Sep 18

Summer excursions

I can always count on my friend Aki for excursions that are fun, if often last minute.

Working Dog Winery

I always think of the area around my mom’s house as no man’s land, or at least retiree-ville, with not much around except a Target and terrible Japanese food. However, it turns out, Aki discovered, there’s a winery not too far away.

It’s called Working Dog Winery and is very nice. We got a bottle of rose to split and sat outside chatting and snacking. (The place doesn’t have food and we neglected to bring some from my mom’s house. Luckily Aki had chips and nuts in her car.)

A really good thing about the place is that they have a specific area for people with kids. In other areas, kids aren’t allowed, which makes for an even more peaceful time.

Spring Lake Beach

I was hanging out one Sunday afternoon at my mom’s a little bit bored when Aki texted that she felt like going to the beach. It was already past three, but I encouraged her to go since sunset wasn’t until 8:30. Just for kicks, I checked the map and saw that my mother’s house was between Aki’s place and the shore. I half-jokingly said she could pick me up on the way.

After a bit she texted, “Ok, I’ll be there in 25 minutes.” Yikes! I scrambled getting together some snacks as well as my hat, shades, and anything else I thought I might need.

It was a really lovely outing. Although Spring Lake was an hour away, it didn’t feel long because we were yakking the whole time. The town is very nice. It looks more like Martha’s Vineyard than the Jersey shore with big beautiful houses and no boardwalk. Aki said there are no restaurants or other places selling food — you have to go to the next town for that — so that’s how they’re able to keep the beach so clean.

Since we had gotten there kind of late, the visitors seemed to be mostly gone and it was residents. It was so pretty and peaceful. We sat there chatting and eating my mom’s food for well over two hours. We also dipped our feet in the water, and it was much warmer than we expected. Soaking up some sea air felt really good.

A cider and ice cream excursion

In late August I had a fun excursion with Aki and her fiance to upstate New York. Our first stop was Seven Lake Station for lunch and a flight of hard ciders and beers. I had the ham and gruyere sandwich and enjoyed most of the flight.

After lunch we got ice cream at Bellvale Farms. It was good but I should have stuck with my favorite, cookies and cream (which Aki’s fiance got), instead of trying to be different and getting some raspberry-dominating flavor and cookie dough. The view was nice though:

Our last stop was Pennings Farm, where we got a flight of hard ciders and again enjoyed the view.

Aug 18

A wedding, family reunion, and fun at the diner

Last week one of my east coast cousins got married, which meant a partial family reunion. Quite a few people came from California, including my brother and his wife; my aunt and uncle, their son, their daughter with her husband and adorable little boy; another cousin and his whole family. It was nice seeing relatives who I hadn’t seen in some time.

The wedding was lovely (although the outdoor ceremony was meltingly hot) and the food and drinks were yummy. A highlight was making our own s’mores, which we did so by first toasting marshmallows on sticks at the fire pits outside before smashing it in between graham crackers and chocolate. You’d think such a warm activity wouldn’t be popular on a scorching summer night, but the A/C was so strong in the reception hall, the heat was actually a relief.

Another highlight was going to the Americana Diner with my brother and sister-in-law on another night. Somehow it’s become our favorite bar near my mom’s house (although there aren’t too many to chose from). We went a couple of times after my father passed away, and I think I associate it with that comforting feeling of being with two of my favorite people during such a hard time.

The bartender was the same guy too. He said he remembered us, although I don’t know if that’s true. We asked his name, and it turned out to be the same as my brother’s. We got way too excited about this — probably because we were pretty drunk. Regardless the bartender ended up giving us a free Irish coffee. Score!

Apr 10

The Grateful 38

I’ve been so distracted by my stupid vertigo, I’ve neglected to post about my upcoming birthday.

Taking a cue from Sizzle who posted 37 positive things about herself in honor of her 37th birthday (the same day as mine!), I’m listing 38 things I’m grateful for, much needed this week as I deal with my dumb health issue.

1. Museum Boy.  Also known as MB.  Of course I could go on and on about how lucky I am to have him, but I’m especially grateful this week as he kept me calm while I panicked during one of my dizzy spells and is making sure I follow to a T what I’m supposed to do to get through this thing.

2. In addition, he has a great ass.  Yes, I am grateful for MB’s ass.

3. The chance to write.  While sometimes I may feel a bit lonely, I know I’m really lucky for this chance to write like crazy and not have to worry about finances.

