Saturday, September 24, 2011

On mourning

My grandmother died and I went to the carwash. It didn’t feel right driving out to her house in a dirty car. I gave the man behind the counter eight dollars and put the engine in gear. The automatic wash invited us in with its mechanical arms. I liked the way they washed without asking permission, the way the whole contraption cradled me inside the car, didn’t let me go. Once inside I turned the car off as the spray cycle started. The water was so loud on the windows, against the roof, that I couldn’t hear the street outside. The soap dripped down in even lines and the world was momentarily white. The car was my cocoon. The bird shit and seeds and yellow pollen that had stuck so goddamn tight to the windshield began to flake and peel off. The car was shedding. I was dry inside but really I was molting, little cells of memory stripping off my arms and legs with every shot of water. The last time I saw her, and that gap between her clavicle and her shoulder, and the time I laughed so hard at a wedding that she had to kick me to keep herself from laughing too, and the day so many years ago when she defended me in front of her friend, saying I was old enough and mature enough to be trusted to hold the family pictures, and the look on her face when she said, “I hope they can help you, too, Julia,” and that gasp of mock surprise whenever a grandkid stole a chocolate chip cookie or failed to pass the right card in pinochle. I wanted to stay in the wash cycle longer than the time allotted, but then the green arrows blinked and the voice said, pull forward now, and I wasn’t ready but the hot air vents had already started. The bubbles of water were being forced across the windshield and I could tell they didn’t want to go. The glass was crisp and nice.

I didn’t want to leave but the voice started again. The car rolled forward and the wheels were slick. The sun was too hot, the light too glaring. Sometimes things move before they’re really ready to. It was hard to get out of the car 30 miles later in front of a house that no longer had my grandmother in it. I just kept staring at the birdfeeder on the lawn and the lemon tree with green lemons. But at least my car was clean.

Friday, September 23, 2011

one hundred word story #24: first day

You know it's the first day because eighteen-year-olds are driving on the bike paths and cops are escorting girls in skirts back to campus. You know it’s the first week because you can hear them chanting from your third-story office window. You get the sense that the kind of learning that’s going on isn’t the kind of learning that is written in books. You are supposed to teach them but it’s hard when you remember how important it all felt, befriending roommates and getting lost in buildings. Too many firsts. Enjoy them, you say, because you’ll only get them once.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Meet Andrew

The first time I met Andrew, I was visiting my boyfriend Ryan, who teaches high school English in San Jose. The holidays were upon us and Andrew was sporting a colorful Christmas sweater. Ryan had told me that this was the guy who kept him sane through grading season, his partner in lesson planning and what he called "off-site collaboration," before adding "oh, and he's diabetic too," as an afterthought.

Andrew also teaches English, is an avid reader and writer, and coaches volleyball. This summer he married his high school sweetheart, Beth, who is also a teacher. Andrew is also a type 1 diabetic, diagnosed around the same time I was--while still in high school. He occasionally has diabetic students in his classes. This weekend he agreed to share some more reasons to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. I especially love his idea that a diabetes cure is within reach. Hey, it could happen.

Until then, we'll take all the support we can get. Team Malibu Pumpers will be taking the state capitol by storm on Sunday, October 2. If Andrew's words inspire you, take a peek at our fundraising page. Thanks again, Mr. Christian.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Meet Wesley

This is my friend Wesley. He is in seventh grade and just joined the cross country team. He recently tested for his brown-black belt in karate. He has traveled the globe with his family.

He and I have a few things in common. We both play sports and have close-knit families. We also both live with type 1 insulin-dependent diabetes, which means that every day we get to test our blood sugar on our fingers and take insulin. As of last week, he now uses an insulin pump, a small device which attaches to his body via a canula and delivers insulin hourly.

I met Wesley shortly after he was diagnosed--a mere five months ago. When I told him and his family about the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and our upcoming Walk to Cure Diabetes, he agreed to sit down with me for a few minutes to give those of you in the non-diabetes world an idea of what it is like to live with type 1. Over the next week or so I will upload another video or two of friends who have agreed to share their story. It is my goal that together we can produce an image of active, healthy, engaged individuals who live great lives, but would rather not have to deal with a chronic condition.

If this inspires any gift-giving action, feel free to wander over to and search for Team Malibu Pumpers to throw us a buck or two. I look forward to the day I can get my kids a diabetes vaccine. Until then, I'm honored to meet kids like Wesley, who not only work with their families to control their blood sugar, but do a whole hell of a lot more with their life as well.

