Here’s something kind of cool

20130324-080927.jpgIn 2006 (eight years ago!!), when I started writing this blog, I remember thinking I’d better keep this thing anonymous because I was going to say all kinds of ridiculous stuff and who really wants their mom to find that on the internet?  Of course, it turns out that your mom does want to hear your ridiculous stuff, so I told her about it anyway.

But back when I thought anonymity was a good idea, the best name I could come up with for my blog was a combination of the two words I was pretty sure my blog would be about.  Blog.  Lily.

Yes, I know.  Really.  If that blog name was the only evidence of my writing skill you had to go by, you would be super surprised to learn that I’m actually a pretty decent fiction writer.

So here it is — 2014!   And I’m not all that anonymous anymore.  Plus, I’m writing a novel I’m really excited about — it’s called Queen of Mercy.  It’s about an Oakland judge named Mary McInerney who’s smart, sexy, unconventional and a little crazy — so of course she does some stuff that’s not as smart as she is.  As a result, she’s exiled from the world of the courthouse, the world she loves, and she has to journey through parts of Oakland she knows nothing about, before she discovers how to make it back to the place where she should be.

Oakland is a wonderful city.  I’ve lived and worked in and near it for most of my adult life.  As I explore the city for this book, I wanted a place to put my thoughts.  Plus, I also wanted to have a blog that just used my entire adult name.  So I moved it all over here

Hope you visit it!

xoLily

I Pray This Letter is Sent in Haste

they went other places too — but this is where they sold the postcards

Dearest Mother, Father, and Brother, I pray this letter is sent in haste [by the efficient Spanish National Postal Service] as I may return in a forthnight prior to its arrival. For this reason I will make this concise. All is well for me, and I hope all is well with you. Saluations,

There were other postcards, including one that said, “tour is awesome,” but this was my favorite.  Clearly, this child was trying to get back to the time when he thinks the very last letters were sent.

Erased

It is a sign of my robust mental health that I have taken in stride the fact that , for the last four or five days, the comments I leave on wordpress blogs never actually show up on those blogs.

If you have a wordpress blog, and you want to know what I said, it’s probably in your spam filter.  Fortunately, getting something out of your spam filter is not the same as taking something out of the trash.  For that, you need an extra, extra long pair of tongs and a facemask.  (Depending on whose trash we’re talking about anyway.)

Getting something out of your spam filter just involves some clicking.  Unless you hate me and really did erase my comment.  But I can’t believe you’d do that.

And that is it for today.

Beds! Beds! Beds!

Some Bed

Yesterday,  I bought three beds.  I know.  That’s a shitload of beds.  Maybe I shouldn’t have had so much coffee and increased my dose of antidepressants.  Still, talk about good deals.  I bought them all on craigslist, which I think is not capitalized, because it is the invention of 30-something people who don’t capitalize anymore.  They also end declarative sentences with question marks.  A tentative bunch,  don’t you think?

Well, I’m here to tell you that, under the influence of caffeine, antidepressants, and a tax refund, I bought three bed frames and two mattresses for $900.  Total.  Not tentatively at all.  Now, that’s a lot of money, but I will tell you that if I’d been insane enough to buy those beds in the actual stores they come from, I’d have paid $4,000.  Also, the people in this family have not slept on real beds and/or beds that fit them for YEARS.  It’s time for some changes around here.

As it turns out, there’s a trick to this kind of shopping — and you can scale it down, if you don’t happen to be under the influence of the above-mentioned stimulants and/or all you need is, say, a bike you can ride around town with, a bike for which you have, say a $100 budget, and your eyes on a $500 bike.

I give you this information totally free, although I really should be selling it on the internet.

Get yourself on craigslist.  You have to live in a big city to do this, by the way, although if you have friends in big cities, they could act as your agents, although how you’d get your new bed to your small town, I’m not sure.  But it would definitely work with a bike.  Your friends will, without a doubt, be coming to visit you in your small town, which we all know is mellower and more beautiful than a big city.  And they will schlep your purchase to you.  In fact, if you live in a charming small town I can reach in a car without a ton of trouble and you would like me as a visitor, I’m happy to be your craigslist agent.  For a bike, or a bike-sized piece of furniture (aka ottoman, desk, and/or chair).  Maybe not a bed.

Step one:  Know what you want.  The name, the retail price, or at least the style and type of thing.  Know how much you’re willing to spend.  Don’t deviate too much because you think you’re getting a great deal.  It’s not a great deal if it’s something you don’t need.

