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Required Reading

mood: calm | drinking: agua


Books have always been a huge part of my life. I grew up without a TV, and my mom would take my sister and I to the Dixon Public Library once a week. We’d fill an apple box with books, take them home, and by the time we returned the next week, we had read all the books (some of them twice).

I had an early affinity for fantasy. I devoured fairy tales (the Grimm versions, not Disney), Greek myths, Indian folk tales starring Ganesh and Kali, Lewis’ Narnia, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Baum’s Land of Oz, George MacDonald’s stories of the Princess and Curdie and the goblins who lived just beneath a layer of earth, like moles.

With all these visions of mayhem and magic and brave, bold girls like Lucy Pevensie, I have no idea how I missed out on Robin McKinley. But I did.

I only discovered her by accident a few months ago, thanks to a vampire tale (her only book featuring vampires) called Sunshine.

I was intrigued by her writing style, her fully-realized alter-world, and her strong, stubborn female heroine. So I started poking around the web for a sequel or prequel to Sunshine, which doesn’t exist. I found instead the rest of McKinley’s ouevre, most notably The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword.

I read Hero while still pregnant, and finished Sword while in the hospital after delivering Lucette. And I decided then and there that McKinley’s books would have a prominent place on Lucette’s already packed bookshelf. They will be required reading.

Enough of these namby pamby Disney damsels in distress, whose only hope is a handsome, vapid prince to come along and kiss them, so they can live out their lives in pampered, dull luxury behind the walls of glistening stone turrets.

If Lucette wants to be a princess, I want her to model herself after Aerin in The Hero and the Crown, who gentles a wounded war horse, goes off dragon hunting, and saves her entire country from doom. I want her to favor Rosie in Spindle’s End, who hates the curly golden ringlets bestowed on her by fairy godmothers…

“When she was old enough to hold minimal conversations, the itsy-bitsy-cutesy-coo sort of grown-ups would pull the soft ringlets gently and tell her what a pretty little girl she was. She would stare at this sort of grown-up and say, ‘I am not pretty. I am intelligent. And brave.’ ”

So far this month, I’ve worked my way through four more of McKinley’s books, and I have the last few that I haven’t yet read on order. I’m going to be dreadfully sad when I read the last page of the last novel, though.

McKinley feels like a once-in-a-lifetime discovery, and I pity the poor author whose book is the first to follow my McKinley binge. They will suffer horribly by comparison.

-Lo, who will always find time to read, newborn infant or no.

Another Day Another Dollar

Mood: Clickety-Clackety
Drinking: Water

With all the recent excitement involving the wee new nephew, I’ve neglected to mention the trip to Portland.

In the calm before the holiday/baby storm, Boy and I packed the LeeLoo and a few choice bags into a rental car and hit the road northward to rainier climes.

Boy’s parents lived in Oregon before returning to California a few years ago, so I’ve been to the Pacific Northwest before, just not for long. Boy’s sister now lives there with her husband, a Greek Orthodox priest, and their two children. She’s been there for two years, at least, and our visit was long overdue.

Not to mention our adorable friend C who, as many northern Californians seem to do, recently made the Portland move. I also have another Portland friend who I hadn’t seen in 8 years.

And then there was LeeLoo’s Internets Boyfriend and his fine ladies. (They are so fine, they deserve a post of their own, so I’ll save the dog tale for later, if that’s ok with you…)

So. Obviously. Lots of reasons to visit Portland.

I’m not sure what I expected. Rain, yes, you always expect the rain up there. Big green trees, yes, that too. But so many San Franciscans seem to migrate northward with stories of more affordable housing and a city that is just as wonderful as our foggy town.

So I was expecting, I don’t know, some sort of San Francisco-like mecca. Rain-weathered Victorians and fog-shrouded hills. A bit of mist and magic, perhaps.

And while I found Portland and its people to be perfectly pleasant, if a bit too cold (the weather, not the people), I don’t think I’ll be giving up my San Francisco residency in exchange for a cheaper mortgage anytime soon.

The magic just wasn’t there for me, not like it is here. That’s the biggest reason why not. It was a bit too crunchy for me, as well. (Somehow there seem to actually be more hippies in Portland than San Francisco.) Also, San Francisco summers are about as cold as I like it. Chill the air below 40 and add a few bucketloads of rain and I’m staying far away.

Speaking of the rain, I totally showed my tourist stripes whilst knocking about downtown Portland with Boy and Sister-in-Law. We stepped onto the street and I popped open my plaid umbrella to keep the rain off my head and, oh look! I’m the only one standing in the rain with an umbrella.

In San Francisco, you can tell the tourists by their summertime shorts. In Portland, you pick them out by their umbrellas.

The one thing that makes me blink and think twice, though? Powell’s Books. It’s every bit as magical as you’ve heard. Which is saying something. Because you know those certain places that get you all worked into a lather — you hear so much and you’ve waited so long and you’re so excited to finally see it for yourself and then you get there and it’s oh, so disappointing.

Not Powell’s.

There is nothing there to disappoint. A city block full of lovely books. All easily shelved and cleverly organized. The book jockeys are sweet and helpful. And the lady in the science fiction room needed no explanation as to who Sergei Lukyanenko was.

And even better than the two heaping bags of books Boy and I walked out of there with? Powell’s bought a few of my books!

Oh yes, you can now find The Secrets of Falling at Powell’s Books. At Burnside. In the Blue Room. Small Press section. Poetry shelf. Go down to the W’s and look, there I am.

Lo, who’s still reading her way through those two bags full.

