Week in Review – Vaccines, These Women, Fake Fruit

I’m taking it slow on taking off my mask
“What’s normal anyway” is a great song by Miguel. Also, it describes where I’m at in this weird moment of CDC pronouncements that do nothing to help the fact that you can be vaccinated but you still have to be around other people and they might be wackos. Do you trust the people around you? Do I even want to get back to normal? It feels normal to mask up and be careful about sharing air with strangers.

Sirens and helicopters
You can be careful but on the other hand, things happen. Two people just died when their car went airborne going down a street by my house—a 25% grade and apparent brake failure. Crashed just as the elementary school across the street was getting out. More than 200 comments on Berkeleyside offer food for thought and will give you a good sense of what people who know a lot about manual transmissions think about in their spare time.

Listening and writing
Made a new writing playlist as I enter a swoony, power-mad new phase of writing this book. I finally think I know what I’m doing (or do I?). There’s no way I can pull this off. But maybe I can… Am I crazy, or crazy like a fox? The songs fitting my mood just now:
MIRENME AHORA by Myke Towers – bluster and drama
No Mutuals by Fake Fruit – guitars and attitude
Dakotas by Sofia Kourtesis – dreamy bliss

Earlier in April we went to Mendocino for a few days for a nominal Spring Break. It was less of a vacation than it should have been due to 1) having to work the weekend in order to take off the Monday and Tuesday and 2) Grant getting taken down by shot #2. But we did get a pretty interesting half hour in the parking lot of Van Damme beach. If you’re heading north on Highway 1 to Mendocino, this is the part after Little River that dips down and flattens out momentarily with a beach on one side and state park on the other. We watched a succession of RVs pull in. The first, a big old gray thing, was parked in the very middle of the empty lot piloted by a skinny guy with dreadlocks and one metal leg (pant leg rolled up). He let his pit type dog run out to the beach, sniff excitedly, he walked around a bit, and then they were off. He was noticeable, and I think he liked being noticed. Five minutes later, another vehicle pulled in. A man and a woman, both with the carriage of people who do serious Cross-fit. Their van was black with custom siding – I don’t even have the vocabulary to describe it. But they immediately hopped to, sliding out various panels as if the whole thing were a bit of metal origami, revealing bikes and folding slats. They put on black, well fitting jackets – technical fabrics. And went through a production of folding and opening and revealing. When that was done, they climbed up onto seats they had somehow produced out of all that activity, watched the sunset for five minutes and then replaced everything. Both experiences made me realize what very different people you encounter in parking lots like this.

I’m working my way through the “Mystery/Thriller” finalists lineup from the LA Festival of Books from last month. (“Five of 2020’s best crime writers on where mystery fiction is today”). I’d earlier read S.A. Cosby’s exciting “Blacktop Wasteland,” had already read one book by Rachel Howzell Hall, so was eager to read “And Now She’s Gone.” Soaked up the Venice of Christopher Bollen’s “A Beautiful Crime.” Just finished the very satisfying “Little Secrets” by Jennifer Hillier and am now almost done with with Ivy Pochoda’s “These Women” (the voices!). These are five very different books, but all have these interesting, twisty characters and an incredibly strong sense of place. Crime fiction contains multitudes.

Social media in Berkeley has been all pictures of kids lining up near Berkeley High School to get vaccinated. We are all weeks past shot 2 and I’m just so so grateful to mRNA scientists, all the cool kids working the Curative drive through site at Albany Bulb, and even Big Pharma. These things are miracles. A year after lockdown, and I’m getting a shot? The timeline just blows my mind. And it’s so amazing that now you can just walk into a pharmacy or stand in line at a city park and get one of these things. Now, share them with the rest of the world, please. Thinking of my colleagues in India and hoping there’s a way out of the Covid nightmare soon.

Week in Review – Taxes, Navy Blue, Stop Asian Hate

The last week was a bit under a cloud. I always intend to get taxes done by the end of February, but usually find myself scrambling as the days climb into mid-March. I’m not sure why we itemize deductions any more – royalties and outside writing income have been pretty underwhelming. But there’s something I find strangely enjoyable about looking through a year’s report on each account and seeing all the stuff I spend money on. I remember reading somewhere that Virginia Woolf’s husband Leonard did not keep a diary, but his detailed records of household expenses could be considered just as revealing. Tons and tons of takeout – that’s what my ledger shows for the past year.

Feeling – Stop Asian Hate
I’m feeling so alarmed and heartbroken. Really feeling the pain of friends and people I look up to in the wider community as they talk about what they’re going through, their fears, and their experiences. Inadequate though my little gesture is, it’s still worth saying I stand with AAPI against Asian Hate.

I have lately been really into “1491” by Navy Blue, which I heard on Pitchfork’s “Best New Music” on Spotify.

Also been listening to “Moonwalking in Calabasas” from DDG with Blueface, Drake’s Scary Hours 2 (great to work to, since it feels vaguely auto-pilot). And for something completely different (thanks to one of my brother’s playlists), I’ve been playing a lot of soft rock from Ambrosia.