Step two:  Scope out the sellers.  The best sellers are people who (a) have suddenly come into a lot of money (software startup people,  recent biz school graduates with no family,  college students, whose families have decided — wrongly, in fact — to give their kids a lot of cash to buy stuff to furnish their first apartments and people in jobs that require them to leave the bay area to go to some other metropolitan area to work in a soul sucking,  but money producing job), (b) have to leave town fast (because they, just for example, sold their startup to google, are moving to Manhattan to further destroy the world’s economies, got  kicked out of school and have to return home), (c) never liked the stuff they bought anyway.

You don’t necessary have to have all of these things, but it helps if you have two.  I will also say that I don’t mean to sound cynical or snarky about craigslist sellers.  The three people I bought my beds from where (a) a charming and generous Italian software startup guy who’s moving back to Italy; (b) a very patient, business-like, thirty-something guy with great taste who’s moving in with his girlfriend and doesn’t need his BEAUTIFUL bed, and (c) a very hip guy in the Castro who was incredibly sweet and is moving into a less noisy, but smaller apartment.   One thing these people have in common is that they are all (a) guys and (b) on the move and (c) without a family.

Step 3.  And then you find what you want, waiting until you do, and then you offer immediate cash and immediate removal of the item.

Step 4.  Safety.  I like to think of this as recycling, in which objects do not have to continue being made just because somebody’s moving to Manhattan.  I also like meeting new people.  Sure, occasionally I think I am going to be murdered, or someone tells me I am (bargains can be dangerous!) but really, it’s so much fun that I’ll take the risk.   (Plus, I google the people first, and/or visit them in public in the daytime or with a bodyguard, aka, the husband.)

Now, here’s the real safety tip:  I have one inviolable rule, one that has turned out to work beautifully in my craigslist adventures, which I have obviously lived to speak about.  I only buy stuff from people who can write a decent e-mail.  They must know how to punctuate and spell.  They must write in complete sentences.  For some reason, I just don’t think that somebody who knows how to write a good e-mail, one that doesn’t give off a whiff of  “I’m nuts,” will kill me when I show up to buy their Room and Board bed.  I could be wrong.  I’ll have my heirs let you know if that happens.

Yes, I am aware that buying beds raises the dreaded bedbug issue.  I’m going with unlikely on that one, but I’ll tell you if it happens.  Although, would you want to know?

Finally, in news unrelated to beds, my agent sent me his notes on my book.  Great ideas.  He’s such a smart guy.  And I’m working through them.  They seem to require that I change the ending and give characters slightly different motivations and fears.  It’s fun.  It’s also terrifying.  Plus, I gave a couple of characters new names.  I enjoyed that — it’s sure not something you can do in real life.  I just hope the people I know who happen to have those names don’t get mad at me.

Carnival

someday we'll wrap something with those ribbons

First of all, I’m aware we’re supposed to be in the ashes-on-the-forehead part of the Lenten season, if you’re one of the people who participates in that particular religious season.  But I don’t have any ash pictures to festoon this post, and also I believe in festooning, and ashes just don’t do that.  Ever.   But there is the bowl full of Christmas ribbons and the masks a kid brought home from a trip, so what better festoon-ish thing than THAT, I ask?

Second of all, I’d also like to say that I’m not very fond of the ashes-on-the-forehead anyway.  Probably this is because my mother never took us to the Wednesday mass where they rubbed the ashes into your forehead.  This wasn’t because Wednesdays were inconvenient either.  After all, she took us to everything else, being a woman who totally touched all the bases as she hit the grand slam homer that is the Catholic mother who gets five children to church ever single Sunday of their childhood.  Plus, a couple of us were confirmed, even though I’m pretty sure we weren’t really feeling it.   My small act of confirmation rebellion was to give myself a boy’s name (I believe I chose Nathan), just so I could bug the bishop who was there to confirm us.  My friend, Margaret Daheim was, I believe, Nicholas.

I’m pretty sure my mom didn’t like the ashes because they were a downer.  Lent’s enough of a downer, what with all the fish and the giving up of chocolate.  This Lent, I figure it’s enough to plunk the bowl of ribbons and the mask right in the middle of the living room, so we can all remember that life’s a silly enough affair, and we should never take anything too seriously, and never so seriously that we smudge burnt up things on our foreheads.

