Friday, December 26, 2008

new day on the horizon

Overheard at the breakfast table at my parents' house today:

U.S. authorities are winning favor from various Afghani Bedouin chiefs by giving them viagra.

The shoemaker responsible for the shoes thrown at Mr. Bush in Iraq last week faces over 400,000 web orders. (I'm pretty sure I have that number right but can't be bothered to check it right now.)

Reporters covering Obama at his vacation in Hawaii are thrilled over the difference between that and Crawford, Texas.

I'm heading off for a brief but faraway trip again and excited. Be back after the New Year. 2009, here we come.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Apple Squared

(the dog says "Bush" on it)

Got back last night after four days staying with friends in Astoria, Queens. Got to Manhattan most of the days but didn't set foot in Brooklyn once. Walked from Sunnyside to Astoria one day and from the Lower East Side to Columbus Circle another. Man, I miss walking a city. maybe I should try it out here in Richmond; there doesn't seem much cause to since everything I do is in a pretty small radius and it's rainy and cold today, though last night was warm, almost humid, and I could most pleasantly sit on my front porch. Trying to write today. Hard to make myself do it since the semester just ended and I got back from vacation.

Did you hear about the Iraqi reporter throwing the shoe at Bush? Pretty silly, huh? The whole thing doesn't translate into English too well. A shoe--since it walks on the ground, where scum is--is the insult of all insults, and the way he yelled at him, amazing.

With the first shoe, he yelled: "This is a good-bye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog."

And with the second: "This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq."

Seriously, a shoe in the head is the least this loser deserves. What has he got in front of him? A life of leisure and a big pension and tons of family money, etc. Hmmm. Kind of makes me angry to think of it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


So in my teaching writing theory class and in the Writing Center where I work and in my fiction classes, we always talk about how revision should be exactly that, re-envisioning your writing, transforming it on a large scale--not tweaking words or adding commas but really putting your mind on the thing and looking at how it is working as a piece of writing. One theorist we read made the case the level of revision done marks the difference between beginning and experienced writers and I completely agree, though, honestly, talking about it and dissecting it and demanding it is boring! What's awesome is having an honestly hands-on conversation about it and doing it and seeing it. This week in the workshop that I am taking and the one I am co-teaching, I've gotten the chance to read revisions of stories we've worked on during the semester, and I must say I have been blown away. It's a nice way to feel at the end of a long semester.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

trying to focus is hard after all that food...

I am trying to write a paper about what works in teaching writing, even though I've never really taught writing. Well, not to a classroom of kids, well, not for more than a little bit at a time. There are all those hours I've been putting in as a consultant at The Writing Center. And Last week I gave a little talk about paragraphing in fiction, which was actually more like a conversation. And last spring in San Francisco when I was subbing, I would try to steer kids in the right direction whenever I saw them writing things that made no sense. But I guess I've been learning that a hands off approach is better, that instead of telling them what to write and how to write it, instead of fixing every typo, it's a lot more valuable for them (and easier on me) to focus on the bigger picture, to have a conversation about what it is they are trying to say. I guess my opposite impulse was developed when I was in high school in Surabaya, one of only five native English speakers in my class, and really the only on who cared much about English class. Anyway, I was kind of a dork and sort of obsessed with getting people to like me so whenever people would ask me to fix their papers or articles, I would. I would make them perfect--no conversation, no questions asked. So I guess I've been working towards unlearning that in order to some day perhaps be a decent teacher of writing but for now I have to write this annoying paper.

Friday, November 28, 2008

thank you!

Thanksgiving at the Pierce house was a lot of fun, as usual. Somehow, the kids table has turned into the under 30 table, and there were more of us than the "adults." My cousin R wowed us with his knowledge of wooing women (apparently, the dim ones can really be a lot more fun), and our guest P told us some things we never quite considered about the melding of medicine and business. D and Y were visiting from Cairo/New York, and seemed to have a pretty good time. My brussels sprouts (despite boohooing from several male family members) were received so well the full pan of them disappeared. Beforehand, we talked to my absent Aunt Y by Skype for the first time. My mom and Aunt A carried a laptop around the house, showing her the tables and the food--kind of cheesy but pretty cute. Didn't have anything else to eat after the 2pm meal, but did have some coffee at the movies later. We ended up heading to the only independent theater in northern virginia to see "Slumdog Millionnaire"--a film that more than made up for the bad choice we made at Blockbuster the previous night. Where "Snow Angels" was a self-indulgent, non-sensical myriad of characters and painful scenes, "Slumdog Millionnaire" was an exciting, colorful myriad of characters and lovely scenes. It was a cavalcade of colors and sounds but nothing about it was painful or forced or overdone. Quite sad in regards to the recent Mumbai attacks, the movie was something of a bittersweet entertiainment. Not sure what I'd say if I was familiar with real-life Mumbai at all, but, as it is, I admired the storytelling acumen of the writer of the novel that inspired it and the screenplay. I guess I just feel like a good movie is hard to come by in this day and age, and this definitely is one.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

the ramble, the update

So it turns out I'm not too good at this blogging thing lately. A few things have happened. I've been writing and reading, a lot. Reading mostly the impressive work of my peers and students here at VCU. Seriously, I'm routinely blown away, which makes me want to be a better writer. The last story I turned into workshop was pretty disjointed but cool if only for the fact that it takes place mostly on a night train in Thailand. We will talk about it at our meeting next Wednesday and I'm frankly kind of dreading it. Also, my reading as part of our Moveable Feast monthly series went really well. I was reading some scenes from a novel I don't think I'll ever finish about a disfuctional romantic relationship. I gave the audience the choice between narrative of that relationships beginnings or of it's fall out. They chose the latter, yelling it at me, not even letting me have them vote, which was all part of my master plan. I recently had a visitor from far away for a week. It was amazing to show him what my new life in Richmond was like. For Halloween we showed up late at a grad student party full with people dressed like rockstars--from Loretta Lynn to Kurt Cobain to Rob Zombie. The two of us wore all black and kuffiahs and told people we were an obscure pro-Palestinean punk band, and they were like, oh. We biked around and sat on a sunny rock in the James River and ate amazing bbq rips like barbarians and drank beers while we watched Obama's votes come in. Could hardly believe he won, though, when I think about it, what was our alternative, really? Could you imagine what things would be like right now if McCain won? For starters, I'm pretty sure the thousands of people who took to the streets all over the world would not have been as jubilant. What else? I have been delighted by the students I see in the Writing Center at school. Each week, I have 12 random appointments, 20 minute slots with people from all over the university looking for help with what they are writing for class. At first, it freaked me out, but now I kind of enjoy it. Not to say there aren't moments when someone says something or I read something, and I think, this isn't happening. I've been going up to NoVa to see my parents quite a bit, which is a really cool thing, considering this is the closest I've lived to them in over ten years. Writing that makes me feel old. I planted some tulip bulbs in our front flower bed in honor of the first frost. I just ate some amazing tomato soup and now I have to go write.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Oh, inverted world...

The link between child porn and Islamic fundamentalists. Can you believe this?

Monday, October 20, 2008

i am old news...

Just found out that a 7-minute documentary made by Jana Sintschnig and starring myself and my good friend Ayman Ramadan was screened last night at the Arab Film Festival in San Francisco. Pretty f-ing cool! And probably ok that you missed it since in most of the footage Jana used of interviews with me, I look like a drowned rat. I was all sweaty that day, having gone bike riding before meeting up with Jana. Still, such a well-edited piece by her, and awesome, really, in telling a small part of Ayman's story and of some thoughts I formed on contemporary art while working in Egypt from 2004-2005.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Milan's Closet

It has been revealed that as a 20-year old, Kundera outed a man living in his dormitory as a spy. He was arrested and served for years as a prison-worker in a uranium mine. Does this mean we can't take Kundera seriously when he uses his crafted fictions to denounce totalitarianism? Does it mean he will lose clout?