Judas and the Black Messiah. Aside from just being a super compelling story, this movie had some of my favorite actors. I’ll watch just about anything with Lakeith Stanfield in it. And Jesse Plemons reminds me of Philip Seymour Hoffman – mesmerizing no matter what he’s doing. Dominique Fishback was new to me, but I have a feeling she’s only getting started. This movie has a great soundtrack, too, with one song, “Deep Gully” by the Outlaw Blues Band, which I had never heard of but instantly recognized from something more my era, Cypress Hill’s “When the Shit Goes Down.”

The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi. Enjoyable, terrifyingly clever, with some very talented pastiche of Golden Age detective novels. I can see this being very satisfying if you enjoy puzzle mysteries and the gorgeous island setting doesn’t hurt, either. I’m in awe of this kind of plotting and twisting, especially since I’m terrible at it.

Took a great walk with friends along Wildcat Creek Trail on a moody Sunday afternoon. We saw cows, got rained on, and I made very minor contributions to a discussion of the current NBA season.

Not very much because of taxes, absolute squalor in the house, and hiking commitments. But I did find this odd note on my phone: what you learn about characters from how they act when they try to fight the fact that their world has changed. Now if only I can go back forensically into my thoughts and figure out which character I was thinking of and what I meant by this.

Week in review – Nomadland, Jack Harlow, Too Much Noticing

Just a quick update because it is 11 pm on a Tuesday night and I am still working. Or rather, I’m stealing a moment before setting my alarm early so I can get up early and work. I used to think of ways I could fill little gaps of time with writing. Now I strategize how to find more time for email.

I saw Elliot Wilson tweet something about Jack Harlow and remembered I had put “Tyler Herro” on one of my playlists. It’s a fun song. But who is Jack Harlow? Actually he’s appearing on SNL and in GQ and now he’s got a song with DaBaby and another one with Big Sean. Turns out he is quite well known, with a sweetly scruffy look like he could be Post Malone’s younger brother without the face tattoos.

Nomadland. I feel conflicted over this one. It’s absolutely beautiful with a great soundtrack and every little moment is riveting. I fell under its spell, even thinking, well maybe I should try being a camp host in a van somewhere in South Dakota. Looks great! I started watching thinking I would feel torn apart by a wrenching look at the displacement of American elders, families, vast numbers of unhoused being forced on the road and exploited by Amazon. And instead, found a bit of an advertisement for van life. Side note is this great article from the LA Times on the real star: Swankie.

I’m reading a book by a writer who’s talented beyond belief, but it’s not quite doing it for me. The problem is too much noticing. It’s exhausting. Every moment noticed perfectly. But who can tolerate such sustained attention? Especially when it’s clear right away these middle class people are the worst. There’s really nowhere for them to go except some sad, exquisite realization that their modern lives are built on illusion. I know from jacket copy that some plot does occur – but don’t know if I’ll be able to stick it out. Even if something bad happens, they’ll probably just notice it to death.

Ah it’s so easy and enjoyable to diagnose the deficiencies of others… In my own book, I’m really stuck. These last chapters are terrible. Part of the problem is I have scenes I’ve written, and I want to save the work because I’m tired. From my writing diary: I think part of the issue is I need to throw stuff away. I need to clean slate it, and I don’t want to because I think, aww, I wrote all this stuff, I should be able to use it. But every time I step into one of those files, it’s like I’m stepping into a straightjacket or padded room. And I beat my fists against the padded walls, waaah, I can’t see a way out. But the answer is right in front of you. Make the room disappear. Step into white space and make the bridge appear under your feet as you walk it. It’s actually easier with nothing there.

Week in review – Albany Bulb, Troubled Blood

Little bits of life and pleasure from the past week…

Cassandra Jenkins, “Hard Drive” – how I love this. When she says “We’re going to put your heart back together” I tear up. The last week of February was the end of an era for my brother, who closed his cross-fit gym and is now off to other ventures, but not before leaving a great, nostalgic wrap-up playlist, which has been helping me work.

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith from Berkeley Public Library. Actually, this took me two weeks to read, it’s quite a monster. Overstuffed, very comforting despite the dark crimes, and like all of JK Rowling’s books, always a touch of the old fashioned.

Call My Agent! I am in love with Andrea Martel.

I’m still struggling to write the last bits of this draft. Very little accomplished in the last week due to work, and also the problem of somehow having failed to write anything interesting. From my writing diary: Just re-reading chapter 16. There is no tension! You’d never know you were in the final quarter of a tense psychological thriller (haha). What does she have to lose? Nothing! What’s at stake? Who cares! Good Lord.

Troubled Blood has some fun moments around perfume and a running issue is Robin’s struggle to find a new scent. JKR takes it seriously, which I appreciate. Although unlike Robin, I adore Fracas.

Took a wonderful walk around the outer edge of Albany Bulb with my friend Kate. Picked our way along the crumbling rind of smashed asphalt at the edge of the Bay. Just challenging enough footing to force attention to where I stepped, so it felt like a wonderful exercise in presence, noticing sun, water, and a great variety of rocks – all slimy and mussel crusted.

