nonBlog – May 2010

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Non-Profit—Friday, May 14, 2010

Ever since journalism as we know it went poof a couple of years ago, all the writers I know have had to decide how much to dabble in little-paid or unpaid writing outlets. Newspapers are the stickiest wicket: if you contribute online articles, are you staving off their demise or hastening your own?
I decided the more likely scenario was the latter, which is why I have written so few City Brights columns for the San Francisco Chronicle. I made three rules for myself—I would submit only if it would in some way help my career (the Letterman piece, which landed me on CNN), let me blow off steam (anything having to do with political shenanigans of the conservative variety), or benefit others (Holly Horton’s eulogy). The last explains my story this week about the astonishing lights-off Foundation Fighting Blindness fundraiser, “Dining in Darkness with Willie Brown.
I have a test for whether I’ve chosen the right topic on which to base my donation to the ailing Chronicle: I get many more emails than comments, and at least one person tells me the article gave someone an emotional outlet. In this case it was the co-chair of the event, Janni Lehrer-Stein, who suffers from retinitis pigmentosa and told me the article made her mother cry all over again. I was worried that my choice to write the piece in the second person might have been the wrong one, but I stopped second-guessing myself after she told me how gratified she was that I made readers understand that they could get away with eating like barbarians with the lights out, but not if they were actually blind and everyone else could see them.
The point of guideline #3 is to use the column to give something-or-other to somebody-or-other, but the truth is that those are the stories I get the biggest high from publishing. Funny that the work phenomenon that most deeply disturbs me—being asked to write for no pay after twenty years of first-tier experience—makes me feel the most lucky to be a writer at all.

California Dreaming—Saturday, May 8, 2010

It is Saturday morning and I am sitting in a Sonoma café writing a submission for an upcoming anthology about the importance of place. Frankly, I am at a bit of a loss. How do you explain that a place made you? How do you describe a place that so profoundly changed your life that it catches you every time you fall, like a mother?
So far I can’t, which is why I’m blogging instead of essaying. It’s interesting that I should be writing this in wine country, which is the next Bay Area place I am convinced I am meant to live. After growing up in the Long Island burbs, I decided that from high school graduation on I would live in the city or the country but nowhere in between. So I went to Dartmouth College and then settled in Manhattan, where I lived for ten years before moving to San Francisco, a fantasy I’d had since seeing it on my first business trip as a baby editor at PC Magazine in the late eighties. When I met Tom I had been sending out resumes to publications like California magazine, intending to move there on my own. Our engagement postponed that dream, but years later when Tom was an unhappy lawyer (is there any other kind?) I saw my chance and begged him to ditch the miserable security of law in favor of the happy insecurity of tech in San Francisco. We drove cross-country with Olivia in tow in 1998 and every single day since I’ve devoted a minute or two to worrying that something will go awry and I won’t get to live here anymore.
So I guess Napa and Sonoma are the country version of my urban California dream, and I wish for both before I die. Interestingly, taking up residence in wine country is the only place fantasy I’ve come up with that Tom doesn’t share. When we got together we cooked up four ideas of places we wanted to live that would make us feel like we’d really lived. The first was that we wanted to be more than a barnacle on Manhattan’s hull, and indeed we got all the way to the point where we owned a whole apartment—faux fireplace and all—on the Upper East Side and had snagged a spot for Olivia at one of those impossible-to-get-into preschools nearby. The second was SF. The third was the mountains, and since we usually spend a month each summer in Bishop—our climbing town in the Eastern Sierra—we’ve more or less managed that one too. And the final is an empty-nest thought: to live part of each year in Italy. So I think it’s funny that Tom doesn’t wag his tail when I say Napa, because Napa certainly qualifies as America’s Tuscany, and you don’t have to understand Italian when you’re asking for directions.
But wherever we live next, it’s okay. Maybe what I need to write about California is that it makes me feel like all these dreams are possible, and after growing up on Long Island all I could think about was how impossible it felt to make any of my dreams come true. To look out the window of the house you own as an adult and see something drastically different from what you saw out the window of your childhood bedroom is often all the assurance you need that something—if not everything—will be different. I think I just wrote the conclusion sentence of my essay.

Cast-Off—Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Now that the cast is off it can be told: I broke my right hand on April 11. I kept this information mostly to myself because I was afraid Dell might take pity on me and give me less work, and I didn’t want them to because I love my Dell work. And because I broke my hand performing (or mis-performing) an acrobatic act that is best not described here.
Living with a spiral fracture of your fourth metacarpal is not for the weak. My first thought, as the full-time working mother of three, was that if I wasn’t careful I’d end up doing everything I was doing before, only left-handed. And that was almost entirely true. I couldn’t open jelly jars or write thank-you notes, to be sure, and Tom tried to relieve me of a number of chores, but except for the house looking like a big wind had blown all our possessions hither and thither I got everything done pretty much as usual. The strain of it took all the stuffing out of me.
Having a cast from the tips of your fingers to mid-forearm is an unexpected state for an adult and kept triggering all these long-lost memories from when I was eight years old. It was Christmas Eve and we kids were at Aunt Jean and Uncle Bill’s house anxious for dinner to start and desperate for diversion. I came up with the brilliant idea to start a game that required each of us to climb head-first down the ladder of my cousins’ bunk bed, flopping down onto a cot below. I still don’t know quite how I broke my wrist doing that; I didn’t fall and nothing went craack like it did this time. But I got up from the cot with a throbbing wrist and it wouldn’t do anything it was supposed to do from that moment forward. Even when I couldn’t open my Christmas presents my parents refused to take me to the emergency room. It was two days later that I was x-rayed and put in a cast for three weeks, just like this time except in plaster rather than fiberglas. I remember sitting in Mrs. Dembart’s classroom frustrated to tears that I couldn’t write.
And so it was this time too. Now my frustration was that I could hardly type, and I discovered that my writing has a physical outlet in the flying fingers of my now-immobilized right hand. I was literally stifled; I felt like a singer whose throat was being squeezed. I couldn’t wait—couldn’t wait—to get the fucker off so I could compose, express, write the next chapter of my book, which was leaking out of me faster than my hunt-and-peck left hand could possibly record.
By the third weekend I was drinking rather a lot of red wine at night, trying to put myself out of my misery. On Friday I took Olivia to her first concert—at The Fillmore, no less, which is walking distance from our house—where we saw Rogue Wave. As I walked past the bouncer he asked whether I wanted him to ink the “Over 21” stamp on my cast, and it was the first time that grotty thing had made me smile. Walking around with The Fillmore’s cool-as-hell imprimatur on my cast was probably the only thing that got me from Friday to Monday, when I hoped and prayed I’d be sent off to rehab instead of being re-casted or splinted after the doc viewed my films.
But it turned out I had misunderstood him, or perhaps engaged in wishful hearing. He hadn’t said I’d be re-casted, splinted, or sent to rehab—he’d said I’d be re-casted OR splinted and then sent to rehab. Turns out my break was pretty bad and won’t be weight-bearing for three months minimum. The x-ray is vile: my splintered bone looks like two metacarpals instead of one. The top and bottom have mended and now the crack down the length of the bone has to fill in, one yogurt at a time.
Still, now I can type again, or could after a couple of days of wiggling my scaly white-and-green digits. When I’m out and about the splint goes with me, but at home alone—safe from crowds and the Tasmanian Devil Ava—my still-broken hand can get some air. And my soul can breathe too, here on the (virtual) page.


New, or Practically New

  • Fame and Fortune: Currently working on, and shocked to find I’m making headway with, the latter. Partly because of a bit of movement on the former. Perhaps endurance is the key to everything after all.