Which brings me to Montaigne (a book!  yes!  a book!  It’s like I’m sneaking ground up carrots into your jello or something.)  I recently read Sarah Bakewell’s really terrific biography of Montaigne (Michel, de). And one thing I wrote down, because I liked it so much (and I ended up liking HIM so much) was this thing he said, which is directly applicable to not taking oneself too seriously:

“If others examined themselves attentively, as I do, they would find themselves, as I do, full of inanity and nonsense.  Get rid of it, I cannot without getting rid of myself.  We are all steeped in it, one as much as another, but those who are aware of it are a little better off — though I don’t know.”  -Montaigne

So:  Don’t take yourself too seriously.   Change your mind every once in a while (“though I don’t know”).  And eat some chocolate.

Have a fabulous weekend.

It’s Endless Until It’s Over

Summer.  I keep wanting to photograph it, but my camera disappeared into teen world, where it’s being used to document gravity-defying skateboard tricks.  Surely, the looks told me when I asked for it back, a mere peach cannot compete with anti-gravity.

Maybe not.  But they are everywhere, these peaches.  And even though I know that one day in a month or so from now they’ll be gone, they feel permanent.  That’s what the deep middle of summer feels like.

Why I Love the French

far better to have a silver bee land on your tea pot than the real thing

Happy Bastille Day.  Bastille Day is not, actually, why I love France and the French.  I love France and the French because of our friends P and M, who I met when I was in my twenties. I spent a lot of time in M’s kitchen, drinking un-English tea (it was fruit scented black tea, and I loved it almost as much as I loved her) out of an old silver teapot that had a bee on its lid.  I adored that teapot, the way the lid lifted back on a hinge and the bee seemed to be looking around and approving the whole set up.  I spent years trying to find one like it, and I never did.  I did find the tea, however, on a trip to Paris.  You can buy it in the supermarket, as it turns out. 

It was a long time ago, but I can still remember how shocked I was to meet someone my age who owned objects with patina.  By the time I was twenty-four, this is what I had left from my childhood:  my high school yearbooks, a button from a pink robe my grandmother gave me one year for Christmas, the copy of Wuthering Heights the librarian at Hof Army Base in Bavaria gave me when I was in the fourth grade, and a small tin with a silver lid that was engraved with Rembrandt’s Night Watch, which I found on the window sill of the house we rented in Bavaria when my dad was stationed there. 

M had, in addition to the aforementioned tea pot, what seemed like hundreds of family pictures, some in very nice frames.  She also had marble obelisks on her coffee table along with big wooden balls, whose only function was to be large and interesting, as far as I could see.  She had a little bar cart and nice glasses. She was not afraid to have a large purple couch, which was actually more than a little shabby.  The pillows on it were made out of something that looked to me a lot like a rug.  I imagine these possessions were the tip of the iceberg, given that most of what she owned was back in Paris.  She also had a château and a title, both courtesy of her husband, which was news to me because I hadn’t been aware that titles even existed anymore, not after all the heads were chopped off.  So, I loved her, because she was One Hundred Percent Not Me.  And she was One Hundred Percent Her French Self. 

I also loved the way she looked at things.  In her dining room, she hung twenty four botanical prints she’d found in a book at a used book store ($1) and framed with frames from the Big Longs Drug Store, where you could buy anything.  Those botanical prints looked as good as everything else in her house. 

The funny thing is that they loved us too. In their eyes, we had nothing weighing us down.  We were “mellow,” we did not worry, we were spontaneous, we weren’t in a hurry.  They liked the way we dressed, particularly my husband in his uniform of levi 501s and t-shirts.   

 But mostly, we loved each other because we had so much in common.  M and I were readers.  Serious ones.  She, of course, had twice as many books available to her for reading purposes than I did because she could read in both English and French.  We were also talkers.  We liked to discuss why the French see things the way they do and the Americans, well, the Americans don’t see them that way.  We talked about taxes, and child rearing and medicine. We talked about our husbands, who were obviously not ever going to talk about us to each other, being so similar themselves.  P and my husband were windsurfers, and skiiers and cyclists.  Neither of them liked to delve into the emotional.  They mostly just liked conquering water, snow, and roads, which they did together for a long time. 

Now they live in Belgium, and we see each other sometimes, but not very often.  I miss them.  I miss seeing myself through their eyes, and I miss that teapot.  Happy Bastille Day, P&M.