A weekday lunch of falafel sandwich and spicy sweet potatoes from Fava on Vine St.

Remembering a night earlier in February when we had rain. A Thursday, on the couch at 8:22 pm still at work, and hear a very loud owl from all the way inside the house. Step outside, smell the woodsmoke, rain, and hear the owl insistent and unseen. Think of my friend CJ who loved owls and books, she died of cancer younger than the age I am now.

Last week in review – Valentine’s Day, The Assistant

Casual update for the last week. What I’ve been doing outside of nearly all-consuming work.

Bartees Strange – “Boomer” and “Mustang.” I’m so into Bartees Strange!
Also played while writing or working: Madlib, Sound Ancestor, Roisin Murphy, “Something More,” Nirvana, Nevermind

Snow, by John Banville from Berkeley Public Library. Atmospheric, masterful prose. But the shape of the crime is quite obvious and some of the characters are stock.

The Assistant – Julia Garner is fantastic. And it really captures the mundane hellscape of office work.

Rose et Cuir, Frederic Malle. I ordered a bunch of samples from The Perfumed Court. Love a tougher rose, but some days felt too much leather

I’m still in a bit of a tough part. From my novel diary for this book:
Sometimes I think plotting a book like this is an exercise of making lists. Make a list of what’s true. Now what are the clues for those truths? Make a list. Now what are things that are true but they aren’t clues. And now, what are things that aren’t true at all. Sprinkle in liberally and stir.

But how do I get to what’s true? I don’t have that yet. And that I don’t know how to do except go blindly by feel.

High point
A drizzly, misty coastal walk on Valentine’s Day with good friends up from Muir Beach to the Coastal Ridge Trail with Green Gulch on our left and Tennessee Valley on our right, then down to Green Gulch, through the farm, back toward Muir Beach. Capped off with takeout shepherd’s pie from the Pelican Inn. Heavenly.

Week in review – I have a teenager edition

This post marks an effort on my part to record what all I’m doing. For the longest time I kept an agenda with random notes in it about the day. That’s no longer happening. So … I don’t know. Maybe blog writing can fill the gap.

J 2014Life:

My son turned 13 today, so I am officially the parent of a teenager. What’s great is that we sit around and watch “Friday Night Lights” together and comment on everyone’s morality and future. He is still a giddy, coltish creature who brings light wherever he goes. We may have difficult years ahead, but for now I feel I have more to learn from him rather than the other way round.

Reading: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

One of my favorite reads this year. The chapter entitled “Cave Paintings,” a great lesson in using setting, interior thought, body language, objective correlative, etc. to create an emotional moment. When I was writing my book I went through a hellacious last draft scab-picking hundreds of editorial comments that went like this: “Can you add body language? Gesture?” (No, because I suck at that stuff.) Jess Walter makes it look exceedingly easy. I’m in awe of this book, which is at once light, gorgeous, true and serious as death.

Listening: EMA

I feel like my musical tastes can be summed up thus: raunchy boy rappers and smart women rockers. EMA takes place with Savages as favorite female discoveries of the last year. Somehow I spotify-stumbled onto EMA’s “Past Life of Martyred Saints” from 2011. Loved “California.” And now with “Future’s Void,” I feel like shouting about how amazing she is. Today I listened to “So Blonde” at least five times. Seriously. I am sitting on my hands so I don’t ruin everything by listening to it again.


What I have open now, besides email and Twitter:

  • Gateways to the Classical World – article from Sunday New York Times on apps like lexicons and maps. Catnip to a former Classics major like me.
  • “Helping” – a flash fiction piece by R.O. Kwon at Tin House’s Open Bar
  • How to tell if you’re inflamed – Mark Sisson’s web site where I occasionally go for Crossfit and paleo inspiration. Am I inflamed? More than anyone will ever know. A longer post about health is in order, but guys, I am basically staring down the barrel of a life of seaweed, bone broths, and cold-water fatty fish right now.
  • “P.E.” – an amazing short story by Victor Lodato in the New Yorker. Set in Tucson, baby!
  • Medium – Ok, everyone’s doing it. Should I blog here, too? Can the Internet even handle my frequency of 3 to 4 blog posts a year?
  • Andrew Smith’s blog (intriguingly titled Ghost Medicine) – Because I don’t know. Grasshopper Jungle or something someone said on Twitter.
  • 28 must-follow Tumblrs for fans of YA – a great list from BookRiot. But watch me go back to my dismal Tumblr life of not looking at what anyone else does and only posting the occasional song that gets me through my day.
  • A map to Paintball Jungle – We did paintball for my son’s birthday. And omg, this is one crazy scene.

Ok, signing off now. There’s more, of course, but it’s a little dark and gripey. I will leave you with the cheerful sounds of air compressors refilling and little paintball pellets exploding their orange goo everywhere, while the morose ice cream man drives his truck up and down the dirt road hoping for business from camouflaged warriors. I bought a pack of chili picante CornNuts from him on the edge of an open, abandoned field.