Archive for the ‘Random’ Category

And . . . Holidays

Monday, December 19th, 2016

The tumble to our annual holiday sojourn east hasn’t been particularly fast this year, but it has been a tumble. I feel tempest-tossed not merely by terrifying political events (though plenty by those) but also work deadlines, health issues (I’m fine), technical hiccups (NO THANKS, Comcast), random one-offs (Hey, carbon monoxide alarm: Maybe don’t go off falsely, okay?), and the usual hullabaloo around getting everything tied up and bagged before we board the flight. We leave on Christmas Day, and I’m already beat.

That said:

  1. I took comfort (and sorrow) in this book.
  2. We’ve been watching this show. (I recommend it for the Mediterranean light alone.)
  3. Counting blessings remains an important and useful and gratifying practice.
  4. I’m trying to be intentional about ways to participate in our democracy such that I will be helping to preserve it.

Happy Holidays, everyone. Here’s hoping that we experience light in the dark hours and love in the season of fear.

Kitchen Emergency

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

We had our first emergency ever, and I’m relieved to report that it was not a terrible one. But it was unsettling.

Background: Our kitchen has something I call a “pasta spout” but which Google thinks is a pot filler. Our house was built in 1910, so this spout is not original. A previous owner had it installed and, as with everything they did by way of renovation, bad choices were made. More on that in a moment.

A week ago Friday morning, I was heating water in a kettle on the stove. While standing there, I noticed that the pasta spout was hanging at a non-normal angle. Unaware of the potential consequences, I tried to tap the spout back into position. It fell from the wall, and hot water started shooting out.

I don’t mean pouring, or even gushing. I mean shooting, horizontally, from an open pipe in the wall. The force was so powerful that I couldn’t get the spout back on, even to hold it in place. Frantically, I began trying to stop up the flow with my hands, but I knew I was in trouble, so I yelled for help.

John came running, but by the time he made it to the kitchen, water had already reached the floor by the door. As he flew into the kitchen, his legs went out from under him, and he fell, hard. When he sprang back up from the floor, there was blood coming from his shin.

“I hurt myself,” he said, racing to the spout.


“I think not great.”

“Ugh, sorry,” I said. “What do you need?”

“Get me a pot. No—a bucket.”

“We have to shut off the water, though, right?”

“Yeah. Bucket first.”

I got him a bucket, and he handed me two oven mitts.

“Hold these against the spout.”

I did, though the force was so intense that it was challenging, and plenty of water (which was getting uncomfortably hot) was spurting through my fingers. By this point, both of us were drenched, and blood was flowing from John’s leg, mixing with the water on the floor. He grabbed a garage door opener, ran out of the house and down the front steps, opened the garage, and turned off the water. Later, I would see that he had left a trail of bloody footprints behind him.

Once the water was off and John was back in the kitchen, we had some time to think. (“So,” he asked. “What happened?”) I grabbed every towel in the house, and we sopped up the water; there was a lot of it. We emptied all the cabinets on that side of the kitchen. Then it was time to a) get John to Kaiser and b) get a plumber. Complicating all of this: John had to be in Philo (4-5 hours away, given traffic) to lead a weekend InterPlay workshop at 5 PM, and he was not yet packed. And I had a jammed workday with immediate deadlines.

All things considered, we did well. John got into Kaiser shortly after 9:00. I had a plumber (Fernando! Love you!) here by 11:00, and we had worked through much of the problem by the time John got home at 11:15. John and I made decisions about what to do and learned that the mechanism connecting the spout to the wall had been poorly designed. (Previous owners! Argh!) Then John packed and went to Philo. I worked a nerve-shredding day (running towel laundry all the while) and, from 5:00 – 9:00 P.M., cleaned the kitchen.

Throughout the ordeal, John and I bickered only once. We had different opinions about which tape should be used to attach the “Do not touch” sign to the spout’s shut-off valve—a conflict I believed had been resolved in The Great Tape Debate of 2015*. At one point John said, “Sweetie, I can’t hear what you’re saying; I can only see that you’re upset,” and I burst out laughing. “Good job,” I said. “You got the gist.”