David Mitchell’s Thousand Autumns of the Dutch Accountant Whose Name I Can’t Remember

Here follows a demonstration of what happens when you write a book review after you’ve both finished the book and managed to misplace it, which is what has happened to me in the last 48 hours with David Mitchell’s Thousand Autumns of Jacob Somebody or Other.  Also, this is what happens when you write a book review without even once using the internets to verify your facts.  (Why am I not using the internets?  I don’t know.  I thought it would be fun is the closest I could come to an answer.)

But most likely you, dear reader, have been hearing about this book and don’t need me for facts.  It’s certainly easy enough to find the book — just google the phrase “thousand autumns” and bob’s your uncle.  (I just now realized that I have no uncles left.  It is the one year anniversary of my Uncle Martin’s death.  My Uncle Marin was a classic:  a basque from Susanville.  I have his thermos, the heavy duty one he took to the many construction jobs he worked on, and it reminds me that it’s good to have caffeine when you labor.  But goodness, how I digress.)

Anyway, back to David Mitchell.   First, I’ll say that without question the most tedious (both to write and to read) part of a book review is the plot summary.  For years, I’ve been trying to get away with not doing these in the reviews I write on this blog.  I know, I hardly ever write reviews.  And the ones I do write are so slim on plot details as to be maybe useless.  Which is why it is a constant source of amusement to me that publicists send me emails every week or so asking me to review what look to me like very, very good  books.  Every once in a while I ask for them to send me one, but then I don’t review it because, well, there’s the plot summary hurdle.  I can’t get over it.  That’s why I’ve been yammering on about my uncle and the people who want to send me free books.   I’m procrastinating.  (I would like to add, however, that I would review those books, except I’ve never received one I really loved.)

In a few words, David Mitchell’s book is about a red haired Dutch accountant who finds himself in a Dutch trading outpost, a little no man’s land of an outpost, outside of Nagasaki, which the Dutch aren’t allowed to enter.  Not much anyway.  It is set in the 18th century.  Naturally, the red haired Dutch accountant falls in love with a Japanese woman.  In a Shogun-like plot development, he woos her, and in a further Shogun-like plot development, this wooing leads him to a greater understanding of Asian culture.  Also, things go wrong, as they do in novels.  Is that enough plot description?  I hope so because it’s all I have the strength for.

Did I like it?  I did indeed.  I wasn’t so crazy about the bad guy, whose badness credibility is established by (a) his ability to kill people with mysterious hand waving and (b) his leadership of a weird (shinto, it is said) cult, which spirits women away to be brood mares, and worse.  Really, I could have gone all summer without weird sexual rituals popping up in the books I read.

Other than that, and the occasional overwrought writing you kind of expect in books about Europeans going to Japan in the 18th century and falling in love with women who’re midwives, and scarred but still beautiful, it’s a totally captivating book.  I will not go on and on about how Mitchell is an up and coming literary writer, because I did not read Cloud Atlas (not liking to have to handle six different narrative voices at once) and because I don’t think it’s necessary. Worse than plot summary is too much yammering on about the author’s (a) age, (b) book jacket picture, and (c) fights with Oprah, which, I’m fairly certain, Mitchell has never had, being English, and looking quite young and sort of sweet in his book jacket picture.

It’s a good summer book.

And that’s what a review that skimps on plot summary and is written without internet assistance looks like.

Carless in Seattle

ferry! light rail! bus! feet!

I’m aware that most of the world gets around without a car and it’s not news to anyone that we should be driving way less, but we seem to have gotten around to this realization only recently in any kind of serious way.  I can see how ingrained the car culture is by the fact that I assumed I’d rent a car to get around this weekend when I’m up in Seattle for my brother’s wedding party.

But, really, why do that?  Oil is gushing into the Gulf.  The least I can do is print out some transit schedules and figure out how to get from SeaTac to downtown Seattle, to Vashon Island to see my friend Karen, and then to the airport.  We have everything we need:  a lot of transit schedules, small wheeled suitcases and something to read while we’re waiting for the light rail/ferry/bus.

Oh, and the other things we need we already have:   plenty of time and our own two feet.

Mazel tov!

Ill Fares the Land

Today’s post has no picture, because I couldn’t bear to look again at the images of the oil spill in the Gulf.  Today’s post is also a book review — of sorts — because, although it might appear my interests are confined to bicycles and lighting, I am actually still interested in words and books.

The best thing  I’ve read this year (well, I did love Parrot and Olivier too)was a book by the historian Tony Judt called Ill Fares the Land.