Found at Narrative Magazine yesterday, and sublime, I think:

Slow Dance

by Matthew Dickman

More than putting another man on the moon,
more than a New Year’s resolution of yogurt and yoga,
we need the opportunity to dance
with really exquisite strangers. A slow dance
between the couch and dining room table, at the end
of the party, while the person we love has gone
to bring the car around
because it’s begun to rain and would break their heart
if any part of us got wet. A slow dance
to bring the evening home. Two people
rocking back and forth like a buoy. Nothing extravagant.
A little music. An empty bottle of whiskey.
It’s a little like cheating. Your head resting
on his shoulder, your breath moving up his neck.
Your hands along her spine. Her hips
unfolding like a cotton napkin
and you begin to think about
how all the stars in the sky are dead. The my body
is talking to your body slow dance. The Unchained

Stairway to Heaven, power-chord slow dance. All my life
I’ve made mistakes. Small
and cruel. I made my plans.
I never arrived. I ate my food. I drank my wine.
The slow dance doesn’t care. It’s all kindness like

(continued at

From All American Poem

Friday, October 17, 2008

So gone...

Anyone who uses this blog to keep up with me, whether you know me or not, must be wondering whether I still exist. I do, but I sorta feel like I don't. No! It's not bad. It just is. Part of it has to do with the fact that I lost my glasses (again!) and so things more than ten feet away are pretty fuzzy and at the same time my left ear is blocked up. Ew. Things should be back to normal since a new pair of specs is supposedly on the way and I've been treating my ear with some drops and trying to wash it out with water, but until then, I am the faintest tinge of deaf and blind and everything feels thrown off. I am not the me I used to be. I can't hear so well so I don't listen, and I can't see, so I walk around touching things. It's weird. I don't exist, see?

I also don't exist because Richmond has swallowed me. Well, really it's this new grad school program. Intense, I'm telling you. But it's good! Mostly. A class on theory which is seriously cramping my style with a long paper due next week and tons of reading and then another paper at the end of the semester. Then also I am writing new stories. Two so far since I've been here, one in the next couple weeks. And I'm liking them. My fiction workshops is my favorite two hours of the week--not my most exciting or funny or anything extreme like that, just favorite. I've also managed to get my schedule working so that I have good time to write in the mornings. And then there's the writing center, which I give 10 hours/week to. I sit and face students from all over the university and whatever writing assignments they have for class, for 30min a pop. As you can imagine, some intriguing stuff comes up, a random list of it as of late: dream interpretation, eating disorders, business speak, King Arthur, childhood development, discrimination against Arabs, Plato... Oh, and if you are in or near Richmond, Virginia next week you should consider coming to hear me read as part of our graduate reading series, Moveable Feast, at the Visual Arts Center on Main Street, Fri, Oct. 24, at 7pm. Free beer and wine! Come on, you know you want to.

Friday, September 26, 2008

the tricks of memory

Cities and Memory #5 (from Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino)

"In Maurilia, the traveler is invited to visit the city and, at the same time, to examine old postcards that show as it used to be: the same identical square with a hen in the place of the bus station, a bandstand in the place of the overpass, two young ladies with white parasols in the place of munitions factory. If the traveler does not wish to disappoint the inhabitants, he must praise the postcard city and prefer it to the present one, though he must be careful to contain his regret at the changes within definite limits; admitting that the magnificence and prosperity of the metropolis Maurilia, when compared to the old, provincial Maurilia, cannto compensate for a certain lost grace, which, however, can be appreciated only now in the old postcards, whereas before, when that provincial Maurilia was before one's eyes, one saw absolutely nothing graceful and would see it even less today, if Maurilia had remained unchanged; and in any case the metropolis has the added attraction that, through wat it has become, one can look back with nostalgia at what it was."

An absolutely stunning paragraph brought to my attention by one of my new teachers here in Richmond. Richmond, which felt so awkward and awful, like an ill-fitting shoe, when I first came here over a month ago now. Richmond, which now feels pretty okay, even though it's been raining for the past twenty-four hours. Actually such gloom might be the perfect thing for not making me feel like a shut-in as I stay home most of the weekend, reading and writing.

Had my first short story workshopped this week. So intense! I came home and fell asleep right away--couldn't do what I always did in San Francisco and read everyone's comments on the train ride home, since I bike home here and I was too, too tired.

Our first real party in my house last night. It was actually thrown by my roommate's girlfriend to raise $$ for a great cause. Amazing though (even if I was in pajamas and avoiding direct contact with any new people) to have the house full of bodies and warm food and voices. After they left sipped overly sweet wine (like nectar) out on the porch, happily talked about nothing, about the past, and watched the incredible lightnight shock the whole world around us almost as bright as day and listened to a rumble of thunder longer than I've ever heard. Thunder is just clouds bumping into each other, right?
(The picture at the top of this post was taken in Richmond near 1900. The young boy front and center is a newsboy, who lied at first when asked his age. He said eight first and, when prodded, went down to six.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It's Getting Hot in Here

So yesterday I get to school for my really long day that starts at 1pm and ends at 10pm and I'm a little early so I have time to gawk at the thing that is happening right outside of the building I'm heading for. This man is wearing suspenders and shiny black shoes and black pants, a white button up shirt and he is holding up a bible and he is yelling.

"There are the sinners! And there are the righteous!"
"There are Christians and there are unbelievers!"
"The Mormons, the Catholics, the Muslims...they are all unbelievers! They are all going to Hell!"
"Anyone who does not except Jesus Christ as their savior is going to Hell!"

And he is surrounded by people--at least sixty, maybe one hundred people--circles of people around him and the ones standing farther away are smirking and talking amongst themselves. But I am standing in front of them. I want to hear what the ones who are closer to him are saying. The ones who are closer are yelling. They are mostly men. They are all men, actually. And there is one who is standing right in front of the preacher's face. Right in front of him, yelling, "Will you please shut up! I just have a question. One question. Close your mouth for a second!" But the preacher will not stop. He just keeps going right past the man who is yelling for him to stop and his face is turning red. And finally he says it:

"Why are you here!? Is there a population problem in Hell or something? Did the devil ask you to help him out and make some space down there by saving us?" He's laughing. And everyone laughs and is yelling, and the preacher is jumping and raising his hands.

And then I can't quite hear what is going on and then another man says: "Yes, I am homosexual. Do you have a problem with that?"

And the preacher: "Homosexuals are damned and they lack intelligence!"

And the guy: "That's interesting because I am a sophomore in college and if just because I f- men in the a- that means I'm dumb than you are a f-ing fool."

And more mixed yelling. And there is another man standing close by with a bible asking about verses and the preacher is still going and then someone else asking about the logic of Jesus dying for our sins since he died before we sinned them, and then I have to go inside.

And still going an hour and a half later when I leave the building on my way to another building and I hear him say to someone:

"I've been preaching the gospel for two hours." And he looks flushed and happy, and then later when I am moving from building to building again he is gone.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


So my new roommates are three charming young men who are obsessed with seeds and soil and soul and earth. We have been eating watermelon and they save the seeds, sprinkling them on the lawn. There are drying olive pits on the kitchen table. We have water bottles and beer bottles and things set up out back with cuttings in them. We have tiny tupperware full of soil sprinkled with seeds and a compost heap started in a large green plastic pot that we've moved far away from the back door. We have a tiny little lattice made of twine and twigs snaking up one of our fences for the passion flower that has already begun sprouting tendrils and wrapping up and around it. There is a hollowed out half cantaloupe with seeds and soil inside it, cantaloupe seeds already sprouting, in the patch of earth in front of our house. There is also a pineapple top that was immediately planted there after we ate the fruit beneath it last week. All this and we've been sharing the house on Strawberry Street less than a month. I don't participate much but for gawking and they've got me all excited about what is going to grow.

