Coming home in time for Father’s Day



Father’s Day is Sunday and Mark will be celebrating with his eldest, and my kids’ dad will be celebrating with his eldest.  Father’s Day is a day to make sure the father in your life is grand. If he is grand.  Mark is a good dad, and my kids’ father is a good dad.  Being a good father is a tricky thing; it’s like canoeing upstream.  Water keeps coming over the gun whales and you have to keep paddling.


On the long trip from London to Los Angeles, I am on a justice trail, first watching the Anita Hill movie and then Spotlight, the movie about the Catholic church protecting the priests who molest kids.  When you think about it, “justice” is a really overused word.


Ireland was lovely and green.  When you looked into the woods, the green went on and on, so thickly.  When you looked into the ponds, there was also green lying on the ponds.  When the ocean went out, the seaweed heaped up along the shore, and there were mud flats, but then in the ocean came again putting wet fingers into the seaweed and the mud.  We walked past the boat house which was half hidden by thickets and an abandoned blue paint that was losing paint.  There was a church with many graves.  And my friend in Ireland had to dig a grave for his friend’s mother and bury her in that grave.  In Ireland, you might have to build the grave yourself.  There is no Forest Lawn.  You can buy fresh chickens at the market.  You can buy honey that someone made with their backyard bees.  In Ireland, you feel you can put your hands into green and your hands might become green.  In Ireland, I didn’t write at all.  I was teaching, but I was also walking around ponds.  I am coming home from green to California, and I want to work in my garden this weekend.

Published in: on June 17, 2016 at 7:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ready for a writing week in Ireland

In Ireland, when they say wet, they mean wet.

When they say green, they mean utterly green.

And here we are, the cool green wet swallowing us in Irish arms.

Ready to go to Inish Beg tomorrow.

In Ireland, a person could feel in love with just the air.

With the sound of the language.

With the bookstores everywhere.

In Greece everywhere you saw chapels and churches.

But here, you have pubs instead of prayers.

And in this lovely beauty, we will prayer to continue liquid language.

Published in: on June 7, 2016 at 12:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

I Eat Jellybeans While I Write



When you’re writing a story, food is important.  Mark and I are both working on a novel here in Greece, and we keep batting back and forth what our characters are eating.  My main character Amanda is a good cook.  She cooks lightly without much oil, and everything she makes is fresh. She doesn’t use anything from a box or a can.  She cooks pretty much the way we cook at home.  If there were an earthquake, we’d be down to rice and fire roasted chilies in about twenty-four hours.  We buy fresh food almost daily.   Amanda’s husband loves her cooking.  He doesn’t love much more about Amanda, but the food and the kids keep him around.  That’s always a good question in a marriage. What is the fuel that keeps it going especially after the love runs out?  If you aren’t desperate for money, that helps. You can coast along in a long sleep walking through your life.


Mark’s character doesn’t know how to cook at all.  She manages to feed her family by mashing potatoes night after night.  The fact that she doesn’t know how to cook and that her husband and son don’t complain says a lot about his characters.  They’re used to thinking of her as the boss of the house and the husband as the boss of what goes on outside the house.  In Jonathan Franzen’s Corrections, we all remember the dinner season where the little Chip has to sit there with his gross inedible food, but his father doesn’t want to cross the mother who he sees as being in charge of the house which is her domain.


In my book, the main character, in spite of her good cooking is fat.  That’s because she’s a sneaky eater.  That’s an important element in describing a character.  Where and when do you do your eating?  Some people do all their eating at the table, some people are snackers.  Mark can get into the habit of not eating breakfast or lunch but then coming home and eating steadily from 6 pm to bedtime. When I’m trying to lose weight, which I’ve been trying to do since I was twelve, I always blame the fact that when I’m around other people, I am expected to eat, but the fact is that if I didn’t do any eating by myself, I would be bird thin.  When I’m out with other people, I try to eat as I imagine a thin person would eat.  When I go out with my friend Kim who is perfectly thin, she likes to order a small Caesar salad for us to split.  That’s how thin people eat.  When I’m alone, I can’t get enough fruit and jellybeans.  I eat apples, cherries, pears, and melons.  I don’t eat a slice of melon for breakfast on Sunday, I chop up the whole cantaloupe for Mark and me, and we eat it.  If Mark eats so much as a single tortilla, I give him an evil stare.  “Carbs?” I say.  “Carbs?”   I eat watermelon and grapes, tangerines and apricots.  I eat mangos and papayas.  I’ll even eat lychees and star fruit.  In the evening, I like jelly beans.  If it weren’t for all this fruit and jelly beans, I’d look just like my friend Kim.  That’s why I made my character Amanda a secret eater.  I’m interested in what we eat in public and what we eat in private. I’m interested in our secret lives.


