forehead when I’ve forgotten something) and said, “The Obama rally!” A co-worker had told me about it the day before, and it had clean slipped my mind. We looked at our watches. I thought it started at noon; it was already ten A.M. “No way we’ll get in,” we said.

When we got home, I checked online. Turned out the gates opened at 12:30; the rally didn’t start until 2:30. Sweet! We hopped on our bikes and pedaled downtown.

Portland on a sunny spring day is like Cinderella at the ball: once the overcast gray gloom is banished, the city sparkles. We rode along the Willamette River, then joined the crowd pouring over one of the ten bridges linking east Portland with the westside. Once across, we started looking for a place to lock our bikes…and looked…and looked. The railing along the entire riverfront spanning downtown was packed with thousands of bicycles. In fifteen years in this town, we'd never seen anything like it.

(I should note at this point the regrettable lack of our own photographs. I forgot my camera. My sweetie—ever prepared—brought his, but the fresh battery he took out of the charger was inexplicably dead. I will skip over the bitter gnashing of teeth.)

Bikes finally secured, we walked to Waterfront Park, the site of the rally. You know how you read in novels: the mood was electric—well, this actually was. The air practically crackled with an optimistic, buzzing energy. We came across an event organizer; she waved at a queue of folks and said, “Go to the end of the line.” So we walked, past hundreds and hundreds of people, past folks selling bottled water, ice cream, Obama T-shirts, looking for the end. And looking…and looking…

Six blocks later, we looked at each other. “No way we’re getting in,” one of us said.

“Lunch,” we both said.

When it comes to crowds, I admit it—we’re weenies.

After lunch, we headed back to the Hawthorne Bridge, thinking we’d watch the rally from there. No such luck—the west end of the bridge rose just above the rally point, and not surprisingly, the police weren’t allowing anyone on the near side, within sight of the grandstand. But we were allowed to queue up on the far side. No visuals, but we could hear. A heavy, steady tide of people was still pouring over the bridge into downtown. In the river, dozens and dozens of boats arrayed themselves in a rough half-moon close to shore. The electric mood heightened.

And then, from the park: “Please welcome…the next First Family of the United States!” A roar boomed from the crowd inside; on the bridge, cheers and applause. Then everyone quieted.

Wow,” we heard Obama say. “Wow. Wow.” And then, “This is the most spectacular crowd, in the most spectacular setting, that we’ve seen in all the months of this campaign.” Another roar. Yay, Portland! Then he began his stump speech. No one talked on their cell phones; nobody chatted with each other. We all stood listening, quiet, for the forty minutes Obama spoke. We couldn’t catch everything—wind snatched away some of the words, buses drowned out others. Then another roar from the crowd inside the park, and Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” jazzed through the air.

Later, we found out that the official crowd estimate was seventy-two to seventy-five thousand. The queue of people waiting to get into the rally was estimated to be over two miles long. Sixty thousand made it into Waterfront Park; the rest, like us, gathered outside. It was Obama’s largest rally by far, and, we heard, one of the largest for any primary election event in American history. (Blogger, that silly creature, isn't letting me post any pictures at all--go here for some eye-popping ones, and here and here for great videos.)

It was amazing to be part of, and something I will never forget. Not just the crowds, but that optimism, that incredible energy crackling through the air.

Today, Oregon votes. Usually, by this time in the primary season, everything is wrapped up and tied with a bow, and our poor state is like the smallest kid in the class jumping up and down with her hand in the air, squeaking, “Me, too! Me, too!” But this year, for the first time in decades, Oregon’s vote actually matters.

So if you’re an Oregonian—no matter what party, no matter whom you support—get that ballot delivered! *

*Oregon is the only state which votes exclusively by mail. At first, I was unsure about it. Now, I think it’s the most civilized way to cast a ballot. There’s simply no lovelier way to vote than at one’s own kitchen table, with a cup of coffee, music of one’s choice, our state’s wonderful Voter’s Pamphlet (which furnishes information on all the candidates and ballot measures—in plain English) a black pen, and a ballot. No standing in line, no trying to cram it in before or after work, no having to remember which candidate is who and which ballot measures I’m for or against. I’m telling you—vote-by-mail is voter heaven, complete with a paper trail. Y’all should try it sometime. And maybe some year we'll take a cue from you other states, and do away with not allowing ourselves to pump our own gas.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Knitting and Brewing and...Writing?

My cousin Jenne Hiigel e-mailed me recently to let me know about her new book project, A Knitter’s Guide to Beer. Now that, I thought, is one intriguing title. Equally captivating are Jenne’s thoughtful and funny posts about knitting, homebrewing, and the process of craft. I especially loved “The Value of Ripping and Dumping.” When her knitting students are daunted at the prospect of having to rip out stitches and redo them, Jenne tells them that’s “more knitting pleasure at no additional cost!” Mistakes, she points out, are an essential part of learning the craft…and that the process itself should be valued and enjoyed, not just the finished product. After all, if you’re not having fun, why do it?