*Which I won.

What was toughest for John (in addition to being injured) was that he had to leave so quickly after everything had happened—and not just leave but launch himself into the energy it takes to lead a group for an entire weekend. I, on the other hand, had the luxury of a weekend at home alone to clean up and sink back into myself. But both of us were a little shaken. It was one of those reminders that surprising and dangerous things happen in life, at 7:49 A.M. on what you thought was a regular Friday.

Quick gratitude check:

1) John was not seriously injured. (He did need stitches.)

2) I was not alone when it happened. (I didn’t know how to shut the water off! I do now.)

3) Our house was not damaged (unless the kitchen floor starts to buckle in the next couple of weeks).

4) Our marriage is a cooperative and not a blaming one.

5) Our first emergency a) occurred nearly 15 years into our relationship and b) was a minor one.

Sleepy Alphabet Tricks

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

Sometimes when I’m lying in bed at night and wish I were sleeping, I challenge myself to generate alphabetical lists. When I choose the right sort of list, I find the task occupying enough to distract me from unpleasant thoughts (EARTHQUAKE EARTHQUAKE EARTHQUAKE) and calming enough (usually) to invite sleep. The first few lists I made were names: 10 “female” names for each letter, A – Z, and then ten “male” names. At some point I switched to books and movies; I’m currently working on plays. (Stuck on J. Please do not help.)

Two recent lists that I enjoyed making immensely: movies with one-word titles and movies whose titles begin with progressive verbs. Remember, I made this late at (or in the middle of the) night, with no access to IMDB. I’m reconstructing both lists here, from memory and imperfectly.

One-Word Movie Titles

  1. Amelie
  2. Babe
  3. Chicago
  4. Dune
  5. Election
  6. Fargo
  7. Gremlins
  8. Happiness
  9. Inception
  10. Junebug
  11. Koyaanisqatsi
  12. Lilies
  13. Memento
  14. Nell
  15. Oliver
  16. Parenthood
  17. Queens
  18. Ray
  19. Sideways
  20. Thumbsucker
  21. Up
  22. V (oops, TV miniseries only)
  23. Wild
  24. X-Men
  25. Yesterday (guessing that there’d be a movie with this title; there are several)
  26. Zoolander

Progressive-Verb-Initiated Movie Titles

  1. Awakenings (well . . . that’s a gerund, so . . . maybe doesn’t count?)
  2. Breaking Away
  3. Capturing the Friedmans
  4. Driving Miss Daisy
  5. Eating Raoul
  6. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  7. Going the Distance
  8. Hanging Up
  9. Inventing the Abbots
  10. Jumpin’ Jack Flash
  11. Kicking and Screaming
  12. Leaving Las Vegas
  13. Making the Grade
  14. N . . . NO N? There’s NO N?
  15. O . . . also no O?
  16. Playing for Keeps
  17. Quitting Time (guess)
  18. Remembering the Titans
  19. Saving Silverman
  20. Trading Places
  21. U . . . I think I feel asleep here.
  22. V . . . and now that I’m awake, the Internet isn’t helping.
  23. Walking and Talking
  24. X . . . ha ha ha ha ha.
  25. Y . . . nada.
  26. Z . . . kaput.

Okay, so perhaps this latter list wasn’t as successful as I’d imagined. Maybe it was the two-word title list I loved? So you have that to look forward to, if I ever get around to reconstructing it. Meanwhile, I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice that almost all of the lesser-used letters are at the end of the alphabet. How did that happen, I wonder? And why are the vowels so evenly distributed?


For the Love of Ramen (and Where Are they Finding the Duck?)

Monday, March 9th, 2015

First things first, Bay Area: If you are a living human being with a functioning sensory system and an appreciation of deeply layered flavors, get yourself over to this place. I’m not an expert in ramen or anything else, really, but OMG OMG OMG, GREAT BROTH OF SENSUAL WONDER! It was basically a (very large) (quite beautiful) (appealingly imperfectly hand-made ceramic) bowl of salty, earthy, smoky, umami-y liquid fat, with chewy noodles to soak it all up, plus various chopped items (cauliflower, cabbage) to hold the globules of deliquesced pork belly in their cruciferous crevices.