Friday, September 16, 2011

On publication

In 1997, I submitted a short story to the Davis Enterprise and it was published as part of Bob Dunning's "Replace the Above-Mentioned Columnist" contest. I was 13 and the 700-word story was an imagining of a young girl who gets reincarnated as a dog. It could happen, right? Seeing the story in the paper was the first time I understood that writing might be a public act. This summer I submitted a piece that was originally written on this blog. For the Enterprise column, see here. Thanks, Bob, for getting this whole writing thing going.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

You should know

There are a few things you should know about my grandma Alice. You should know that she and her sister once spent a summer working at Yosemite National Park in the the 1940s. You should know that she can ride a bicycle backwards--that is, with her body facing the back tire. You should know that she got up on waterskis the summer she turned 80. You should know that she routinely pulled in 140-pound halibut off the back of a fishing boat in Alaska. You should know that she completed a ropes course in Costa Rica in her 60s. You should know that she can play a mean game of pinochle, and that she has the purest poker face in the world. You should know that her pies are so good that my brother and his wife used her recipe for their wedding desserts.

You should know that, when I was a kid and terribly shy, she was one of the few adults in the world who really understood what that meant.

You should know that when I was little, she was the soft grandma, the quiet one with a knack for listening and an endless supply of stories. You should know that she and my grandfather came to nearly every Sacramento regatta I competed in. You should know that I still own the purple and white sweater she knitted for me when I was five years old. You should know that she and grandpa hosted Christmas every year until us grandkids grew too tall to all sleep before the fire, and while every subsequent Christmas has been lovely, they are different without my grandpa's shadow lurking in the kitchen, my grandma's various hidden cookie jars.

You should know that my grandma has dignity.

You should know that when I saw her today, recovering from a bad fall, tubes and machines whirring around her, I saw a person stronger than I have ever been, and who knows, might ever be.

You should know that with grandmas like her, that's a quality that never fades.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Shorty shorts in Sactown

Two of my new 100-word stories are on display again this month as part of the Second Saturday art show at the Sacramento Gay and Lesbian Center at 19th & L in Sacramento. Many thanks to Alvin Tsao for curating another great show!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Summer reading

Every now and then, there's a book that keeps me up at night, the kind of story that made me invest in night lights and flashlights for the car. As a kid I was always hungry for words, and books were everywhere. It was unthinkable to go more than a few miles without a book in my bag. When we'd go on big camping trips, I'd trek out to the car with Safeway bags filled with library books.

Somewhere along the way, books became eclipsed by magazines, journals, Walkmen and Discman and iPods. These days my cell phone is as distracting as anything else. The focus of all these products is to entertain, but not necessarily to engage. I majored in literature in college, which meant that reading became an elevated act--one not only meant to pass time in cars, but something to be picked apart, studied, analyzed on a theoretical and historiographical level. I fell in love with a lot of writers in college (Frank O'Hara, Emily Dickinson, Federico Garcia Lorca, Jorge Luis Borges, Rohinton Mistry, Jack Gilbert, Adrienne Rich), but weirdly, in doing so I lost interest in reading itself. Reading equaled homework, which equaled deadlines, which equaled stress.

The older I got, the more important the books needed to seem. And yet, the books I truly remember are the ones I never expected to like. They impressed me with their nonchalance, their lack of pretension, and their lyricism.

This summer I fell in love again. First there was Maggie Nelson's Bluets, which I followed with Jonathan Dee's The Privileges and chased with Danzy Senna's Caucasia.

These books couldn't be more different--Nelson's tome is a carefully organized smattering of philosophical musings on the color blue, Dee's story follows a lofty hedge fund manager as he copes with an era of opulence, and Senna's novel shows a character struggling to find an identity as a biracial woman coming of age in the 1970s. Their aesthetics are different and their approaches unique, and they all kept me up late.

I always know a book has left an impression when I find myself missing the characters a day or so later, as if the writer had drawn them so clearly that I half expect to run into them at the farmer's market or the airport. I'll keep my eyes out for them, as if at some point they'll find me in a crowd, approach me and say, "I remember you--you were the one who paid attention." That's what Senna did with her protagonist Birdie Lee, and that's what Dee did with Andy and Cynthia Morey. These are people we know, innately, and they are characters that their creators have taught us to be on the lookout for.

These books are important because they remind us that stories are meaningful, no matter the content, no matter the characters. Yesterday I even turned off my iPod and silenced my cell phone in order to fully commit to Birdie Lee. How many times has that happened? It is now my goal that to one day be able to keep someone else up reading, lost in some other place, some other time, some other head.