One of Judt’s significant points  — that we’re in a bad way because we have abandoned our belief in the idea that the government can actually perform functions that private enterprise cannot — is tragically and aptly illustrated by the BP oil spill.  Every answer to the question how did this happen? leads to this answer:  because we thought a private company like BP, acting with little public oversight, would keep our coastline safe. Paul Krugman is good on this subject too.  (“We need politicians who believe in good government, because there are some jobs only the government can do.”)

It’s a short book, one that reviewers have pointed out reads like a great commencement speech.  That’s not a criticism though. The book is rousing, intelligent, and uses the past to illuminate the present, which happens all too seldom.  And, for me, it turned out to be just what was needed to fend off the despair that comes with tragedies like this oil spill.

Let There Be Better Light

it's landed -- well, more like it's hovering

Who knew I’d spend so much time considering lights while on my little break?  Stuff like that matters, though.  The way I feel at home is all about my physical surroundings. That is why I’m certain the old light in the dining room was 50% of the reason for all the shouting at dinner.   Once we’ve put a proper bulb in the spaceship, I’ll let you know if it fills us with a mid-century sense that anything is possible in this world, even a peaceful dinner.

Can you see why there was so much uneasiness at the table?

would you like some mead with your unhappy meal?

Fifty Things

so far anyway

because that is what I turned this year.  Andrea, at hulaseventy, makes the best lists I know.  But she isn’t 50, so I’m making this one.

1.  teach the boys to make brownies

2.  eat dinner in the Mission

3.  sell a book

4.  rescue mother in law’s books, the ones in boxes in the garage

5.  use my sewing machine

6.  read the Three Musketeers

7.  great retro green cloth binders – use them

8.  run out of pencils

9.  make a table from reclaimed wood

10.  get the perfect tattoo

11.  recover those chairs, the 1950s chairs from the Kaiser Building I got for free

12.  re-read Pudd’nhead Wilson

13.  sell something on craigslist; maybe more than one

14.  spend an afternoon in North Beach

15.  commute by ferry and bike — in July, September, or October, when that would be beautiful

16.  figure out what to do with all that great flannel fabric

17.  grow some herbs

18.  attach the pencil sharpener and use it (see 8 above)

19.  write a short story

20.  thank David Marshall for being such a great professor in college

21.  ditto Drew Clark

22.  have another Little House on the Prairie month

23.  use that doctor’s bag Jack carried in the Wizard of Oz

24.  honor Helen, our neighbor who died last year, by planting a rose bush

25.  write an episode of a television show

26.  plant a fruit tree

27.  send a postcard to my parents; maybe more than one

28.  make a series of drawings of family life

29.  spend a month out of the car

30.  walk the Berkeley Pathways

31.  have a picnic

32.  put up a canopy

33.  make margaritas

34.  play board games under the canopy

35.  make sweetbreads

36.  take the boys to the café at Chez Panisse

37.  learn how to change a bike tire

38.  play mini golf

39.  use a grommet

40.  help an orchid come back to life

41.  watch It Happened One Night

42.  ditto Easy Living

43.  have a 30s screwball comedy film festival under the canopy

44.  wear more hats

45.   use a staple gun

46.  paint some furniture

47.  figure out how many pairs of shoes I really need

48.  eat in Oakland’s Chinatown

49.  have one of those huge mission burritos

50.  thank my parents

A Picture and a Couple of Paragraphs

the photo part

This isn’t actually going to be about Archie, but it’s never bad to put a dog in your post, right?  (There’s a Billy Collins poem where he advises poets who are stuck to put a dog in the poem.)  It’s just to say that I like my blog more when I don’t feel compelled to write really long posts. A photo and two or three paragraphs.  Sometimes I want to read more from other people, but honestly?  I don’t want to write more than that.

This happened to  me today:  While riding through Berkeley to get to my train into San Francisco, I thought deeply about helmet wearing.  I myself was not wearing a helmet.  These thoughts, more or less, passed through  my head:  it’s a beautiful day, helmets are so sweaty and I have to go in and talk to the judges when I arrive,  I’m going, like, 2.5 miles an hour, the biggest danger I’m going to encounter this morning on the bike boulevard through Berkeley is from a bug flying into my mouth, so I’ll keep my mouth closed, European bike commuters don’t wear helmets, sheesh, I’m not Lance Armstrong, biking like this isn’t dangerous, what kind of weird conspiracy is going on that tries to make people feel like they HAVE to wear a helmet or they’ll die?  And then I saw him, a guy in a helmet riding no hands down the street.  He took his helmet off, still no hands, adjusted it and then put it back on.

Something about that made me laugh and I decided to lighten up.