I have been watering a garden though, the vegetable and herb and flower garden of a neighbor of ours who has been away this past week. I talked a bit to the plants today; I asked them to grow and tell Nancy that we've been taking good care of them.

As I report all this to you, I'm sitting in a cafe a mile away from Strawberry Street and the people sitting next to me are getting into a spirited conversation about Jesus. I've got to get out of here and back to the seeds.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Los Angeles

City of Angels--what a nice name for a place, huh? I've been there mainly to visit my uncle and aunt and their daughter and her family who live in two apartments relatively near to each other in Beverly Hills--and we spend time in their living rooms and kitchens and then drive around and eat good food and go to the mall and I know it's a place I wouldn't necessarily want to live but I could because it's so big and so varied that there's certainly some neat stuff going on always and there are so many different sorts of people who live there, but there's the whole car thing, the freeway thing, which is what most people talk about when they say why they couldn't or wouldn't live there. But more than that, L.A. is a place in my imagination, thanks to movies and books, and it's had a decided resurgence on that level lately. I just finished reading Shalimar the Clown, by Salman Rushdie. It is a novel primarily about Kashmir, but also perhaps about how its characters carry the weight of Kashmir to the U.S., and L.A. in particular, and Rushdie awesomely renders the metropolis, for example:

"That the city had no focal point, he professed hugely to admire. The idea of the center was in his view out-dated, oligarchic, an arrogant anachronism. To believe such a thing was to consign most of life to the periphery, to marginalize and in doing was to devalue. The decentered promiscuous sprawl of this giant invertebrate blob, this jellyfish of concrete and light, made it the true democratic city of the future."

Then also I just finished plowed through Less than Zero, which I would only recommend if you are in the mood for something really fast and pretty depressing and not too well written but fascinating just the same. For those unfamiliar, the novel follows Clay as he goes back to L.A. after four months in college in New Hampshire. He revisits his friends and becomes drawn into a depressing and dehumanizing spiral of sex and drugs and disturbing family interactions that is home. And all along I wanted to know why he was so fucked up, and if he had the power to be his own salvation, and I guess the novel answered these questions but never in much of a way that satisfied me. Though, since it was published in the 80's the book serves as a historical testiment, as well as an intriguing study in first person narration. I'm going to take up American Psycho next, and a little scared about that, but hoping the writing will wow me more, and wondering if I'll have the stomach to read it.

I have been feeling under the weather and last night stayed in, mostly in bed watching "Short Cuts," which Robert Altman made in the late 90's, I guess, based on a few of Raymond Carver's short stories and starring a crazy cast including folks such as Juliane Moore and Robert Downey Jr and Jack Lemmon, and managing to tell the stories of more than twenty characters. I'm about halfway through the 3-hour movie so far and am caught up in all the characters but also a bit bothered by how short the scenes are, though all the shifting around and continuous building of often tenuous connections between characters certainly does paint a varied and fascinating picture of the City of Angels...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Book news of note...

Random House has pulled a forthcoming novel about a famous bride of the prophet Mohammad. Crazy. Foreshadowed Muslim reaction is a force, huh? I wonder if someone else will pick it up.

And this new book on fiction by James Wood, who I am a big fan of. If anyone wants to buy me a present, this is it!

Not a book, but wanted to end with a laugh from Denver, courtesy of Fox News:

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Whole New World

Unfortunately the other day when my parents came to visit me in Richmond and we went out and about I forgot to put my battery in my camera, but here are a few photos I took on a long walk I went on last Friday, just as the sun was sinking...

This first one is of my house, or more the tree in front of my house. The house itself is incredible, with high ceilings, wood floors, two sets of stairs, very cool roommates, and a small community park and garden out back:

Many monuments dot this city, many of them having to do with the Civil War. There is a famous one of Arthur Ashe. Here is one that goes a little farther back:

Here is an artsy one. Me on one of those highway overpass things, with all the cars going past below, it sounded like the ocean:

One more, some houses with a Baptist church bus and some chairs set up for a gathering:

Yeah, so strange days, new world...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

This is the kind of stuff that is contributing to my culture shock...

I am ashamedly sitting in the Starbucks (I swear, I swear, it will be the only time!) that is just left of the entrance to the main library at my new school, Virginia Commonwealth University. And just now four tanned, perfect-looking under-aged girls sat down at the table next to me. The one who took the head seat of the rectangle table is evidently interviewing the other three in regards to rushing her sorority. Topics of their discussion include desperation to see the Spice Girls reunion tour, hanging out at frat houses, whether or not it's ok to shop at a thrift shop just for eighties night, and faraway boyfriends.

Monday, August 18, 2008

From Cholula to Richmond

Last week, I was in taking this photo, overlooking Cholula, a lovely city in Mexico. We were outside a church that, in 1594, was built by the conquering Spanish on top of an ancient Aztec pyramid, which just so happens to be the "largest monument ever constructed anywhere in the world." Crazy. Seriously. We also spent time in Cuernavaca and in Mexico City. The former reminded me of Lebanon and the latter of Cairo. But of course it was all completely different, too.

And now, I am in Richmond, Virginia. I haven't taken any pictures yet. It is certainly a pretty place but nothing like Mexico, or Lebanon, or Cairo. I have just moved into a room in an incredible big, old house, in a quiet, pretty neighborhood a five-minute bike ride to school. Yesterday I went to a pretty neat flea market in another neighborhood with a few galleries and cafes and warehouses and a paint ball range and a gentlemen's club and other things, I'm sure. Everyone at the market was exceedingly nice, and I bought some produce and useful junk for ridiculously cheap. Then I found a natural foods market that isn't as amazing as Rainbow but reasonably cool. Classes start next week for me, and right now I'm dealing with administrative and orientation-type stuff. Wish I was in Mexico but I'm also happy to be in Richmond since it's what is happening now.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Good Bye

Mahmoud Darwish, brilliant artist of verse, memory, and forgetting passed away Saturday in Houston. He wasn't from there, just went there because his European doctor recommended the hospital for his specific condition. Something about an enlarged artery in his heart. Darwish was a poet, well-known, perhaps, for the fact he was a Palestinian poet. He will be buried in Ramallah today or Wednesday. A one-time member of the PLO and, eventually, part of the party's executive committee, he wrote words Yasser Arafat declaring Palestinian statehood in 1988. And, famously, he penned this verse:

Identity Card

Record !
I am an Arab
And my identity card is number fifty thousand
I have eight children
And the ninth is coming after a summer
Will you be angry?

Record !
I am an Arab
Employed with fellow workers at a quarry
I have eight children
I get them bread
Garments and books
from the rocks…
I do not supplicate charity at your doors
Nor do I belittle myself
at the footsteps of your chamber
So will you be angry?

Record !
I am an Arab
I have a name without a title
Patient in a country
Where people are enraged
My roots
Were entrenched before the birth of time
And before the opening of the eras
Before the pines, and the olive trees
And before the grass grew...