Deep bog of aromatic unction, when will I next experience you?

(Answer: I ate some of the broth, with newly cooked noodles, for lunch just now. It was but a sliver  of an intimation of a suggestion of la chose même, but oh, adipose cauldron of slippery saltiness!)



Suddenly, apropos of pretty much nothing, I realized that there must be iPad apps to learn/remember/re-learn languages. As is probably evident from the above, I really love French, even though my experiences with it throughout school were mixed. (Spanish, which I also took all the way through, was for some reason taught by far more competent people, resulting in a far more competent level of fluency.) Anyway, so, I tested into a beginnerish level of French and began running my lessons.

Almost immediately, I was reminded both of how delightful it is to learn to say very basic things in other languages, and also how random those basic things so frequently are. Sample sentence #1, translated from French to English:

“Where are they finding the duck?”

Which raises so many questions. First, why is more than one person looking for the duck? Is the duck that important? It seems like one person could potentially cover that job, given that there’s generally a lot of other stuff to do in life. Also, they haven’t already found the duck, I see, so much as that they are currently in the process of finding it, which limits the use of this sentence quite dramatically. What are the chances, after all, that I will one day need to ask one person about a group of other people who are currently not simply looking for a duck but in the very act of finding it?

Or are we perhaps talking about dead duck? At the market? At the fourth cart on the left? Is that where they’re finding the duck?

I’ll never know.


“It’s my first cow.”

Yup, that’s another sentence that I had to translate from French to English in one of my initial lessons. This one also seems fairly limited in usage potential, given that I would have to come to own a cow. Of course, the minute I did come to own a cow, it would be my first cow. And I suppose it would remain my first cow, no matter how many other cows I would later come to own, or not. (Newsflash: “My second cow is young.”)

Sure, I understand that I’m not literally learning, Suzuki-like, to parrot existing constructions but instead to make sense of subjects and verbs and objects, to which extent meaning is not entirely relevant. And yet! It seems possible that someone could have rethought “Where are they finding the duck?”

For about a week after I began these lessons, John and I kept having the following discussion:

Me: Where are they finding the duck?

J: I don’t know. It’s my first cow.

M: Of course! How could you know? It’s only your first cow!

J: My second cow is young!

And so on*.

Fwiw, I’ve now switched to Spanish, since it’s far more useful and also since I read in a NYTimes article about Japanese AirBnB hosts that, at least según Japanese AirBnB hosts, the French are the very worst house guests. (Random, I know. And unfair. And yet, it soured me, a little, on the duck-loving French.) The Spanish lessons have yet to charm me as fully, but I did place much higher up the chain, so perhaps they feel they have to be sensible with us higher-level learners. Or perhaps it’s all waiting for me in the subjunctive!

*Our sewer lateral replacement guy is French, and he arrived this morning (before, very shortly thereafter, departing—I’ve not seen him since!). When I was greeting him I asked him how he was in French, and he very quickly launched us into a French conversation; after a couple of volleys, I very quickly choked. Nevertheless, I did manage to ask him where they were finding the duck! And he told me that “La Canard” is not merely a duck but a newspaper, or perhaps what they call the newspaper? Either way, good to know!**

**And then there’s the “joke”/”trick”/”ruse” connotation of “canard.”

Duck’s got legs!



Introducing . . . Captain Green Man and his Faithful Sidekick Greenboy!

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

A quick look at John’s Halloween costume, which we invented and put together in about a half hour last night:


Meet the Captain

Captain Green Man and his faithful sidekick Greenboy!  Ready to begin their day of  ridding the world of environmental degradation!

Ready for Takeoff

Ready for Takeoff

Fly, Captain, fly!

Don't Mess with the Captain

Don’t Mess with the Captain


Destiny Awaits

Destiny Awaits

Go forth, Green Men, and conquer! (Or, er, stop the conquering!)