4. A lovely apartment.  Complete with man cave and Murphy bed for guests.

5. Being walking distance from so many restaurants and cafes.

6. A gym that’s only $30 a month.

7. My friends who will drop everything to listen to me bitch about some random upsetting person on the internet.

8. My mom’s craziness.  Excellent blogging material.

9. My mom’s stories.  Sometimes she even makes sense!

10. My dad’s support.  While my mother may question my choice to write and earn almost no money, my father has almost always been supportive of me and my brother chasing our dreams.

11. That I finished my taxes back in February.

12. That I straightened everything out with library school.  Because my last grades were submitted so late by the professor and I didn’t register for another semester, the school thought I had dropped out and sent me a letter saying to re-register.  But they’ve realized now that I’ve graduated.  Yay!

13. That I have no debt.

14. That I’m not a hoarder.  Every time I watch Hoarding: Buried Alive, I’m grateful for that.

15. That I like being on my own.

16. That I had little trouble moving across the country.

17. My hat and sunglasses.  It’s sunny here!

18. That I’m friends with my former writing teachers.  A great way to find out where to submit work.

19. The internet.  A great way for shy people to network.

20. My tiny little computer.

21. Our free HD cable channels.

22. That I’m seeing Conan O’Brien next week (he shares my birthday too).

23. Museums.  Thank you, museums, just for existing.

24. Libraries.  You mean I can borrow books for free?  I can download tens of thousands of journal articles at absolutely no cost?  No way!

25. The BBC 100 List.  So I don’t have to figure out what to read next.

26. Movies.

27. That people in San Francisco do NOT talk at the movies (unlike New Yorkers – STFU!)

28. No mosquitoes.

29. No rats (that I can see anyway).

30.  Fall in New York.  See you soon!

31. That I’m older as I try out this second career.  I don’t know if I had the skills and savvy back in my 20s to be a freelance writer.

32. Noodles.  Thick or thin, hot or cold.  Ramen, soba, udon – noodles!

33. Coffee.

34. That coffee high.

35. Running.

36. That running high.

37. That my body isn’t too different now than it was a few years ago (except for those harder to lose 10 pounds and this old person veritgo).

38. My sense of humor.

Oy, 38, only two years from 40.  FUCK.

Apr 10

Music lessons

Since moving to San Francisco, I’ve gotten back into playing piano.  Partly it’s because I have more time, but it’s also a good break from writing.

I took lessons from the second grade through the end of high school.  I could play fairly well but hit a wall with Chopin, Gershwin, and Joplin.  Plus I never felt like I had a natural talent.  My sense of rhythm was never great, and I couldn’t carry a tune with my voice, that’s for sure.

When I first started playing again here in SF, I mostly played easy classical songs from the book MB had gotten himself.  They sounded nice but didn’t take too much effort.  Some were pieces I had played before, or which I learned quickly because they’re so easy.

Then around November, I decided to tackle Joplin again.  As a kid, I had played an easy version of “Maple Leaf Rag.”  Wholly unsatisfying.  When I started playing the original, I understood why my teacher had given that to me.

The original was HARD. For the longest time, I tried to learn it by sight reading it, over and over.  That was okay for the first two pages, but the third page was a bitch.  Finally, I tried MB’s technique: break the pages into measures, and learn the song one measure at a time.

Each day I’d tackle one small section.  I’d play a measure over and over, working my way backwards, so that I wasn’t playing the beginning again and again.  It took forever.  I’d be working out maybe four or five measures, and look up to see that 30 minutes had passed.  But it worked.  All that repetition helped me learn the notes and gave me the muscle memory.

Now that I had the notes down, I needed to learn the rhythm.  With classical, what you see is what you get.  But if you don’t play jazz correctly, it sounds stiff.  I was following the notes but couldn’t hear the song.

It took listening to a recording, as well as MB listening as I played.  He could hear the melody, then would hum it back to me.  Now I can play “Maple Leaf Rag” much better than I did back in the fall.  It’s still not perfect, especially that damned third page, but it’s much improved.

MB got me a swing practice book.  I learned “Rosetta” using MB’s method, and could hear the song somewhat but knew that I didn’t quite have it.  Yesterday, I finally listened to the accompanying CD.

Whoa, was I way off!  The way I played sounded almost nothing like the real song.  The real song is fast and fun and well, jazzy.  The way I play is slow and plodding, like a funeral march.  So I listened to the recording a couple of times, and played along with it.  Now it sounds like a damned song, even if a lot of the notes are wrong.