That’s what we work on as writers.  Everyone has a public life and a private life.  The private life, which we hardly tell anybody about is often much more interesting than the public life.  A male friend of mine told me recently that for men most of what is important and interesting in their life happens outside the house and that for women it’s the opposite.  His wife doesn’t work, so maybe that’s true in his case, but I doubt Madeline Albright would agree.  Whether your public life has as much weight as your private life depends on the success of each.  As writers, we try to explore both who we are inside the house and outside the house.


What you get to explore as a novelist is the inner life of your characters who may be neurotic, well meaning, cruel, morose, but to work as characters, they have to have some balance.  What does your character do that’s self soothing? What does your character eat, drink, do when he or she is alone? And most importantly, when your character is alone in the bathroom, shaving or brushing their teeth, what story do they tell themselves? That inside story reverberates into the outside story.


Here in Greece, the fruit is good especially the apricots. I’m managing to think of myself as an epic writer even without the jellybeans.  That’s the story I’m telling myself.

Published in: on June 5, 2016 at 7:42 am  Comments (1)  

Why Can’t I Ever Be On Time?

I first realized that I had a problem with time when I was married to my first husband. As a college student, I don’t remember it being a problem. I moved to California and a year later got married and a year after that had a kid. I’ve never been the kind of woman who takes a long time primping to get out the door, so you’d think that would help me with being on time. But I have a tendency to keep doing whatever I’m doing for as long as I can and I stop to get ready to go and pull myself together mere seconds before I have to walk out the door, and then I leave. Late. Since I am always leaving late, I am always arriving late which leads to arriving late to the next thing and the next. My kids, both of them, have the tendency to be late as well.


When we were married, my ex-husband worked in film. He was never late to film shoots because he always calculated traffic and then gave himself an extra thirty to forty minutes in case traffic was bad, so he was always early. And dependable. Whereas I was always not dependable.


My current husband, who was an engineer when I met him and is now a publisher, and I have been together for twenty-two years and by the time I’m sixty-two, we will have been married one half of my life and by the time I’m ninety, we will have been married two thirds of my life. That length of time is long enough that almost everything that has happened has happened more than once. At that time, there will have been literally thousands of times when he has been on time and I have been late. Every year, I add being on time to my New Year’s resolutions, and every year I imagine myself getting better at it.

I have leaped onto trains and buses, run in my bare feet through airports to catch planes, I have skidded into meetings and lunches and I have skated into job interviews and dinners. I have never missed a plane even once when I woke at five am for a six am flight to DC. We live a forty minute drive to the airport on a good day. The gods have smiled at me.


Being on time is a construct of the 20th century. In orderly countries, trains run on time. In England, Germany and Japan, trains leave precisely on time. In Guatemala, you can wait hours for a bus. If you’re living in Europe and you tell a friend you’ll be by such and such a café around four, and you show up at four twenty, you’re there practically on the dot. When you say four, you mean approximately four. Because you are not on the clock, time is mutable.


But in Hong Kong, if the meeting starts at ten am, you better be there on time or the meeting will start without you, which means that you better be there ahead of time. In the civilized world, being late is a sign of rudeness, something my husband has pointed out to me over and over again.


On vacations, whether we are with the kids or not, we figure out a way to live off the clock as much as possible. To wake when we want, go to sleep when we want, eat when we want. Except for the transportation that takes us where we’re going, we’re on our own time. We don’t have dinner reservations or appointments to go on safaris or tour castles. We simply drift in our own space/time continuum, and that’s what makes the vacation feel relaxing.

The clock rules our lives. When we wake, even on vacation, we guess the time. Everything is framed by time. You exercise twenty minutes a day? That’s not enough time. You eat your food in five minutes? That’s too quick. You need to slow down. You think you can have a great love affair in five minutes a day? You need more time.