My first writing teacher, Verlena Orr, told us that most beginners have to produce about 10,000 pages before their work is good enough to publish. My heart instantly sank. At that time, I was lucky if I could produce one page a week. Compulsive geek that I am, I quickly figured that, at that rate, it’d take me one hundred and ninety-two years­ to get published!

Whether the 10,000-page-rule is really true or not, I don’t know. What Verlena was trying to get across to us beginners is that writing is a craft. Like any other craft, it takes learning and practice. It also takes a willingness to recognize when something isn’t good enough. When the work needs to be rethought, re-imagined, redone. Or even scrapped entirely. At that point, it’s tempting to get discouraged and give up. Or to hold on even more fiercely to the work, blaming everyone else when it doesn’t get the recognition we think it deserves.

Part of craftsmanship is never resting on your laurels. It's striving to always improve, to tweak a little something, get a little better, a little more original. That’s what keeps it from getting boring. That’s what makes it fun. It's how all of us—eventually—get to where we’re headed, slipping and tripping though we might.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

English Only?

The other day an acquaintance sent me an email which said, “Where Do I Order Mine??” above a picture of this shirt.

My first thought was, I guess he would’ve kicked my great-grandfather out.

I used to ask my grandmother what Sicily was like. “There was nothing there,” she always answered. But if Sicily had nothing, America had everything, and her father, John Rio, grabbed for it. He opened a cobbler’s shop a Sicilian neighborhood in the South Bronx, where many of the immigrants didn’t speak, read or write English. He made enough money to bring his four children over. They worked, married, raised their own children, kept working. His granddaughter—my mother—spoke Italian before she learned English. She became the first in her family to go to college.

My great-grandfather died at the age of ninety, having spoken no language in his life but Italian. And yet he’d been granted citizenship by a judge, who declared that America needed people with his kind of spirit.

The “English-only” movement isn’t new. In 1780, John Adams proposed that an official academy be created to "purify, develop, and dictate usage of," English. Interestingly, his plan was rejected by the Continental Congress as undemocratic, and a threat to individual liberty.

The “English-only” camp maintains that our country is united through a common language. I have trouble with this notion. Languages are fluid. They evolve and change, year by year. What unites us as Americans isn’t any one individual language. What unites us are the ideas on which the United States were founded. Those ideas aren’t bounded by English. They’re immutable. They go deeper, and will last longer, than any one tongue.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…

Say these words—or these—in any language, and they remain uniquely American. The judge who granted citizenship to my great-grandfather understood this. Now more than ever, instead of short-sighted, reactionary slogans, we could use more of that kind of insight.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Listen Up!

A little while ago, I was interviewed by senior NPR correspondent Ketzel Levine for a story on outerwear for urban dogs. If you've had enough of grim war and politics -- and especially if you're a dog lover -- tune in for Ketzel's delightfully charming take on canine winter fashions. I'm supposedly the "expert," but I had far too much fun being interviewed to be taken all that seriously. The story is airing today on NPR's Morning Edition (or click here to listen via the Web.)


Sunday, December 24, 2006

That's "Your Laconic Ladyship" to You!

For Christmas, I gave myself a Peculiar Aristocratic Title. Want one? Click here!

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Duchess Christine the Laconic of Chalmondley Chumleyton
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title


Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Bella Stander Poetry Contest

If you’re in the mood to read some REALLY bad poetry (and come on, who isn’t?) then head on over to Miss Snark’s blog. Miss Snark is a literary agent whose prolific, funny, and yes, snarky blog normally deals with publishing questions. This week, however, she held a poetry contest. Why? To make Bella Stander laugh.

Who’s Bella Stander? And why do we care if she laughs? She’s a writer and book reviewer, an organizer for the Virginia Festival of the Book, and founder of Book Promotion 101, a workshop that teaches newbie authors like me how to launch our babies into the cold cruel world. I took Bella’s workshop last year and found it excellent. Afterward, I had the pleasure of chatting with her for a couple of hours over Chinese food, and that was even better. She’s a fount of book world wisdom, and funny as hell to boot.

This past May, Bella took a very nasty spill off a horse. On Tuesday she went in for yet another surgery, this time on her fractured (and poorly healing) humerus. Not one to pass up fun with homonyms (humerus/humorous—the possibilities practically boggle the mind!) and with the goal of rallying Bella’s spirits, Miss Snark announced the contest and threw open the blog doors.

Eighty-five entries in 48 hours. Twelve hours for blog readers to cast their votes, and—ta da! Results are in. The poem written by yours truly (#44) landed in a 3-way tie for third. (Yeah, I see you back there, I know what you’re thinking. No, I didn’t vote for myself. Not even once. Scout's honor).

So Bella, I hope we made you laugh and that your humerus is on the mend, and do you have any idea how hard it is NOT to make bad puns on the word humerus? (Must refrain…mustrefrain…)

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