Friday, January 30, 2009

One-Story Writer, Plus A Side of Lemongrass Fries

I forgot to tell you about my lovely day. It happened two weeks ago, but never mind: it was still lovely, and it happened to coincide with some balmy weather. I was to have lunch with my cousin, whose work is situated on a Richmond District avenue that, in turn, is tucked conveniently between las avenidas Clement y Geary.

Clement St., as you know, means only one thing to me: Green Apple Books. Because lunch was scheduled for noon, I arrived promptly on the bookstore doorstep at 10:00 am. I have already rhapsodized several times about the store itself, so I will just tell you that I found many new books to consume, yes, but I also found a magnficent used copy of a super fat—like 900 pages FAT!—story collection published 20 years ago in the UK, edited by Alberto Manguel (whose A History of Reading I enjoyed so much), and titled White Fire: Further Fantastic Literature.

I read the first story, "The Child Who Believed," which was written by Grace Amundson, first published in 1950, and (no surprise) wonderful. Broadly speaking, it's about parents, children, and the power of imagination. Specifically, it's about an old and unglamorous magician who dies in the arms of a morose little girl, but not before he succeeds in transferring to her the ability to perform the "bubble trick." It turns out the little girl is the "first woman in the royal line of custodians." Oh, and the trick? It involves reproducing live miniature enactments of history inside...bubbles. BUBBLES!

But not only that. When I went back to read Manguel's introduction to the story, he says that it's the only work he's been able to find by the "mysterious" Amundson. Sure enough, I googled her name, and the only mention I found of it was in reference to this anthology.

Maybe it's the only story she ever wrote. Maybe she wrote and wrote and wrote, but no one ever wanted to publish another word. Maybe she died and her coffin is lined with rejection letters. Or maybe there's an undiscovered box filled with manuscripts. There was a fire, a flood, a trip to the town dump. But it's sort of okay. Because if all Grace Admundson left behind was this one story, then she's way ahead of most of us.

Now, about lunch: we ate at Pho Tudo, where we shared a plate of lemongrass french fries served with some sort of aioli-ish thing made with Sriracha. Do I even have to tell you? You need to go there. Then I had garlic noodles with four plump, buttery, grilled prawns lolling about on top. Go there.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Post In Which I List Foreseeable Difficulties

I know that visiting the Philippines isn't a big deal in general, but it will be the first time for my kids and spousal unit, and I haven't been in about ten years. So in the SPECIFIC, it's a very big deal. To me. To us. Foreseeable difficulties:

1) We are traveling in April, by all accounts the hottest, most miserable, most horrific month of the year. Yay!

2) Interminable flight time, made more so by our 3 junior-size traveling companions.

3) I have very few relatives still living in Manila, and if I remember correctly, I have never met the ones who remain. The exception is my dad's cousin, Uncle P., who has kindly made sure that he will be back from his trip to Japan in time to squire us about a little.

4) The 2-hour Carlos Celdran walking tour. We're doing this for sure, but will my children wither? Like literally WITHER?

5) The possibility that it will be too hot to walk on the sand when we get to Boracay. I'm kidding. No, I'm not kidding.

6) Boracay itself. Is it too much the tourist trap? Should I have chosen Palawan instead? I just didn't want to venture too far out of the kids' comfort zone this first time around.

With these and other thoughts floating around in my head, I will now proceed to Firestone because if my powers of observation are as astute as I believe...I have a flat tire. Frickin' frackin' frickledy doo.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sweetest Hangover

I am bleary-eyed and cotton-headed from watching too much television, but it doesn't detract from my—warning: made-up word ahead—happies. Almost every moment —but especially that final 30 minutes comprised of the President's speech, Elizabeth Alexander's poem, and Reverend Lowery's benediction—seemed to deliver exactly the words we needed to hear. Even Justice Roberts' fumbling of the oath was somehow "right" for what I'm sure was a nerve-wracking 30 seconds for the guy. The only disappointment was Rick Warren's over-the-top emoting and bizarre pronunciation of Sasha and Malia's names. I think Obama knew what he was doing by 1) including him and 2) making sure he was all but forgotten by the time Reverend Lowery finished HIS flawless benediction.

And now...I think I'll go to a ball. It's called the Suburban Denim & Ballerina Flats Ball, and I'm the hostess and solitary guest. I planned it this way so that I can dance like a loon and no one will ever know. Speaking of loons: here are our girls, flashing their homespun backstage passes to the HOPE '09 show:

Happy Inauguration Day!

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Follow-Up Punching Post

Because you asked so nicely, and because each of you were willing to tear Vida's walloper limb from limb, I will now go into more detail about The Punching Incident. So, let's see:

As I mentioned previously, I rounded a corner and saw Vida crying. Her friends quickly filled me in on what happened. "Where is he?" I said. They told me he'd walked into his classroom and that was, indeed, where I found him. He was sitting with his teacher—a woman I've never spoken to before—who was giving him some after-school tutoring.