But, to quote Ursula Lindsey from her awesome blog, The Arabist Review, he was not a "propogandist." Or maybe he was not merely a propagandist. Or maybe he simply got to the heart/truth/meaning of things. Because every man and woman is tied to the place they were born and the place they live and the place they have lived most. And many tie their work to those places, but maybe Darwish was the kind of artist who transcends place to reach those in all places. He also wrote lines like this, from his 1982 book, Memory for Forgetfulness:

"The dawn made of lead is still advancing from the direction of the sea, riding on sounds I haven’t heard before. The sea has been entirely packed into stray shells. It is changing its marine nature and turning into metal. Does death have all these names? We said we’d leave. Why then does this red-black-gray rain keep pouring over those leaving or staying, be they people, trees, or stones?"

Reading that really makes me want to find it in Arabic. Hmmm. Ending here for now. A post on the trip I just got back from to come...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ya Mamma, Inshallah Yirbah Obama

So my sister got my mother this shirt from Urban Outfitters. She wasn't sure my mom would be into it, but figured it was worth a try. Buying presents for my mom is tough. She's not the sort of lady that has many things or many desires, and most often she'll open a present and kindly say thanks, but you know she would be just as happy without, perhaps even more happy since she deplores the accumulation of stuff. Occasionally, however, one strikes gold and fills the sweet lady with glee, just as my father did a few years ago with a Japanese knife set (my suggestion--ahem!) and just as my sister did with this shirt. I'm not sure what it really means. Maybe that Obama would be the best presidential choice for the likes of someone's mother? I know, I'm not always down with the slang, but I'm really at a loss. My mother wore this shirt to an Arab American Institute's BBQ that we attended at a park here in Northern Virginia last weekend, and one Arab-speaker we spoke to said she liked that it reminded her of the phrase "Ya Mama," which literally means "Oh, mother," and is also used as a common exclamation, such as "Bajeezus" or "Oh, meatballs" or whatever.

Speaking of Arabs and Obama, I was intrigued to hear a story on NPR the other day discussing Arab opinion of the senator. Some were interviewed about their certainty that even if Obama is elected, nothing will change in terms of American coddling of "fortress Israel" and then some were interviewed who were delighted that a "Muslim brother" may be elected president and how dramatic a change this would be for the world. Obviously then, ignorance is universal, though of course the sort of misconception that results in blind love is far better than that which yields irrational hate. And then I keep flashing in my mind to a woman I must have seen on television during my vacation saying (regretfully) she voted for Bush because he seemed like the kind of guy she could drink a Budweiser with. Where does this leave Obama? I see him sipping cocktails on a bright, manicured lawn somewhere. I wonder if he likes Lebanese food because I'm on the falafel hunt tonight.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


I was excited to find, on an end table in my parents' home safe in the suburbs of northern Virginia, a novel called "Terrorist" by John Updike. Now, I don't know Mr. Updike well, but I am aware that he is a preeminent man of letters, who sits stolidly--after a career I'm sure that was difficult at first, as the story often goes--with dozens of published books, in the upper echelons of American literary life. I know he's written many novels that people enjoy, a few of them have something to do with rabbits, or at least their titles do. And also I am sure that I have read essays by him in various book reviews and highbrow magazines like the New Yorker or Harper's. And I know these essays concerned the state of the written word in this day and age, and I'm sure Mr. Updike's words edified my vague but at the same time fundamental feeling that books and stories are still important, that writers still have purpose. And then to find that this man, this prophet, had written a novel about a topic that interests me greatly--9/11 and its effects on the psyches of the varied members of our nation--and that I didn't have to go to the store or the internet to get it but had this book in my hands just before a long bus ride, I was, as I said before, excited.

From the first pages, I could tell that Updike did indeed possess literary genius. His opening is in the third person but captures the voice of his main character, an 18 year-old devout Muslim named Ahmad, the son of an absent Egyptian father and an Irish mother, who was raised in a economically downtrodden town in New Jersey. He begins by observing the sin and idolatry around him in the public high school hallways, where he is finishing out his senior year. And the hate the disgust, is palpable and therefore understandable. Hell, I hated high school too--with its self-importance and its bare skin and breasts (Updike describes them again and again, once, strangely, as "blisters") that I could never compete with. Then we meet a girl who Ahmad is undeniably attracted to but concurrently repulsed by because, as we are reminded again and again, she is a sharmouta. And then Ahmad's mom who is likable and liberal, as shown by her many failed love affairs--again, sharmouta--and her painterly pursuits, but mysteriously unconcerned with her son's whereabouts. And then Ahmad's imam, his religious teacher, since he was 11 who holds office in a tiny former ballet studio above a check-cashing strip, berating Ahmad when he does not remember parts of the Koran they have discussed, concerning with correcting and perfecting Ahmad's accent in Arabic, which is irrevocably tinged by his native language. And then Ahmad's sad, sallow guidance counselor who suddenly takes an interest in the boy a month before graduating, insisting he is destined for more than the job of a truck driver as his imam has insisted he become.

Whoa--truck driver. Can you see it coming? Well, it takes forever, but a truck Ahmad eventually gets into has the potential to cause quite a ruckus, hence the book's title. My telling you this isn't much of a spoiler because the book is already spoiled. It's not the potboiler Updike perhaps intended. Moreso, it is an exercise in character development that he infuriatingly fails at. It's clear that Updike studied the Koran carefully, as he includes many verses and suras (sections) from it, often transcribed in English. It's clear he took pains with the culture as well, but I swear he was foolish about it. When Ahmad speaks English, his grammar is stilted and formal like someone schooled only recently in the language. A sample: When being approached for sex, he tells the woman, "That is a kind wish on your part, but without marriage it would go against my beliefs" (184). And, particularly as the book wears on, its characters tend to do something Lizzy and I like to call "monologuing" (as inspired by "Grey's Anatomy") where in the midst of conversation, they break out into a long diatribe about something massive, like the downfall of American society, or the rewards of undying religious faith, or the play between the pleasure and guilt of adultery. These types of speeches are okay every once in a while, especially when they are explicating something that has occurred in the plot, but one on top of the other, the speeches grow tiring, and then less credible when the story is moved along by ridiculously unbelievable coincidences. And the broken English he attempts to reproduce sounds nothing like the broken English of any Arabs I've ever spoken English with. Ugh. Sad. And then an ending that builds up to a twist that is more like a quiet belch. I can tell Updike's a good writer. He managed to describe certain things particularly well, but the overall workings of his story and the horrifyingly important and mistreated subject he very deliberately took on were way off. I think one can tell that by his preoccupation with describing each character each time s/he is reintroduced by the color of their skin, their religion, how fat or thin they are, and what they are wearing--the same descriptors again and again. I dunno. New York Times bestseller and glowing review-bits from all of our preeminent periodicals were splashed across it. I know better. And so do you. We just have to remind ourselves every once in a while.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


I was out of the States for a little over a month, in Thailand and Laos. I've been back less than a week and it already feels like forever. It's one of those crazy transition times of my life. I wanted to share the photos. I had visions of myself captioning each one. Visions. But reality is more like I am tired and there are so many other transition-type things to do. If you really want to know, ask me and I'll tell you.

The picture I posted above is my favorite. I took it in the bus station at Chiang Rai. I like how the king's picture is over the end of the word "toilet". I like the monk going into the bathroom and the way the genders are defined and all the colors and the folks, and, well.

I'm not really attuned to taking pictures lately, but I gave it a try, and I had a trusty assistant most of the time. There were lots of moments I wanted to take a photograph but didn't for fear of being that annoying tourist, which I sort of regret...but also it fit the situation.