In a way, it’s like with writing.  I can stare at pages of words over and over, but still “hear” the same thing.  I need to throw the piece into a different editor, or read it aloud.  Then suddenly I hear whatever song there is trying to some out.  Sometimes, at least.

Apr 10

Dollhouse: Mind, Body, Heart

I wrote this essay for a Dollhouse contest sponsored by Smart Pop Books.  I didn’t win – oh well! – but here’s the essay in full, as well as a list of the winners.  Congrats to the winners!

The first time I watched Dollhouse, I thought it seemed eerily familiar. The spacious rooms, the nice-looking people having lunch, everyone trying to be their best. Then I realized: the Dollhouse was my office.

For over ten years, I worked for one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. At our peak, we had three buildings within four square blocks, each with its own cafeteria. We had our own branch of a major bank, a mailroom, and a doctor on the premises. We even had yoga.

All of our needs were met. We never had to leave.

I loved it. The place was like a second home. Every day I knew where I was going and what to expect. I’d take the same bus every morning, sometimes with the same people. I’d pick up a coffee and go to my floor where my desk and computer were waiting. I’d log in and check my email, my calendar for any meetings. I’d do my work. I’d do my best.

Last year, I quit my job to move to San Francisco with my boyfriend and write full-time. I enjoyed the idea of freedom more than the reality. For the first month, I wandered around like a dumb show. What would I do about lunch? My workouts? What if I needed a doctor? I had no health insurance and no one to take care of me. I wondered if I wanted back in with company, back with, essentially, the Dollhouse.

Continue reading →

Feb 10

Oscar insanity

I was all set to write a post about how I was all TCOB yesterday – canceling my New York tax appointment and scheduling one here, getting my tax stuff together, calling the NY jury duty place to see if I actually had to fly out there (I don’t), posting to The Nervous Breakdown –  but then I saw that the Oscar nominations are out.

I don’t know why, but I get completely insane about the Oscars.  Some years I refrain from following them because I get so insane (I’m the same way about figure skating).  Although the awards show is usually on a Sunday night, I’ll still stay up till two or three in the morning, watching the whole thing and getting completely and utterly wound up.

I think it all started with Stand By Me.  I saw it when I was 14 and fell in love with everything about it.  Gordie the writer (like me!), the boys’ friendship (nothing like gossipy friendships with girls), and of course River Phoenix.

Then I heard that the movie had been nominated for an Oscar, best adapted screenplay.  My parents already asleep, I stayed up and watched the whole show.  When Stand By Me’s category came up and the nominations were read, I got so excited, I started jumping up and down.  An involuntary high-pitched squeal escaped from my lips.

It didn’t win, but it was an honor just to be nominated.

For the 1997 Oscars, another movie-loving friend and I made it our goal to watch every single film that had a nomination, even if just for costume or set design.  I think we came very close.  Glancing at the list now, looks like I missed Gattaca, Kundun, Air Force One, and all the documentaries and foreign films.  Hmm, maybe I didn’t come close at all, but at least we covered all the big categories.

This year there are ten best picture nominations, up from the usual five.  I’m not sure how I feel about this.  I’m a traditionalist, at least where the Oscars are concerned, and plus, if I decide to follow the awards, that’s even more movies to catch up on!

“The Blind Side”
“District 9”
“An Education”
“The Hurt Locker”
“Inglourious Basterds”
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
“A Serious Man”
“Up in the Air”

I’ve only seen two of these movies! Avatar and District 9. I don’t know if I have time, or the patience to see the others. We’ve been wanting to catch The Hurt Locker, and maybe I’ll go see Precious on my own. However, I’m not sure I can bring myself to see The Blind Side. On that note, The Blind Side??? Really???

Let the insanity begin.

Jan 10

Next memoir post: On my own again

Next memoir post is up.

The hardest parts to reread in my memoir are the ones with my parents after my divorce.  I can deal with reading about my own pain – I lived through it and put it behind me.  But remembering how hurt my mother and father were still gives me a pang.

I wonder what it was like in their house after I told them.  If my mother kept trying to talk about it, and my father kept turning away, kept going to his paintings, his singing, his guitar, to make himself forget.  If they didn’t worry about saving face so much, they could have talked to their friends.  It wasn’t till April, nine months after I told them, that my mother finally let someone else know.

She and my aunt Ping were staying at my grandmother’s house in Berkeley.  It was just the two of them since Puo-puo was living in L.A. by then.  The house needed some repairs, and my mother and aunt were basically watching the repairmen.  Aunt Ping is the least gossipy of my relatives so I can see why my mother told her.  Afterward, my aunt couldn’t sleep the whole night.