The Tiniest Little (but, in my View, Important) Quibble with Something Otherwise Unerringly Excellent

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

In general and like pretty much everyone else, I am 100% in favor of George Saunders. He is not merely a genius at writing fiction but also a genius at being a person, at least according to a) the people I know who know him, and b) everything he says in interviews. By all accounts, he’s a superlative guy who spreads kindness everywhere, and I would like to hug him. And thank him. And give him a vegan chocolate cake. Or a smoothie! Would he prefer a smoothie?

But if I may just say . . .

Perhaps you’ve seen his charming, funny, incredibly wise commencement address that is currently making the rounds? I am a fan of this genre, if for no other reason than that I have always fantasized about giving a commencement address myself—and, interestingly to me (and probably nobody else) is the fact that what I would say in said commencement address has changed throughout the years. Anyway, point being, I’ve read quite a few of them, and Saunders’ is my favorite. By a million points. He wins!

I have just the tiniest little quibble.

And that is this. Saunders’ basic thesis is that he has one sure thing to recommend, and that is being kind. More kindness in the world is good for everyone, including (perhaps especially) the person being kind; he even slips a little Buddhism in by talking about how we’re all connected, and how we all very deeply want to feel that connection, even when our egos steer us toward solipsism and selfishness. He also makes it clear that being kind is difficult, and he supplies some very good strategies for how to go about it. Here’s an excerpt:

So, the second million-dollar question:  How might we DO this?  How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?

Well, yes, good question.

Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left.

So let me just say this.  There are ways.  You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter.  Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend;  establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition – recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

Can you guess, already, what I’m thinking? Here’s what I’m thinking. He left out working with your feelings (sometimes known as therapy). He left out the very important fact that being kind is often (perhaps most often) difficult because we have feelings that are getting in the way—we’re hurt, or scared, or angry, or embarrassed, or ashamed. We do what we do largely because we are governed by unconscious feelings, but when we make those feelings conscious, and work through them, suddenly we have a lot more choices about how we behave. Also, we feel better—and more connected to others. So we’re just naturally kinder.

All of those other strategies? Excellent and highly recommended. But if you don’t deal with the feelings, those strategies might actually be counter-productive. Because if you rationalize or meditate or pray your way out of feelings, you might be all, “Woo hoo! I love everyone!” at first. But at some point down the line, you might find that those feelings are still actually there, underneath, directing you in ways you haven’t been conscious of . . . until suddenly you are. And that doesn’t feel good at all.

My point is, and you’ve heard me say this before: You can’t get around feelings. You have to actually feel them, and deal with them. And/but that in itself leads to greater kindness.

So I guess you know what my commencement address would be about.


Sunday, January 13th, 2013

There is only one television show that John will watch, and that show is Top Chef. Happily, I love it, and still more happily, we’ve taken to watching it in bed, usually while we eat dinner. HOLD ME BACK SUCH ABSOLUTE FUN.

Recently we finished the latest season of Top Chef: Masters, which is our favorite iteration of the franchise, suffused as it tends to be with good will. We’d been watching it in spurts over about half a year, since we depend on my angelic friend Vicky to make and mail us DVDs. (I owe you dinner, Vicky. Again.) So as we finished up the finale, it was particularly gratifying to see that my prediction of the winner had been correct.

Thing is, though: I knew it would be. And here’s why. Twice in 2012, a totally new thing happened to me: sudden, intense intuition. This is not intuition as I normally experience it, in which I purposefully query my deeper self for information or in which I allow queried information to rise to the top of my consciousness over time. No, this was an event—an unbidden, quite physical experience in which I was overcome with a piece of information I didn’t even know I was soliciting.

Here’s what happened. The first time, we were watching They Came To Play, a sweet documentary about the Van Cliburn amateur piano competition in Texas. I know very little about concert-level piano, so it was basically impossible to gauge the quality of the playing. I knew whom I wanted to win—the passionate Russian woman from Oakland (!) whose performance was the most emotionally present of the lot—but she was eliminated in a semi-final round. When it was down to the 5 finalists, I didn’t have a clue.

