I was waiting for a turkey burger at Congregation Ale House by myself on Friday night, a solo dinner date that’s becoming increasingly common, thinking about how much time I spend alone these days, and how easy it is as I get older and lives get busier to let close friendships go by the wayside, when I decided to read an essay one of those past cherished friends posted on Facebook several hours before.
Because Professor Jane Hseu, Ph.D., is an academic, I thought her essay would be over my plebeian head, which is why I hadn’t read it earlier in the day. What I didn’t expect was how touched I would be by her piece. Having been close friends in our youth, I’m ashamed to say I knew next to nothing about the stories she shared in this essay.
Here’s Jane’s beautiful intimate family portrait about the origin of her name: http://www.kartikareview.com/19/hseu.html.
I was friends with Jane in high school and during our undergraduate years and always considered her my most cutting-edge friend. Reading her essay, I was reminded of the drastic difference between our perceptions about ourselves and others’ perceptions of us. Read More
Two months after I published an essay in The Washington Post, I read the comments. Here’s my response.
On January 18th, I published an essay in The Washington Post called “I’m not an extrovert—and that makes it harder to find love.” It was an ideal publishing experience. I pitched the essay. The editor accepted it the next day. The essay was published the day after that. Plus, the editor did a superb job of cutting a 1,700-word essay to fewer than 1,000 words without changing my original intent. I was impressed.
Joshua Mohr workshop and conversation with Barbara DeMarco-Barrett
When you have a two-month window between the diagnosis of a missing wall in your heart and surgery, and the doctor tells you, “You only have to do one thing: stay alive,” how do you occupy those two precarious months? If you’re a writer, you write.
Between New Year’s Day and March 2014, after a third stroke at 38 when he was getting his daughter Ava a bottle, Joshua Mohr did just that, and the result was Sirens, a “love letter to Ava”—his first memoir after publishing five novels. The seed of Sirens germinated before, however, when fellow author Antonia Crane said, “Hey, you’re pretty sick. Can you send over some essays?”
When Mohr visited Southern California this month for Barbara DeMarco-Barrett’s Pen on Fire Speakers Series, he told the audience he wrote “dirty little stories” for Crane, a “slapdash collection” he planned to “put in a drawer.” Lucky for us, that didn’t happen.
1. A 36-month lease on a 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid
2. 14 bottles of J. Lohr 2014 Seven Oaks cabernet
3. Three nosebleed seats for a Los Angeles Kings hockey game at the Staples Center, plus parking
4. 38% of an iPhone 7 with no contract
5. 75% of an annual Disney Southern California Select Passport
6. A 50-minute massage and spa-style facial at Burke Williams
7. 20 Regal movie theater tickets
8. Nine best-sellers from Skylight Books
9. Two round-trip Southwest flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco
10. Two Stub Hub tickets to the Pixies show at the new Anaheim House of Blues, plus dinner
11. Two hefty trips to the grocery store
12. Two bottles of Lagavulin 16 year scotch and a glass to drink it in
13. 1,050 0.5 mg Xanax tablets
14. Five pairs of unworn black Converse classic shoes
15. 24 album downloads on iTunes
16. 49 decaf lattes with almond milk at Portola Coffee Lab
17. 61 bags of Dove Promises dark chocolate candy
18. Five subscriptions to Match.com to dole out to friends
19. 246 SuperLotto Plus lottery tickets
20. Six guinea pigs from Petco
Lollapalooza celebrated its 25th anniversary this summer.
On Feb. 3, I saw a Twitter hashtag in which people were sharing their #myfirstlolla stories about the first time they ever attended Lollapalooza, a pre-Coachella era “alternative” music festival started in 1991 by Perry Ferrell of Jane’s Addiction. The show used to tour; now it’s held every summer in Chicago’s Grant Park, and the breadth of music styles has broadened from “only the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Siouxsie and the Banshees” to “this could easily turn into an unruly rave if left unchecked.”
I had been to Lollapalooza once when I was 21 in 1994 at Cal State Dominguez Hills. I bought four tickets on a whim, thinking it would be easy to sell them to friends. Between the time of purchase and the day of the show, the variations of who would attend with me shifted multiple times. I vowed to never buy tickets upfront for others again. The drama involved with early 20-somethings discussing funds and rides was ridiculous. In the end, I only remember my then boyfriend being there; I believe the other two tickets went to friends of his.
Beautiful Victoria at night. Not pictured: everyone eating ice cream cones.
The Suspicious Border Agent
On June 4th, when I pulled up to the border of British Columbia by myself in my Honda Civic with a California license plate and handed the border agent my US passport, she already looked suspicious. I’m sure it was the normal tight-lipped, tough exterior she projected to everyone, but she made me feel guilty, like I’d done something wrong.
“Where do you live?” she asked.