The next time I saw her was a month later.  She, my mother, and a cousin were meeting up in the city for lunch.  I didn’t know my aunt knew and so was surprised that she hugged me so tightly when she first saw me.  (Aunt Ping usually does the arms-length hug, grabbing the would-be hugger by the arms and patting them before they can get too close.)

“You could have warned me,” I whispered to my mother.  Actually I was relieved.  I preferred that people knew.

Then again, did I?  I saw my uncle and his family later that year, and they just looked at me like they didn’t know what to say.  I knew they had been upset, but the last thing I wanted was anyone feeling sorry for me.

After my separation, I mostly liked the peace of my solitary routine – a cup of coffee and toast in the early mornings, Friday nights picking up on my way home half-priced breakfast pastries from a cupcake shop on 2nd Avenue, long runs in Central Park.  But sometimes I had a hard time filling my days.  Saturday nights I didn’t have plans, I’d walk down Park Avenue, from my place on 77th Street to Grand Central, where the Sunday Times would already be available, and walk back home.

Then I’d read the front page, the Styles section, and glance through the Book Reviews.  I’d save the magazine for last, relishing the crossword puzzle, which could keep me occupied for days.

Now I occasionally miss that time I spent alone.  I like this quote from author Alice Koller:

Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your own presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement.

Jan 10

Next memoir post: Five years later

Next memoir post is up.

In it, I finally leave my ex, going out for the first time without my wedding ring, moving into my own apartment in the city, and finally telling my parents.

Now it’s been almost five years since my ex and I split up.  I remember in October 2005, the day I received my final divorce papers was the same day that Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt’s divorce was finalized.

I really felt a bond with Jen back then (Team Aniston!).  She also got married in year 2000.  Brad was also supposedly unfaithful, and left her for his mistress, who shortly afterward had his child.  I cried along with her in her Vanity Fair interview.

Last week People magazine’s cover story was Jennifer Aniston, 5 Years After Brad.  How ridiculous, right?  I mean, who cares at this point?  There have been a zillion other divorces since then that People isn’t talking about.  Why endlessly Jen and Brad, five years, half a dozen kids, and several bad movies later?

Because for a while, Jen and Brad were Hollywood’s golden couple.  Not only was Brad HOT, he could act but didn’t take himself too seriously.  Jen was girl next door-gorgeous, goofy and cute on Friends, and by God, she could act too.  They seemed fun and down to earth, a couple you could drink and get high with.

Then along came Angelina.  (Cue scary music.)  Pale, dark-haired, and kinda creepy (vial of Billy Bob’s blood, anyone?).  She was the weird, beautiful girl you made fun of but secretly wanted to be friends with, if only because she couldn’t give two shits about being friends with you.  How could Brad resist?

How could anyone resist?

Of course I perked up when I saw the headline.  Me too, Jen, five years later!  But unlike Aniston, I haven’t had every break up and bloat-mistaken-for-baby-bump splashed across the tabloids (just on my blog).  While I willingly look back on the past five years, maybe she doesn’t want to.  But, unless she holes up in a cave, she won’t have much a choice.

My memoir, like the tabloids, make a story out of the events of my life.  Joe and I were the nice and unassuming couple you made small talk with at the train station.  We were hard working and good to our parents.  I was the dutiful daughter-in-law, taking care of my sick mother-in-law and basically giving up a lot for the good of the family.  The dutiful wife betrayed by her unfeeling husband.

But there was a lot going on underneath.  Built-up resentment, withholding of affection, my feeling maybe that I had settled, Joe having an inkling of that.  I’m not saying it was my own fault, only that it was complicated.  Who knows what was going on between Brad and Jen before Angelina came along?  Only they know.  Only ever do the husband and wife know in a marriage.

Dec 09

Next memoir post: The confession

Next memoir post is up.

My ex-husband confessing to his affair was one of the first scenes I wrote for my memoir.  It was a pivotal event that bisected my life into before and after – before I knew about his affair, and afterwards.  Normalcy, then disaster.  My own little 9/11.

Next I wrote about the days right after, and right before.  I described taking care of his mother, and when Joe and I first met.   I looked back in my journals and saw there were things I had forgotten, like when Joe first told me about Kimiko moving in next door to his parents’, and how in that moment, a terrible feeling washed over me as I remembered years earlier his telling me that a fortune teller said he’d marry a woman who had been born in Japan.  Back then I had thought, Where would he meet someone like that?  All the Asians he knew were American, like us.  Now here she was.