Without further ado, the links:

1) Photos taken during the three times I ended up in Bangkok.
2) Photos taken during the week I spent alone on some islands down south.
3) Photos taken in Nonkhai, an amazing town in Thailand across the Mekong river from Vientiane. Most of these were taken in this incredible sculpture park we biked to through some really lovely countryside.
4) Photos taken in and around Vientiane and Luang Prabang, Laos's two largest cities.
5) Photos taken in the Luang Namtha Valley. Many of these were taken in an Akha village that we visited during the only guided tour we took over our whole vacation. It was easier for me in this situation to photograph people since we asked and everyone we were with was doing it but it still felt weird.
6) Photos taken as we came back through Thailand from the north.

Lebanese Lesbians

So I got my sister this cute t-shirt last Christmas that says "Everyone Loves a Lebanese Girl" on it, and some dude at a strip mall stopped her to interview her about it, only he misread it, and then he posted the interview on Youtube. The video's been posted for months but one of our cousins found it only yesterday. Wonder what he was searching for...

Yes, I am back in Virginia and so excited. Check it out:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Home is where...

It's already been almost a week since I left, and I only stayed four days but I already miss my bungalow on Hat Yao. And most of it was the brilliant bungalow I scored. Southern Thailand is a bit pricier than the north, but you can still find reasonable deals. I ended up at a place called Silver Beach where there was a bit of construction going on (since it's low season), some nice new bungalows, and the tiny building I stayed in. As soon as I got there, I used the last of my iPod charge, put on some loud music and unpacked everything I had in my bag. I really felt like I was setting up house. The bed took up most of the main room, but there were shelves on either side and that's where I put my stuff. I big clean mosquito net hung from the ceiling, and there were windows on each of three sides. The front porch had no railing but served as a good place for reading. The bathroom was amazing. The shower was, as per usual for that level of accomodation, not separate from the rest of the room. The toilet was a stand-up on a ledge, that I flushed using water I scooped from a cistern next to it. The sink had no actual drain pipe running from it to anywhere. Rather, any water that went into the sink splashed on my toes. I just looked at it as cleaning my feet, I guess. My door mat was in the shape of a dog bone. There was an amazing palm tree of foam on my front door, and two fish kissing on my bathroom mirror. Photos tk. I've moved on to bigger and better things. Met up with my dad. Stayed in a cool place in Bangkok with crazy lighting and a rooftop pool, then an overnight train to Nonkai which was straight out of the fifties or something, then a really amazing little guest house in Nonkai right on the Mekong, and now on the other side in Laos, at a pretty, modest place, full of antiques and things. I am happy and excited for all that lies ahead (two more weeks away from happy U.S. of A) but still yearn for my bungalow.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Did you know?

That after Israelis serve their mandatory military service (for meager pay, of course) they are offered some lump sum of money if they agree to remain reservists in their nation's army. And they are known to take the money and make temporary escape to the hippest backpacker destinations all over the globe and party their asses off. And this is why, the other day when I was walking around Hat Rin--Koh Phangan's most developed beach, known for its full moon parties--I was given a flier in Hebrew advertising something. (I mean of course English is everywhere, but you know, that's because the USA is a superpower and all that colonialist domination stuff.)


1) When wandering the many lanes and back alleys of the Trinket Market in Bangkok the other day, confronted by stall upon stall of tiny Buddhas carved in stone and piled in cases, I stopped at one where propped on top of the Buddhas were figurines with enlarged genitals, penises erect and taller than their heads and figurines of couples attached at the genitals, missionary and otherwise. A tourist draw, I'm sure.
2) On the tiny (touristy but not overdeveloped) island of Koh Phangan (off Thailand's southern peninsula, east side) it is debatable whether or not it is necessary to use a mosquito net. In the middle of my first night at the first bungalow operation I stayed at, I pulled the provided net down from the low rafters above me and along with the net a condom fell on me. It was thankfully in its wrapper, the English pharmacy brand "Boots" emblazoned across it. Left by some well-meaning British traveler is my guess.
3) Wandering a lonely stretch of road in Koh Phangan, I came across a regular Thai home that in the garden showcased rows and boxes of random junk of the left-behind weather-beaten variety--like cosmetics bottles half used with the labels worn by hands and the sun and old books protected from the humidity by slips of plastic and bunches of sad-looking snorkel masks and cases of flowered clothing and old shoes piled in cement blocks. All of it for sale. And a sign in front that read in painted green letters: "Before you leave this island PLEASE put everything (also broken) that you not use in this big box. I will try to recicle." (sic) And a French translation below. And a small addendum on another sign above that read: "Food is also wellllcome thanks included microbiotic food" (sic). On one of the outermost shelves, next to some dusty handheld fans in colored plastic, I spotted three dildos. Two were the hard kind and just sitting out exposed to the elements. The third was wrapped in dingy plastic and labeled so: "Soft, good for beginners." (I've since been told that this is something of a goldmine since dildos (and pornography, etc) are not legally sold in this country.

List of a fraction of the things i saw the other day from the back of a motorscooter transversing Koh Phangan

*an elephant in a clearing in the jungle wearing some kind of outfit
*several large trucks crowded in back with sad-looking people wearing green (or orange?) uniforms standing
*the place in the center of the island where the paved parts of the road that bisects it don't quite meet yet (bumpy!)
*a decrepit half-sunken houseboat
*very many dogs (from mangy to cute) running out into the road
*some tourists in 4-wheelers
*so many palm trees
*3 or 4 glittering Buddhist temples in the middle of the jungle
*many signs (in English, obviously) for parties, resorts, restaurants, bars, bungalows, beauty shops, etc
*many Thais whizzing by us on their own bikes, most notably a kid that must have been 7 years old
*the gorgeous sky, like outerspace and clouds, like aliens

Monday, June 2, 2008

food log

Due to the fact that I haven't posted in ages, I feel guilty. Also, a certain someone keeps complaining to me how the first thing you see when I go to my blog is a disturbing image from Lebanon. Supposedly it's all a big party there now, so I am misrepresenting. So now, with my 15 minutes remaining on my web timer at the hostel I'm staying at in Bangkok, I am going to attempt a quick post. I'm going to be here in Southeast Asia for about a month. Arrived about 36 hours ago now. Mostly been wandering around the city center, and taking an overnight bus to an island far south tomorrow. Due to some stomach issues I've been having, as well as the amazingness of the food selection here, I've decided to keep a food log. Here is Day 1:

(1 US dollar equals roughly 30 Thai baht)

*vanilla bun -- Hualampang train station -- warm, sweet but not too sweet -- 10b
*pineapple chunks w/chili salt -- Siam Square shopping mall food court -- 10b
*minced pork and kale w/white rice and bottle of pepsi -- spicey! -- canal-side stand w/tables north of Siam Square -- 40b
*small bottle of singha -- western-style bar on soi 11 in Sukumvit -- escaping the sudden rain -- 90b
*mango -- tasty white flesh -- from a tiny storefront around the corner from my hostel -- 5b
*pad thai w/shrimp and split a large singha with a really nice lady from my hostel dorm room headed back to Canada -- noodles delicious and beer refreshing -- tiny restaurant near Hualampang -- 100b
*small box of pomegranate green tea -- very sweet -- 7/11 between Hualampang and my hostel -- 10b

day one total: 270b (not quite $10)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lebanon is Frozen/Burning

I know it's been too long since I posted, but I don't really have the chance to say too much right now. Everything is happening...and nothing. I am worried I scarred the 2nd graders I subbed for yesterday by reading them a story about a butcher who put his wife in the town sausage, and I'm finishing up my thesis, working my ass off, leaving SF in three weeks for Thailand and Laos, and I just found out (since I am so much in a little bubble), that Lebanon is burning. Akh.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I carry a torch...