At its best, the matter of time is a matter of being present. Being in a great relationship or raising kids well requires time and presence. Slowing down is more important than speeding up, which brings me back to being on time. My relationship with time is that I don’t have enough of it to get done what I need to do so I try to expand time like pulling taffy by doing things till the last minute. If I could, instead, leave early and arrive early, maybe it would feel like time stretched out forever. There I am early at the airport. I have a book. I have an hour. I have time.

Published in: on June 2, 2016 at 8:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Why you should vote for Hilary Clinton

Published in: on June 1, 2016 at 7:30 am  Leave a Comment  

My Vacation is Perfect, Don’t Yuck on my Yum

I’m thinking about vacations because we’re on one right now, and what I think is that just as everyone has their own ideal marriage, everyone has their own ideal vacation. But in case you haven’t planned your vacation yet, I’ll give you some of the options.

The extremely noisy vacation: This is for those of yu who have kids and don’t want to take care of them over the vacation. My friend Tracy is thinking of taking her kids on a Disney vacation to Hawaii. Whether you go to a Disney resort or on a Disney cruise, you can guarantee lots of kids. As a parent, you get to turn the little darlings over to someone else and stagger to the pool where you can read, rest or drink but not too much because your adorable offspring will be returned to you. You should assume everyone on a Disney trip is going to be a parent so you can meet other parents and talk to them about your kids and their kids and other people’s kids who are not as well brought up as yours and theirs.

The drinking vacation: Hopefully with no kids involved, you can do this almost anywhere. A few years ago my hairdresser announced that she was going to Cancun for vacation, but she came back disappointed. What went wrong? I wanted to know. She had hoped to spend her time at the hotel pool lounging and being brought drinks. And what happened? Well, she did spend her vacation there, but what she hadn’t expected was that there were a lot of Mexicans. I tried not to laugh as I explained that situation is something you could expect to encounter in Mexico. But what really amazed me was that she had gone to Mexico at all. If what you want to do is lounge by a pool and drink, you don’t need to go to Puerto Vallarta or Cancun, Waikiki or the Bellagio. Find the nearest nice hotel and check in and call it a vacation. Sure, it’s embarrassing to admit you spent a week at the Marriott in Redlands, but in fact, you’ve had the same experience and without the expense of a plane ride.

The gambling vacation: I’m going to recommend Vegas. Everyone talks about how sickening the new Vegas is, and I have to agree, it is a nauseating mess of overstuffed hotels, but, it’s very American. They have all the gambling you can wish for in the dim cool rooms, and if you’re like me, and don’t care about gambling, it’s still fun. In summer, there is nothing like checking into the Bellagio and walking by the chocolate fountain on your way over to the French restaurant at Paris, Paris where you can see the Bellagio fountains and imagine you’re in Oceans Eleven. You could join George and Brad and plan the heist of a lifetime. And the pools in Vegas are the cotton candy of swimming pools, sheer over the top sugar fun. Of course, it’s not exactly relaxing because there are millions of people in the pool, but other than that, it’s just lovely.

Visiting family: Some people plan their whole vacation driving, flying or taking a bus to visit various relatives in different parts of the country. Given how limited vacation time is for most of us, this just seems plain silly, but I have gone for a weekend to Vegas or Colorado to see my Colorado relatives and we always had a good time. The key is to stay somewhere fun or do something different. We visited a zoo in Kansas with adopted family, and we always remember one lonely golden monkey stretching out his paws through the bars. In Colorado, we stayed at The Stanley Hotel, the inspiration for The Shining where the movie was on loop 24/7 in our room. If there’s one weird relative, and let’s face it, we all have one, remember, the other family members may think you are the strange relative.

Extreme sports: If you are a sports enthusiast, plan your vacation around that. My friend Gina has travelled with her husband to races in one continent after another. They go on vacation when he’s completed his race. So far Antarctica has been omitted, but who knows? I believe Australia is next. There’s spelunking, cliff diving, rock climbing, swimming the English channel, running marathons. Whatever your sport, you can plan a vacation around that.