The Obliterator

Mood: Pleasantly Tired
Drinking: Agua

I’m a sucker for a well-told fairy tale. Pretty much any story involving magic, elves, and winged things has caught my attention from an early age.

So when I picked up Eragon, the first book in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance trilogy, a year ago or more, I was hooked pretty quickly. Talking dragons and ancient languages and elfin warrior maids, oh my! I finished Eldest, the second book, a few days ago, but there’s one chapter that is still stuck in my head…

It’s a conversation between the story’s protagonist, Eragon, and his dragon, Saphira. (Seriously, just read the books, okay?) In the first book, during a great battle, Eragon sustained a terrible wound on his back. Though the wound is healed now, physically, he is still experiencing agonizing episodes of pain that spring from the scar. The conversation I keep replaying in my head is about this wound, and it goes like this:

Eragon: “I have a new name for pain.”
Saphira: “What’s that?”
Eragon: “The Obliterator. Because when you’re in pain, nothing else can exist. Not thought. Not emotion. Only the drive to escape the pain. When it’s strong enough, the Obliterator strips us of everything that makes us who we are, until we’re reduced to creatures less than animals, creatures with a single goal and desire: escape.”

I don’t know if this thought would have resonated so deeply with me before my recent injury. It’s the biggest “wound” I’ve ever sustained, and definitely the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. From the moment my wrist bones cracked in February, I was in a great deal of pain day and night for six weeks or more.

The cast came off a week ago, and I started physical therapy today, so I’m about six weeks or so from being back to “normal”. (The fingers don’t bend and the wrist doesn’t turn the way it should. ) Although I have an itchy new rash from being wrapped up in a cast for so long, the pain is nothing now compared to what it was. Mostly I’m just relieve to see my arm again and to have a list of actual exercises I can do to help myself heal.

But in the first few weeks of this ordeal, I came to know the Obliterator. I couldn’t think about anything but the need to get away from the pain. All the creative bones in my body were held captive by the two broken bones in my wrist. They demanded all my attention. They forced me into silence.

Painkillers were prescribed in plenty, but then comes the detached medicine-head feeling, with attendant nightmares of the actual and headcase variety. So now, nearly two months later, I’m pill-free and nearly pain-free, and feeling like I have so much to catch up on. So many unwritten words, so many unanswered emails, so many unfilmed poems, so much that didn’t get done because I just wasn’t able to do it.

More than one person has said, “Well, I’m sure you’ll write some good poems because of this.” But I haven’t.

Physical pain isn’t inspiring. It isn’t romantically tragic. It isn’t something you can analyze and compartmentalize in your head. It is relentless and real, and unlike the emotional version, I can’t turn it into something beautiful.

A few weeks after surgery, when my new robot arm was causing all kinds of trouble, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a series called “War Without End”. It followed two soldiers in physical therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Both of them came back from Iraq without their legs.

I was incredibly moved by their stories. Here I was, sitting at home feeling sorry for myself, while my injury, though serious, is neither life threatening nor permanent. And these guys can’t even go home yet. Their lives are changed forever by bombs and fear. I just got six months of discomfort because I was 4-wheeling on vacation. It knocked a bit of perspective into me.

But I guess the Obliterator visits us all in different forms. Reminds us that we are not invincible. Keeps us humble. Reduces us down to the simple liquid sum of our parts. We live. We breathe. We hurt. We go on.

I don’t have any especially profound revelation from all of this. I just know that I’m acutely aware, now, of my own frailty. And in the end, for all of us, there can be no escaping it.

-Lo, who has a long way to go to catch up on all those unwritten poems. Is it really April, already?

Miserable and Inadequate

Mood: tingly, and not in the good way
Drinking: Diet V. Coke. (i’m not an addict, i swear)

Ran across an old interview this a.m. with poet Justin Chin. (Justin writes amazing things like this: “Cats and dogs see spirits that humans do not. When I walk through my apartment with my cat, we see different things. I see a mess that needs cleaning up, a stove, a scratching post, a dehydrated plant. My cat sees powerless demons lounging around with nothing to do…”)

Anyway, in this interview, Justin answers a question about his reading habits by saying, “I like books that instill jealousy and feelings of insecurity and worthlessness in me and my art… I also love Alice Munro. She makes it looks so effortless. She can write soft, slow, pretty stories with such underlying turbulence. Crafty and subversive ? God, I love her work, but it always makes me feel so miserable and inadequate afterwards.”

I cannot tell you how comforting it was to read that. Comforting in the sense of “Ah, you too? So I am not the only one, then.”

I have often thought that the so-called artists who strut about with puffy banty chests, thinking to themselves, “God, I am so fucking awesome and talented and did I mention AWESOME!” — I’ve often thought that those guys are the ones who actually suck. While the people who actually have a spark of talent are the ones groveling about in dark corners, hog-tied by the growing fear that they actually DO suck, that they are never going to get it right, and yet they pick up a pen and write, anyway, in spite of the fear, because of the fear. Those are the ones I like to read.

And those are the ones that send me whimpering into dark corners, all miserable and inadequate. All my favorite writers do that to me. It’s this delicious coupling of amazement and abasement. The thrill of discovering gorgeous lines of words all strung together just so and perfectly balanced and the simultaneous falling feeling in your gut while all your demons crowd into an impromptu moshpit on your shoulders, pushing and shoving and screaming, “You will never, ever, ever write anything even three-tenths as good as that, you pitiful hack!”

All I know is the day that I really suck will be the day I listen to those demons and put down my pen.

-Lo, who by the way, would like to say that the chick on the commercials is just too fucking creepy. “Sometimes it’s all about the office. Oh! Oh! Oooooooh!”