It is Sunday morning in San Francisco. Despite the few beers I had last night and the late sleeping time, I forced myself out of bed early to come to a cafe and get a few things done--for school, for miscellaneous freelance projects. So I'm sitting in a cafe tapping away at my laptop and the guy next to me has a hospital bracelet on his wrist and I'm wondering if that's a fashion because last week when my cousin's baby was born, even after he'd left the hospital with his wife and new daughter, he kept his bracelet on and when I asked him about it he said he liked it. Which makes sense. So I wonder why this guy sitting next to me was in the hospital. Doesn't seem like a new dad since he's pretty skinny and young, wearing very fashionable jeans and a shirt that shows his flat belly. Okay, so the cafe I am at is just a few blocks from Castro Street and certainly not the place to go to meet straight available men. According to a fifty-something school teacher I substituted for last week, San Francisco is not the place to meet straight available men anyway, since the ratio of them to the women who are seeking them is so out of balance. Moreover, because of this discrepancy, the ones one does meet feel free to act like fools. Aren't we mostly all just beautiful fools, our foolishness fluxuating from one moment to the next? The teacher told me she had to move back east to meet a husband, suggested I do the same. That's why I'm moving to Richmond, didn't you hear? Find myself a husband. Make some babies. Get on with things. But first I need to get this work done. On this sunny Sunday. The weather here is so warm, last night all I needed to wear was a t-shirt. San Francisco is not supposed to be like that. No matter how warm day is, night should bring up scarves and goosebumps. It was nice. Hence the beers, I guess. On my way to the cafe just now I saw a man out jogging. He was wearing a shirt that said "Beijing 2008." And I was all, "What is he thinking?" But really, I'm confused about this whole Olympic hubbub. Can't we just acknowledge that the Olympics are a huge, corrupt, commercial institution, however international and historical? And, true, some athletes work their whole lives to be a part and that's a fine and beautiful thing, a crowning achievement, etc. But, just as the professional level of so many pursuits that start out as dreams, it is a complex thing in regards to where the money comes from and what the business points are. And yes China's human rights abuses are deplorable and disgusting, but don't we have our own abuses? Why are these torch protests more media-worthy than the anti-war and anti-torture protests of some weeks ago? And I'm sure you all know this by now, but the whole torch thing didn't start in ancient Greece but with the Berlin Olympics when Hitler was in charge, when he was not yet a villainous war criminal, though that was the year he banned Jewish athletes from the German team and also the year that some teams didn't send Jewish athletes for fear of offending his sensibilities. This was a bit of information being spouted off on NPR the other morning and woke me up and has stuck with me. And the other night there was a woman sitting at my kitchen table, idly looking at the headlines of the papers spread across it and she exclaimed, "Oh, gosh!" at a story about how the Olympic torch burned hundreds of Tibetan protesters who impeded its path. Then she realized she was reading The Onion.

Like I said, Sunday morning at a cafe in San Francisco, and I've got work to do.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

like moths, moments flitting in and out and back and forth...

Standing on a sidewalk in Boston the other night, alone, waiting, sorta tipsy, around 1:30am, I realized it was snowing. Not soft, white, fluffy, but small, hard shining--"wintry mix," they call it? No matter, it was lovely. I haven't seen snow in three years I guess, and I was already really happy anyway, and so it made me even more happy, punctuated that moment as perfect, etc. And I heard a young lady leaning up against the pizza place I was standing in front of complain loudly to her friend: "When is this f-ing snow sh-t gonna give up?" Ha. They proceeded to have a rather inane conversation with a guy who came up to them wearing a fluorescent safety vest. I can't recall it now but I was stuck to every word, distracted from my snow.

Maha is a common Arabic name and the name of the female character in the Arabic textbook I have been studying from for the past year. Maha is dour and sullen. She feels lonely as an Arab college student living in New York with her parents, who, although they let her dress like all her friends, do not permit her to stay out late or have a boyfriend. Maha is sort of pretty but it's hard to tell since she always looks sad or bewildered in the black and white photos in our textbook or the short monologues on our DVD. Today our new Arabic teacher told us that Maha means "cow's eye" in Arabic, so cow eyes are assumed to be beautiful things. I can't specifically remember ever looking a cow in the eye but I do suppose it would be beautiful, all big and glossy. It's still a sort of strange thing though.

Until today I had not known that there is ample evidence that the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad was a staged event. Thanks, P.

What else? Since I flew Jetblue this past weekend, I watched that personal Satellite tv they have. I watched probably ten times more tv than I have in the past three months combined. I want to know if there is any situation now where a camera crew is not present to record people's lives. I want to know why I was so hooked by "Intervention", a horrid show on A&E where a drug addict is followed through their days and then in the end surprised by an intervention of his loved ones. I watched this woman shoot meth, like, five times, and I swear the two men who were sitting around me watched it too. I could feel them both turn their heads to my screen as it happened.

And there is a woman unpacking an entire houseful of ikea-looking furniture into the floor level flat of the house in front of mine. I wonder if she knows how many transients have slept on her new stoop in the years the house has been worked on and I wonder if she fully understands that most of the windows look out onto a tiny passageway that allows home access to me and the 16 other people who live in the two houses behind hers. Or maybe it doesn't matter to her. Maybe she's just the assistant or the shopper or the realtor or the mistress or the whatever.

Weak entry. Tired girl.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What is it good for?

As of today, the current U.S. war in Iraq has gone on for five years. To mark the horrendous occasion, I woke up at 6am, packed up some food, got on my bike, met friends at 7 and headed to downtown San Francisco, where we met up with even more bikers. We took a series of rides together, to give support to various acts of civil disobedience, lockdowns at the Federal Reserve Building, the Chevron corporate office, and the UCSF campus at Mission Bay. Then we joined a festive march going down Market Street and helped stir up some hubbub at various Market Street intersections, two where die-ins were taking place and protesters laid down in the intersection. The second die-in drew a large crowd and we stood on the sidewalk for two hours as those trapped by policemen in the intersection were arrested. Here are some photos I took. Those are the basics and all I have the energy for right now. (Check out Lizzy's current post for more on our day.)

AND for the past few weeks, I had tuned out on Barack Obama. But, after hearing about it from many folks, I decided I should actually listen to his recent speech on race, delivered in Philadelphia:

Yes, it is a good piece of rhetoric, but more than that it makes me feel like maybe this man should be president. He seems to have good reasons for wanting it.

AND I was telling a friend the other day that I am sad aboumoving to Richmond, Va. in the fall because there will be no Rainbow there. And he said I should grow a garden. That's something I'd have to learn but I think it might be a very good idea.

AND I have nearly finished The Road. Damn, Cormac McCarthy can certainly compose a tension-wrought and bleak future for the last few of our human race, a time in which co-ops and politicians and wars are blackened wisps of haunting memory. I had it on the table in the cafe when I met my professor there yesterday, and he said, "Oh, God, you're reading that." (Not as in "why?" but as in "what a trip!") So, yeah, I've got to go finish it now. Sweet dreams to me.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Friends and Strangers

"...there are no strangers. There are only versions of ourselves, many of which we have not embraced, most of which we wish to protect ourselves from. For the stranger is not foreign, she is random, not alien but remembered; and it is the randomness of the encounter with our already known--yet unacknowledged--selves that summons the ripple of alarm. That makes us reject the figure and the emotions it provokes--especially when those emotions are profound," wrote Toni Morrison.

"We die to each other daily. What we know of other people is only our memory of the moments during which we knew them. And they have changed since then. To pretend that they and we are the same is a convenient social convention which sometimes must be broken. We must also remember that at every meeting we are meeting a stranger," wrote T.S. Elliot.