Some people might think writing a memoir is easier than writing a novel.  Fiction you have to make up from scratch while you’ve lived your life, now write it down.  But what to write down is the hard part: just because it happened, doesn’t make it interesting or pertinent to the story you’re trying to tell.

So how do you know what to keep and what to toss?  Fresh eyes help.  Readers, especially ones who don’t know you, can tell what’s irrelevant and what’s missing.  They also give you perspective.  For instance, I was resistant about including the parts about my sister-in-law, Olivia, because I thought I came off as bitter.  But my classmates in a writing class didn’t think I was at all, and that those scenes added to the story.

One of the most common questions when starting a book is where do I begin?  I always say, “Start with whatever is foremost on your mind now.”  You can always reorder later.  Once for a writing class, I volunteered to have my piece workshopped first.  Although I had a draft of my memoir, I didn’t think it was polished enough.  The morning of the day I was supposed to email everyone, I still hadn’t written anything.  Where to begin?

The night before I had a dream about my ex.  I decided to begin there:

I dreamt about my ex-husband again last night.

I had gotten him out of the house, but somehow he was able to get back in.  Somehow I took him back.  He was very happy.  He went around smiling and laughing, which he only sometimes did in real life, rarely at the end of our marriage.  I pretended to be glad but really I wondered how I could tell him without hurting him that I needed him to leave.

This didn’t end up staying in the book, but it kick started my creative juices and I was able to keep going.

Now that I’m writing more essays, I’m exploring topics, like memories from childhood, that I’ve written about before.  I remember struggling in high school and college to tell stories and not just summaries of events.  It’s encouraging to feel that my skills have improved since then, that I have a better feel for what to include and omit, and creating scenes out of memories.

Nov 09

Next memoir post: The other woman

Next memoir post is up.

After my ex told me of his affair, it was really easy to hate his mistress.

It still feels weird to call her that. When I hear “mistress,” I picture some young blonde thing waiting around in a slinky dress, not a single mom six years older than my ex and twelve years older than me.

Hating her was easier than hating my ex. I didn’t know her, and while my ex begged my forgiveness, I didn’t hear a peep from her, though there wasn’t any reason I should have. It was probably easier for her to keep me faceless, simply “the wife,” rather than a real suffering person.

One of the million times I asked, “Why?” he answered, “It was nice for a change to feel attractive.” He thought I wasn’t attracted to him anymore, and maybe it was partly true. Maybe the physical attraction had evolved over the years into a comfortable affection, but I didn’t see anything wrong with that. However, it was hard to be affectionate with someone who was always angry or withdrawn, who hardly responded when I reached out to him.

He always wanted what he couldn’t have. After the first time we broke up, when I was 25 and he 31, he was suddenly more attentive. Forbidden fruit and all that. But after we got back together and got married, things changed. We had sex less often, and stressed more about his parents, jobs, and money. Then Kimiko came along. She was forbidden fruit who had a crush on him.

I’m still not sure what her story is. By the time my ex met her, she already had a little girl. The girl was half-white, and I don’t know if Kimiko had been married before. After their affair and her subsequent pregnancy, I assumed she had done the same thing with some other married guy.

Even before their affair, she seemed needy and to attract the wrong kind of men. For a long time, her boss sexually harrassed her, and Joe tried to help her legally. Then she had trouble with her visa and had to leave the country. I couldn’t help but think the only reason she wasn’t out on the street was because her parents were rich.

I guess it’s easy for me to say that I would have never done such a thing. But I’ve had crushes on a couple of married guys (my Latin professor in college and a consultant at work). What would they have done if they had shown interest? Would I have convinced myself that their wives were shrews? That I could make them happy? Is that so different from thinking I could change any guy that I happened to be dating?

Through snooping on the internet, I suspect that Joe has married Kimiko. I found some listing with her first name and his last name, and I could see him convincing himself it was the right thing to do, marrying the mother of his child. Are they happy? I wonder, or are they having the same problems we did? Is he still angry and withdrawn? Does she hang out with his family on the weekends and holidays, or does he use their history as an excuse to keep her away, to keep her separate, which would probably be best for everyone?

Part of me hopes they’re unhappy. Who says either of them won’t cheat again? But part of me is thankful. If their affair never happened, I don’t know if I’d have been strong enough to just leave. Surely I’d have thought of that as weak.