This is when I was at my worst, really. When I'm exceptionally angry with someone who isn't a member of my immediate family, I speak slowly because it helps to disguise the fact that my voice is shaky. I apologized for interrupting and then I said, "C, did you just punch my daughter?" Blank stare, angelic face. He's a gorgeous kid, actually. I took a step towards him and tilted my head. "Did you just punch my daughter?"

"No. No. I was in here and she's out there." I looked at him with a you-lying-little-punk-I-am-so-going-to-kick-your-ass expression on my face. He then went through several more lies: he didn't do anything, he didn't THINK he'd done anything, he didn't MEAN to do anything, he wasn't TRYING to do anything, he was just running by and bumped her, etc. etc. It was clear that his teacher wasn't buying any of it, but she was also completely useless, as she didn't see it happen and we don't know each other. I'm sure that from her point of view I was just a weird, aggressive, vaguely menacing parent. She said something about telling C's mother, at which point I apologized again for the interruption and left in search of our principal.

My girls were waiting outside. "Let's go guys," I said.

"Where are we going?"

"I want to talk to the principal."

"Oh, no, Mom! No!" said Vida. "This is soooooooo embarrassing."

"I don't care if you're embarrassed, Vi."

Eventually we found the principal, and she sat Vida on her knee and talked quietly with her for about 20 minutes while Vida alternately cried and nodded yes or no. I really couldn't have asked for more. That night, though, the principal sent me an e-mail saying that unfortunately C had a different story than Vida, so she couldn't suspend him. I almost bit my tongue off. Instead of typing a missive in which I pointed out that Vida has no history of lying or junior-style assault, and the kid in question DOES, I wrote some bullshit about how I'm sure she had both Vida's and C's best interests in mind, and that that was as it should be blah de blah de freaking blah.

Then I stewed. In the end, C's consequence turned out to be having to spend one day's 20-minute recess and 1-hour lunch in the school office.

On Friday, in an unprompted bid for forgiveness, C apologized to Vida after school. Then he walked about twenty yards over to me and said, "I'm sorry."

I said, "What are you sorry for?"

"For hurting Vida's feelings."

"Oh really. And what else?"

"For hitting Vida."

At this point I should have called the principal over to witness the confession, but I didn't. Instead, I just stared at him for a few seconds. And I didn't see some horrible, lying, punching, future criminal. I just saw a kid who, despite a colorful history of making shitty decisions, is no better or worse than my kids. I said, "Don't do it again. Don't do it to ANYBODY."


"Okay. Thanks for coming over here, C. I appreciate that."

And then he ran off and Vida beat him in three straight games of tetherball.

I was telling this story to my cousin-in-law yesterday, and he couldn't get past what he felt was my too-tame reaction. He works with at-risk kids in the San Francisco public schools, and as we talked, I started to think maybe he was right. But then I realized: he doesn't have his own kids yet. The longer I'm a parent, the less black/white there seems to be in the world; it's mostly gray. C is a kid with some problems, but he isn't someone whose heart is all twisted up in his chest (yet). So I guess in the end, I treated him with...I don't know...compassionate disapproval? Basically, I did what I hope his mother would have done if our roles had been reversed.

And now I'm all confused again. But I'm thinking this post was rather well-suited to the MLK holiday.

Speaking of the MLK holiday, we tried to follow our President-elect's directions today by performing a little trash picking-up "service" at the girls' school. It was just the four of us, but we did our best, even clawing around under the lunch tables to grab errant ketchup packets, nasty alcohol cans (teenagers tend to party on the campus over the weekend; their drink of choice is something called "Joose"), straw wrappers, and whatnot.

Is there any point in trying to remain cool about tomorrow's inauguration? No there is not! I dance my way everywhere, I say "sure!" to random milkshake requests, I burst into happy tears at the smallest provocation. Giddy. That's what I am.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Post In Which I Describe How I Briefly Turned 14-Years-Old Again

Yesterday, Vida was punched twice—TWICE! PUNCHED!—by a fourth grade boy after school. Eyewitness accounts confirm that the boy's actions were unprovoked and that, in fact, the two of them hadn't exchanged a word or even a look. He just walked up to her and punched her once, which elicited a shocked, silent response from Vida. "Do you want me to do it harder?" he said. He then hit her harder and ran off.

I realize that this could have been his way of saying, "I like you and do not have the words to express myself," but frankly I don't care. When I rounded the corner and saw my kid crying and heard the myriad other girl voices explaining what had happened, my reaction was such that there could have been no doubt in anyone's mind that I attended public school in Daly City.