"...our social personality is a creation in the minds of others. Even the very simple act that we call 'seeing a person we know' is in part an intellectual one. We fill the physical appearance of the individual we see with all the notions we have about him, and of the total picture that we form for ourselves, these notions certainly occupy a greater part. In the end they swell his cheeks so perfectly, follow the line of his nose in an adherence so exact, they do so well at nuancing the sonority of his voice as though the latter were only a transparent envelope that each time we see this face and hear this voice, it is these notions that we encounter again, that we hear," wrote Marcel Proust.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

letters make words make strings of words which may or may not have meaning depending on the reader or the writer or the world

(This bird and this tree are made of Arabic words and come from a book I'll talk about at the end of this post.)

I have been fixating on this idea:

"There is, they said, a good deal of evidence suggesting that at the deepest level of reality, time as we are accustomed to it does not actually exist, that we live in an eternal present. If I can comprehend it at all, this idea is not a very comfortable one."

This is a quote from Lydia Davis, paraphrasing a radio show she heard in her preface to The Life of Henry Brulard by Stendhal (New York Review Books, 2002), a brick of a book I have been carrying around for a few weeks and finally finished. Davis is trying to say that through his "strangely fragmented, digressive, and yet beautifully structured psuedonymous memoir" Stendhal achieves a sort of eternal present. Maybe she's right. He certainly approaches something unique and wonderful and strange. But I am fixated on the idea that the future and the past do not exist, that we live in an eternal present. I mean, I know carpe deim and all that but really who doesn't spend their days thinking about things that have happened and looking forward to things that may, or planning for them or deciding how to avoid them? But this isn't the point I see Davis nearing here. Rather, to my mind at least, she is saying that everything is the present moment, including those memories and those future plans. And the physical, actually-happening world is merely part of all that. Then how to account for change and the piling of days, one after the next? I'm not sure. Perhaps something like: a new present moment every infinite moment and no definitive way to order or define so go at it if you need to. I'd suggest art. Or other actions that make time feel different, like falling, or cooking, or talking, or sex, or skipping, or going to a new place, or tether ball, or substitute teaching. Anyway, it's really about letting go (of ego) and the dissolution (of structure) or something.

But I digress. I was trying to somehow get to Cairo, an earth-shattering city where I was fortunate enough to live for about nine months between 2004 and 2005. I met some life-altering folk through a job I had at a gallery there. I was a stranger in a strange place among people who thoroughly delighted and also comforted me. Two of those people were young German graphic artists Ben Wittner and Sascha Thoma. Those months I had the pleasure of sharing the eternal present with them in Cairo they began a project which seems to have come to some fruition presently. They've been working intensely on and are soon releasing Arabesque, a book about modern graphic design, illustration, and typography in the Middle East. I'd encourage you to check out the Arabic-inspired Latin fonts they created (click on "the fonts"), as well as some photographs (click on "gallery") they took in Cairo, which give a clue as to their inspiration. I'm damn impressed.

Monday, February 18, 2008

circling home

Don't I look bad-as$ in my full green ensemble through the mirror? Yes, say yes. You know I do. I was intrigued by the uneven floors in the ferry bathroom. That would be the ferry that we took back from Tiburon, after we biked out there, over that bridge some refer to as the Golden Gate, and eastwards, edging the water, until we got to downtown Tiburon, pretty much like any quaint "old" downtown in a western city by the water, with wood and stone walkways that lead one to small boutiques and overpriced restaurants. It was certainly very nice, and I have Lizzy to thank. She has become obsessed with the Tiburon bike trip and told me about it a lot and finally gotten me to go with her. We passed many interesting things, like a man unicycling on the bridge, the spot Lizzy had her awful accident when she got rear-ended by a car last fall (she on bike), some fountains, lots of adorable kids and then finally an ugly one, etc, etc. Here's Lizzy making blood rush to her head as we relaxed in the sun and waited for the ferry:

And also rather nice today I got to hang out with some dogs and their charming shepherd among ridiculously gorgeous layers of greens and yellows coating sandy cliffs and looking out at the ridiculously gorgeous layers of blues and purples and whites that were the Pacific Ocean and the sky from there.

And so I got some sun on my nose and sand in my shoes, and feel a bit more in my body again. And it's President's Day so my roommates are around and cleaning and cooking and making noise which is pleasant (as long as they don't scream and smash things) because they are cool and I like sharing a home with them, and I am about to really get down to the business of working on my thesis. I swear my life on it. I already ate and did my weekly chores and everything.

One last thing before I go: Listening to Lebanese women talk the other night after grilled meat and tabbouli in Walnut Creek and my ears perked and my heart fell when they said their hopes and dreams of going back home, of living in Lebanon again at some point are vanished now. It took a lot (trust me, I have been around the talk all my life) but now they see life is much more fortunate and secure here. Especially after what has been going on and what there may be to come. But I guess only time will tell, unless, of course, I take matters into my own hands, which is highly unlikely since I need to work on my thesis (which is coming along very well, thank you).

Monday, February 11, 2008


What is it to be happy? What is it to be good? I have come to believe the two are intertwined. They intersect and play off of each other, fuel each other.

I was pretty moody this past weekend. All stuck up in my own thoughts, and thoughts that weren't taking me anywhere but made my mind spin in circles. A few things made the spinning stop. First, was alcohol. A wine-tasting Friday night, more wine on Saturday, then by two beers while playing pool at a fun birthday gathering, and then mimosas Sunday morning at a lovely backyard brunch in Cole Valley. The dozen or so people gathered at this brunch directly discussed the nature of goodness in our world, and whether being good or seeking to be so somehow works against you, of whether it should be such a conscious quest. The champagne and the lovely garden we were sitting in made it a light and lovely exploration and certainly an interesting one to have with people who were mostly strangers to me. But then I came down off the alcohol later, right back into my stormy mood.

Other shocks of happy this weekend included:

--hanging out with my little cousin Maya, who immediately took my hand when I got to her house and insisted, over and over, on being tickled, and then laughing her guts out each time. When she was getting ready for bed, she insisted we play with her kitchen set and when I asked her for a(n imaginary) milkshake, she said "tikram 'aynik", an Arabic phrase which literally means "bless your eye." In English, I guess we would say, "your wish is my command" or something of the sort, basically a sweet response to "Please..." It was very warming since she's not even two and a half and has never said that to me before. And the exchange itself is something of a role reversal, since it's usually she who is asking for something.

--in a cafe, listening to mother explain to her young daughter, who must have been four years old or so, the following: "I read a news story the other day about a book someone wrote recently where he claims that the key to happiness is to do something that scares you every single day. Makes you brave and happy, he said." The girl solemnly nodded. I hope she remembers. I think it's good advice.

Happy today, too, when subbing for the fourth day at a tiny middle school near downtown where kids who had been terrors to me last week finally started to treat me like a human being, or at least listen to me. I had them all write letters to their new science teacher, introducing themselves to her, and then had the pleasure of reading each one. Some pretty fantastic stuff, and now I feel like I've learned a few more of their names and a lot more about them.

What else happy can I tell you? I've just begun cooking with kale, and it's pretty amazing. Favorite form so far: sauteed with garlic and oil and then sandwiched inside a grilled cheese with juicy, red California tomatoes.

And one last happy/good bit is that my old friend Lee Cohen has just started what promises to be a neat blog. A post on education caught my attention today, and has left me eager for the continuation of the story it begins.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

in between asleep and awake...