And then, suddenly, as one of the finalists was performing, I was overcome with a rush of heat—almost a queasiness—that was as fleeting as it was transformative. “This is the guy,” I said to John. “He’s going to win.” And he did.

The same thing happened a few episodes into Top Chef. When the chef who ultimately won was onscreen, doing nothing particularly of note, I got the same feeling—the rush of heat, the slight nausea, and the knowledge that he would win.

I want to be clear: This is not guessing. Often when I’m watching a competition, I make a guess about the winner based on a number of factors, including (if it’s reality TV), how the participants are being edited. Or if it’s a narrative movie/play, I have guesses about how the plot will go, but I’m very aware that I don’t actually know. With these flashes of intuition, I didn’t have a choice (or even, really, a thought). The information had simply been transmitted to me.

If you’re wondering, as I’ve been, whether this new flavor of intuition will strike in an area other than televised competitions, I’m pleased to report that it happened again last night, after listening to an Isabel Allende story on Selected Shorts. The story was called “Two Words,” and while the events of the story hinge on the words of the title, they’re never revealed. Immediately after listening, I pondered a bit and then let the question go. Then, as I was falling asleep, I knew what the words were.*

Of course, in this case, I have no way to check out whether I’m right. And that’s something I wonder: Could this type of intuition be wrong? I once read a book about certainty which makes the very important point that it does not equate with correctness. But what about this particular type of certainty, this deeply intuitive rush of knowledge?

I’ll keep track, of course, of my own. And if it fails me, I’ll let you know.

*This is the ideal-for-insight scenario that Jonah Lehrer describes in Imagine (the book has been discredited, I know, but it can’t all be wrong)—i.e., asking a conscious question and then moving on to something else while your subconscious goes to work.

Thank You, Bay Area

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Today is the 15th anniversary of my arrival in the Bay Area.

I’d love to write a long and loving piece about everything that this exceptional place has given me, but I’m cramming in more than a reasonable number of end-of-the-year projects before we head east on Monday, not to return until 2013. So instead, I’ll write a quick little gratitude list.


1) The weather. True, it’s funny to write about climate when it’s currently 55 degrees inside my home, but that’s more about the lack of central heating in 100-year-old structures. The weather here is glorious, almost all the time—and it’s (almost) never too hot. In 2012, we had one day above 90 degrees. (My dear friend O will remember this day as coinciding with her 40th birthday party.)

2) The people. What I sought when I came here was a community of open, compassionate people who were interested in looking at themselves to uncover depths of feeling and live according to their values. Done. Thank you, friends.

3) The culture. It’s not just that we have fantastic theater and performance of all kinds—although we do, and John and I certainly partake—but that there’s a pervasive, kind-hearted social consciousness that makes living here feel rich and connected. So many people are working on important issues, from social justice to the environment. And if you’re interested in doing personal growth work, you’ve come to the right place.

4) The work. I write, as you know. And in the Bay Area, I’ve been able to make a living doing that—and in more than one way. I’ve also been lucky to find clients who value my work and treat me beautifully. Thanks, clients.

5) The geography. Marin Headlands. Mount Tam. Twin Peaks. Berkeley Hills. When you’re in the flats, you can see these gorgeous heights. And when you’re on top of them, you can see the Bay Area, laid out before you like a bumpy blanket of beauty. Almost never a bad view.

6) The food. Mexican, Ethiopian, Burmese, Vietnamese, Korean. Raw. Macrobiotic. And vegan all-of-the-above. Is there another place in the world with so many vegan restaurants? And oh, the produce. Satsuma mandarins—and Satsuma sweet potatoes. Hachiya persimmons. Fuji apples. A bazillion types of lettuce. And melons. And tomatoes. Honestly, if we ever move away, I may miss the produce most of all.

7) The Mr. Yeah, maybe there were other guys in other cities. Maybe. John was in Berkeley, and that’s where I found him, and I’m keeping him. In a month, we hit our 11-year mark, and I’ll be ordering up about 100 more.