In other words, my lovelies, your Nesting Ground Mistress LOST HER MIND. I was so utterly unencumbered by common sense that I might as well have been wearing the circa 1980 Daly City-sanctioned female uniform of creased baggy pants, black jellies, and my boyfriend's Member's Only jacket. I might as well have had elaborately feathered my hair, rimmed my eyes with the lighter-softened tip of a Maybelline eyeliner, and sprayed myself with Jovan Musk. I might as well have been standing at the 28C bus stop surrounded by a bunch of girls who wanted to kick my ass.

But I digress!

All is well now, and as I descended from the wuthering heights of my insanity, I realized two things:

1) I kind of wish this had happened to Risa instead because she would have just gone all Matrix on the kid and that would have been the end of it.

And also:

2) No one is ever going to punch Vida again.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pinoy Capital: The Filipino Nation in Daly City

Congratulations to Sunny Vergara, the Wily Filipino himself, on the publication of his new book! I cannot wait to get my grubby little hands on this anthropological ode to my hometown:

Read all about it here at Sunny's new blog addy. And click here to purchase (I just did!).

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Is It Unusual?

A random question from the increasingly random Vida:

"Is it unusual for a Filipino child to enjoy canned corn?"

My answer was, "I...really don't know."

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

52 More Minutes

I had a disquieting morning, and the rest of the day unfurled accordingly. It's Wednesday, which is the day I've set aside for reading creative nonfiction (oh, be quiet; I told you I was organizing my reading), and I chose at random the essay "Mirrorings," by the late Lucy Grealy. I don't know why the anthology I was reading from didn't mention that this was the essay she later expanded into her now-famous Autobiography of a Face, but it didn't.

Well, hell. I don't think I've ever read something that required me to take a break every few pages due to excessive emotional reaction. I experienced an acute feeling of claustrophobia, as if it were impossible to escape from the writer's imperfect face. A feeling, of course, which mirrors Grealy's own. The book is still open on my bed, where I left it with three pages to go.

Afterwards, I headed to my desk to check the news and saw yet another photograph of a dead Palestinian child. I don't have the heart to post it here or even to link to it, but what is there, really, to say? It's a picture of a child who died violently and who looked like she died violently. Even learning that Hamas is known to stage photos didn't take the edge off. Staging or no, the child is dead. Many children are dead. I don't know enough to state an opinion either way, but at this point isn't everyone at fault?

I guess the next ten hours could have been ones that resulted in what other people describe as a series of hug-your-kids-tight epiphanies, but I was just pissed out of my mind all day. Impatient with the girls, with myself, with older women turning left on El Camino. I sneered at the crumbs on the table, the dolls in the wrong place, the soup that wasn't hot enough, the clatter that button-fly jeans produce while spinning in the dryer.

It's 11:08 p.m. now, and the good news is that I refuse to carry this with me into tomorrow. The next 52 minutes, though, are going to feel like a long, long time.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Post In Which I Gush Over Eleanor Farjeon Again

No Man's Week is winding down, even as I type. Yesterday we spent the afternoon at the library, then came home to a fire in the fireplace, a semi-quiet game night, and—yay!—takeout. It's not a complete hunkering down, of course. Little bits of real life impinge in the form of bills, lesson plans, laundry, thank you notes, to-do lists, and the endless loop of bad news on CNN.

I'm starting to think about the weeks to come when I'll have larger blocks of time to write. I have three pieces that are thisclosetobeingdone, and I don't have to look any further than my blogroll for inspiration. There is Jean, for example, who resolves to submit (or make that send) more work this year, Marianne who already has stories about to appear in print, and the ever-prolific Grace, who doesn't allow anything—including tragically hemmed pants or hospitalization—to break her writing stride. I'm also trying to organize my reading a little more. At the moment, I'm all over the place.

Circling back to our library trip...I found a circa 1950 copy of Eleanor Farjoen's novel, The Glass Slipper, and I cannot wait to read it. I discovered Farjoen—an English children's book writer—last year when I picked up her collection of stories, The Little Bookroom. I thought I bought it for the girls, but have since come to the realization that I didn't. At the end of every story I have the same visceral reaction: a tiny, sharp intake of breath. If you want to read a quick one, I posted it here.

Anyway, in looking more into Farjoen's life, I found that director/animator Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Castle in the Sky, etc.) cites her as an influence. I like the way they both resist(ed) placing characters and situations into convenient good/bad categories (I know I'm supposed to say "dichotomies." Alas, I cannot...). Instead, they present life as it is: complicated. It makes me happy when authors respect the intelligence of children (or, um, adults) in this way. It's something I try to do in my own writing, but I'm often lazy and miss the mark.

Note to self: stop missing mark.