In the past couple of weeks, I have started to remember my dreams. This is somewhat complicated by the fact that a couple of weeks ago I went through the box T. left in my closet nearly a year ago now, and I found that he had left in it his old, paint-splattered clock radio. For a while, I have been using my cell phone as an alarm clock. It's pretty convenient after all, but when I found the clock radio, I thought it might be cool to wake up to the news. So that's what I've been doing lately--remembering my dreams and waking up to the news, on npr, of course. As opposed to my previous muddy morning consciousness interrupted by a cell phone ring tone, I now have a splintered morning consciousness of my own dreamscapes spliced in with whatever npr is broadcasting at 6:30 or 7:30 or whenever I set the alarm for. It's kind of neat. I can't remember what was on the news this morning, but my dreams involved flying on some spaceship-like plane to Australia for a funeral and Argentina with my family, and then acting in a movie on the plane, and being filmed in a sex scene and then criticized for my performance, and a strange resort in Argentina and shopping with my mom at a Trader Joe's (in what was supposedly Buenos Aires but doesn't seem like it in remembering it) where she stocked up our shopping cart like we were staying for weeks when in fact it was simply an overnight layover, and the plane tickets were around $9,000, and that was supposed to be a deal. What is up with dreams? There is a scene I wrote forever ago now but I am using it in a new story, about a character waking up in a semi-dark room, and I'm stuck on the following passage:

"The dogs howl and bark before the sun, their desperate chorus tugging at the sheet of night shrouding the city. The sound invades her dreams, the thrum of animals creeping into the neverland that she will only know wakefully in pieces. Pieces of people she’s known and hasn’t known and still knows. Pieces recurring in nonexistent places: a war-torn pier in Brooklyn, a school in a skyscraper on the Mall in D.C., a swirling ship docked in a coastal city that she has seen from the sky, that she has always lived in and will always live in. Dream-pieces that the dogs tear into smaller pieces and tear and tear again until they are the dust that settles finally here in the room where they fell asleep."

I've gotten the comment from a few readers that they don't understand the part about Brooklyn and D.C. and the coastal city. And I'm curious as to whether other people besides myself have dreams that take place in settings that don't exist in the non-dream world but that are amalgamations of places that do exist in the non-dream world, and are places they dream about again and again. Anyway, that's what happens with me, and I haven't yet figured out the best way to explain it I guess.

In other news, our funny/sexy/sad reading went really awesomely well on Thursday night. Click here to read what Lizzy had to say.

And I found a decent article about Obama's shifting consciousness regarding Palestine and Israel. It is disheartening but also I guess we'd have a better chance of Obama changing his tune once he got in office than Hillary. But there will never, not ever, be a guarantee for that, and that's the problem I'm having today. The American presidential machine sure does make me feel nauseous.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


I was subbing at a school today where a few kids had lice. It hit the fan while I was trying to remember what happens with negative and positive numbers when solving inequalities. And all of a sudden everyone was freaked they had it. Someone was telling someone else off for giving it to her. Someone came back to the room crying because she had it, and asked for the homework. Kids screamed, one kid claimed there was "A LICE ON THE FLOOR!" Girls gathered around and checked each other. I pretty much gave up then. Everyone got to go get their heads checked in the teacher's lounge.

I had lice once, when we lived in Sudan, I think. I was young, younger than five, too young to be freaked out, I guess. (I remember my mother taking a special comb to my head...) But also I'm thinking hysteria wasn't such a big thing back in those days?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Very many much

There are very many things occurring in my head and around me. I'm not sure where to begin or what to say. Coolest, maybe, is that I discovered my poem published on the International Museum of Women was translated into Arabic. My mother was delighted and claims she will carefully read through and make sure that I have been accurately represented in her tongue. My own study of Arabic has been going slowly but steadily, but I'm not so far along that it would be something I could take on myself with any sort of efficiency. Something else that's pretty exciting, if not a little nervous-making for me, is that this Thursday at 7:30 a couple of compatriots and I will be staging the very first funny/sexy/sad reading at the cafe I frequent on a corner close to my house. Check us out on myspace. Become our friend! This weekend has been uber-busy; I've done most of my Arabic homework (a task more difficult each week), finished a major revision on a key story in the collection I'll be turning in for my MA culminating project this spring, written my first review for Kirkus Discoveries, and gotten through a good chunk of The Life of Henry Brulard. This reading is for a course on autobiography that I've just begun, the last course of my MA, and I must say I am much intrigued by the things that Stendhal demonstrates, through the amusing and careless listing of the major events of his life that stick out in his memory, a few truths about the reality of memory, as well as the fundamental influence of sex and the sexual on the development of a human psyche. (Boy, that was a long sentence! Now I'll give you a short one:) Spoiled brat that he seems to have been. And now I'm trying to slog through a particularly theoretic article by Paul DeMan, tracing the development and conception of allegory and symbol and irony in European literature. I knew there was a reason I went back to school to focus on writing instead of lit. There's so much more but I've got to go. I'm having dinner at a friend's house. There will be mussels gathered today at a beach south of here, and mushrooms foraged from, among other places such as highway medians, Golden Gate Park. I'm not bragging or anything. Okay, maybe I am. Oh, and my favorite quote from Stendhal:

"The fact is I have no company in the evenings to distract me from my thoughts of the morning."
A distinction nicely drawn, no?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

death and movies

As I left work today, the sky was darkening. I walked the few downtown blocks between my office and my Arabic school, relieved that a long, intense day of dentistry was behind me, happy to be free and alive and all those good things. Just before an intersection, a woman who was walking by me turned to me. She smiled. I can't remember what exactly she was wearing, but know it was tailored, masculine. In contrast she had a very feminine, beautiful face, fresh. She wore a small hat, cocked stylishly to the side. She had some sort of asymmetrical, perfectly coiffed hair cut. There were some soft curls to one side and the other was cut close to her head. Cool but not hipster. Made-up but not overdone.

I met her look and smiled back.

"You look like a character in a movie," she said.

"So do you," I answered. She smiled bigger and kept walking, further ahead.

Weird, huh? I was wearing a sweater, a purple skirt, brown tights, my hair haphazardly up. She seemed much more character-like to me, but I guess it's all in the eye of the beholder, and a comment made to a stranger is all the more fascinating for its randomness.

I'm glad I looked like a movie character and not a celebrity. Speaking of which, what is this business with hot, young actors dying of drug overdoses? Last week Brad Renfro, who is more like a memory at this point that anything. And today Heath Ledger. How could Heath Ledger die? He was in glossy colors across the gossip mags in the last couple of months. He was in Brokeback Mountain. Of all the folks we see in the People and US magazines we get for the waiting room at work and pour over during our lunches, he seemed like someone worth having a conversation with maybe. Not like it would have ever happened. But now it's definite. It won't. That's what death means.

The Australian news piece I just read said Heath was paying $23,000/mo for his Manhattan apartment. I hope that's wrong. Now I'm rambling. And yesterday I found myself having a very serious conversation with a friend over some Ethiopian food and beer. We touched on the Iraq War, the upcoming elections, the impending recession, and Tom Cruise. Where did that come from? We seriously dissed the man for the weird rumors surrounding his religion and his identity. That's right...he came up because I was talking about my thoughts after seeing There Will be Blood which got us to Paul Thomas Anderson which got us to Magnolia and then Tom Cruise's excellent role in that movie. Apparently the character Cruise plays in Magnolia is most like him in real life, or at least very much like him in a recently recorded interview about Scientology. Creepy. What does this all say about characters and celebrities and movies and life? You tell me.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

for your consideration...

A piece from Time Magazine my mother sent me about food purchases in specific households around the world.

A recipe for a flour-less chocolate cake posted by my good friend, Belle, recently on her blog. Yes, beets are a main ingredient.

And, last but not least, the following clip from Persepolis, the best movie I've seen in a while. It just opened in San Francisco yesterday:

(Don't be thrown by the French or put off by the cuteness. The movie is subtitled, dynamic, and intense.)