I contemplated my response:
Well, I’m kind of between residences. I’m currently staying with my uncle in Maple Valley, Washington, but my mail is being forwarded to my parents’ house in San Juan Capistrano, California, but I was in Victoria last week, and I lived in Long Beach a month ago, where all my stuff still is, and in a few weeks I’ll live in Costa Mesa for four months, and then who knows, but right now? This car.
“Los Angeles,” I said. “I’ve been staying with my uncle near Seattle.” Read More
Moving Out, Not In
From January 2014 until the end of April this year, I lived in a miniscule studio in Long Beach next door to a narcissist with a penchant for ongoing home construction and chicken coop tending. His pasty white children had multiple outside gangster-rap themed gatherings under my window in their backyard, but thankfully those ceased after Chicken Man had a blowout with his daughter. I wrote about my living situation before it got even worse. Thankfully, my sister and nephew lived in the front house on the same property. They were the best neighbors, but living and working alone in a small space with constant noise became too much. I didn’t realize how much anxiety the situation was causing me until I was no longer in it.
So I planned my great escape. I would move out, but I wouldn’t move back in somewhere else. Instead, I would throw my belongings into storage and take an extended road trip to the Pacific Northwest, with the idea I’d move in with my uncle temporarily near Seattle. He owns a four-bedroom house and lives alone; he has the opposite of what I was used to: space. I decided to take advantage of my freedom as a telecommuter who’s worked from home for eight years—and has been with the same company for almost 10; I could work anywhere, so I would. Read More
The trail to Royal Arch in Boulder, Colorado.
The people you’ll meet on any given trail.
On the return leg of a hike through Eagle Creek Trail on my first ever trip to Portland last week, I realized the same hikers in the Mt. Hood National Forest were also headed for the peak of Royal Arch in Boulder last summer. I thought of categories of hikers to amuse myself as I stumbled across wet rocks, including one for me. I enjoy hiking, but I’m no aficionado. I didn’t appreciate climbing mountains when I was younger, especially as a 16-year-old with devastating menstrual cramps whose parents dragged her to Utah on a bad week. I wore jeans to hike, and I complained on a loop. It’s a wonder my parents didn’t leave me on the trail. (I need a Bryce Canyon/Zion National Park do-over.) As a 40-something, I revel in nature more than I did as a miserable kid, but like teenage me, I’m not a camper. I’m a day hiker who looks forward to showering and hitting the pillow afterward.
From my observations, here are other traits of hikers you’ll find on any trail, starting with people like me:
As of May 2nd, all my belongings will be in a 5 x 10 storage unit, and I’ll be on the road. I’ve been daydreaming about bailing for several months. While the standard American road trip involves heading west, I already live in Southern California and ache for fresh scenery, so I’m aiming north. I want to leave my shoebox studio to the termites. I want to tell my neighbor and his sons, “So long, suckers!” I want more time off the grid. I want to take my solo life where it actually rains, and I have that option because of the unique situation in which I find myself.
I’m a telecommuter who’s worked from home for eight years. I spend my days listening to silence (or my neighbor’s ongoing construction site), wondering if other people exist on the planet outside of facebook. Office politics are not in my vocabulary (thankfully). I don’t have a husband or children anchoring me to a fixed spot (sadly). I’m free, and yet I feel trapped by my circumstances. I am stuck, and I want to be unstuck. I want to take advantage of a lonely situation, flip it on its side to see it from an alternate angle, and turn it into a positive experience. Plus, I need some new shit to write about. Read More
A First-Time Novelist and a Seasoned Veteran Share Their Insights
Pen on Fire Speaker Series
On March 8th, Barbara DeMarco-Barrett welcomed Elizabeth Marro and T. Jefferson Parker to her enduring Pen on Fire Speaker Series in Corona Del Mar.
Marro is a first-time novelist, while Parker published his 22nd novel the day of the event.
“[Casualties] started in 2004,” Marro said. “A story is the result of opportunity, time, and the story finding you; this is the story that found me.”
She moved to San Diego, where “the military was much more visible,” after living in the Northeast.
With regard to war, having raised a son on her own, Marro asked herself, What if it was my son? What if it was me?
“That’s how the story found me,” she said. “I was a mother in a certain environment. I was interested in consequences. The story is about a mother who raises her son on her own. She works in defense. He joins the Marines. She has ideas about how he should spend his life. He doesn’t agree.”
“Casualties is a good novel,” Parker said. “It does what any good novel should do: It starts in one place and ends in another,” with surprises along the way.
“Crazy Blood is a hyper-focused story on extended family,” Parker said about his latest novel. “It’s about two half-brothers in their 20s. They have the same father and different mothers. They are competing against each other for the Olympic ski cross team. There is enmity between them.”
Setting inspires his novels, and this one was no exception.