Yes, there are a few elements of life in the Bay Area that I would love to wish away (earthquakes, parking, housing costs), but they’ve all been worth it. I came into my own here, and I could not be more grateful.

Gratitude to all of you for reading, and Happy Holidays! See you in 2013.

On Cooperative Games

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

I have a competitive streak. A tiger-fierce competitive streak. So even though winning is anything but a core value—as a resident of Northern California I recognize the myriad inherent problems with competition and believe in cooperation as the more effective approach—when I play games with others, I very intensely want to win.


As a service to my fellow game-players, I try to keep this impulse in check. But it is NOT. EASY.

One of the things that has been suggested to me is to play the newfangled cooperative games, in which everyone works together toward a common goal. My friend Carey (Hi, Carey!) helpfully brought one of these games over, and she and I played together.

Verdict: While there was some relief in knowing that we would share the same fate, that very knowledge did sap my motivation of some of its fire. Weirdly, at the same time the game felt very stressful, because the stakes were so high: If we didn’t get often the island before it sank, we were both going to die! AAAAIEEEEE!

Cue this morning’s conversation, with John.

J: Last night Steve was telling me about another cooperative game, called Pandemic.

M: Uh-huh.

J: You work as a team to save the world from a deadly infection.

M: Uh-huh.

J: And it’s not at all clear that you’ll be able to succeed!

M: Oh, great.

J: What?

M: So everyone dies!

J: Yeah.

M: Of a miserable disease!

J: Well, if you fail.

M: You don’t even get to drown!

J: No.

M: I’d rather lose at Cranium than die at Pandemic. At least with Cranium you’re not worrying about the fate of the ENTIRE EFFING WORLD.

J: [Laughing.]

M: I need a cooperative game that is not about the end of the world. Like, what about we’re in the supermarket, and we have to get everything on our list before it closes?

J: Okay, or what about you’re the caterer and you have to cook all of the food before the wedding starts?


Been a Long Time Gone

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Nelly, it’s been ages. And I have time only for dribbles:

1) I was fascinated by the NYT Magazine cover story on Sunday, about 18 girls in the same town struck by the same twitching/ticcing condition. I don’t want to ruin it for you (read it!), but the thing I am most struck by is the cultural resistance to acknowledging feelings and what that resistance can wreak. Especially since . . .

2) In preparation for the new season of Mad Men, I’ve been reading old recaps over at T.Lo, and they’re always going on about how different it was in the 60’s, when everybody had secrets and so many things simply couldn’t be spoken. True enough, and yet it seems that at least in one American town, the gestalt still refuses to acknowledge and support normal human suffering. And that doesn’t seem good for anyone.

3) There’s a quote in the NYT article that goes something like this: “It’s not psychological, it’s neurological.” Setting aside the fact that no disease should be shameful either way, I thought to myself, “And . . . how are those different?” Our feelings live in our nervous system, right? Same-same? People hate to be told that “It’s all in your head.” But isn’t everything we experience, pretty much, in our heads?

4) The rains have come. Late and probably far too few, but we need them, and I’m happy for all the dry-mouthed living beings in Northern California. On the other hand, we have a leaking skylight. 7 years ago when we moved into our previous house, John redid the roof and put in beautiful, non-leaking skylights. 3 months ago we moved into this house, which needs a new roof and has an old, leaking skylight. Alas.

5) Speaking of husbands: We’ve been together 10 years! Not married for that long, but together. Our anniversary was in January, but we’re just now able to celebrate. Next week we head to Wilbur Hot Springs for 5 days of what we hope will be pure ease and comfort—baths, naps, food, walks, and back to the baths. Yum.

6) Said husband is also having a birthday (Thursday! Send him lovies!), and it’s a sign of the times that I didn’t order his presents until today. By which I mean, a) home renovation and b) 10 years. I think at a certain point, material presents lose most of their importance or even interest, and the daily loving connection overshadows any other kind of gesture you can make. Even “I love you,” which is always worth saying (and hearing), can’t hold a candle to the living evidence of that love. Or so I’m thinking today.