Cruises: Those who don’t like cruises refer to them as for the overfed and nearly dead. But that’s not really fair. Sure, cruises do feed you far more than a normal human being needs, but you don’t have to eat it all. Specifically, cruises are good for people who want to write one check, step aboard and then not have to make any further decisions. Also, cruises enable you to see the world at a safe distance. Sure, you get off the boat, but not for long. On the island where we’re currently vacationing, you can always pick the cruise people out. They look cleaner than the rest of us; better dressed than they need to be; they travel in groups and tend to have fanny packs and talk to each other loudly. They all visit the same sites and go to the same shops. We are staying on a small Greek island for three weeks; they are leaving the boat for three hours. We are deciding on what to eat, where to swim, all those decisions are being made for them. They are herded around the island to the main sites and then taken back to the boat in water taxis. It has a certain restful quality if you think about it.

Fancy vacations: Whether you actually are the one in the neighborhood wearing fancy pants or whether you like to travel fancy when you get the chance, almost anyone can travel nicely if they want. It depends where you go. You might not be able to stay in a five star hotel in New York or San Francisco, but you might be able to in Bali. If what you really want is to feel like James Bond, travel somewhere that nice hotels are in your budget. That’s probably not going to be Europe. Our friends Mike and Karen love travelling to Asia and staying at high class hotels they could never afford in the U.S.

Staying local or seeing the world? Of course, a lot of that depends on how much money you have. During the years we were raising our kids, we took them camping because we couldn’t afford anything else. The decision of whether or not to travel often depends on who you are taking, finances and time.

Other choices to make on vacations: How to travel. The big question is do you want to take a tour bus or travel on your own? We never take tour buses because we don’t want someone talking to us all the time. To us, being on vacation means not having to be lectured. We take trains or ferries, rent cars, motorbikes or we walk. Do you want to eat out or eat in out? In our early years of vacations with our four kids, we got used to cooking to save money. We liked it. We don’t want to dress up and drag ourselves to some place for dinner every night.

Which brings me to our kind of vacation. The first day we were walking down the road here on Patmos to rent our motorbike it occurred to us that we didn’t know anyone else who would like our vacation besides our friend Adrianne. It’s too quiet for one thing. We arrived in Patmos by ferry, and about four in the morning, we got to the little house. We bought groceries at the small market and every night we make ourselves a little dinner. We ride the bike to beaches where I go for a swim, we take a walk at some point in the day, but most of the time, we listen to music, read and write. The first day here I read Yoko Ogawa’s book The Housekeeper and the Professor which is a quiet book about a quiet life in Japan, a life where all the best parts are behind you, and then maybe they aren’t.

The longer I’m in our friend’s house, which I call, “the house with the blue plates,” the more I can feel myself unraveling, in a good way. It’s the house with blue plates because it actually has blue plates but also because it holds blue sky on its happy plate. The tight knot that keeps me rolling at home, gradually comes undone and I can feel my neck and head relaxing. On the boat ride over, Mark kept rubbing the knots in my neck, trying to get me to relax and sleep. Here I sleep in the dry island air. One casement window holds the moon’s face each night. The same one eyed cat comes to visit each time we come to the island. We call her Godwin the Pirate. We were here when she was caring for a litter of kittens, and one of them, Baby Godwin, stays in the yard while we’re here enjoying the food and water.

You’re thinking all this sounds like we’re reaching some critical juncture. We may be too far in the zone. Can we come back out? Get revved up? Work like animals again when we get home? I’m sure we will. Our schedule when we return involves some heavy lifting. The fall schedule of books, the summer Annenberg events, trips to San Francisco,Portland, Seattle, Omaha, New York, DC, London, Brighton, Frankfurt. And that’s through October. But here, we’re in the zone. My eye has stopped twitching. The one eyed pirate cat stares at me with her one liquid eye.

Published in: on May 31, 2016 at 8:47 am  Leave a Comment  

We don’t have internet but we have light moon water.

We don’t have internet but we don’t want it.  Internet would only distract us from writing.


I had tea and squeezed fresh lemon from the lemon tree out in the courtyard and now I need honey to make it sweet enough to drink.  I’d taken down the purple bougainvillea which was climbing into the lemon tree, though at home our purple bougainvillea has invaded several trees. It is an intrusive plant.  If it were a neighbor, we’d call the police.


I have some sort of bites on my arms and legs; we aren’t sure if they’re gnats or mosquitoes but we have some repellant so it doesn’t get any worse. Mark says I should stop scratching but I do it anyway.


Considering how sick I was when we left on this trip and in London, it’s amazing how well I am now.


The water is very cold, but I manage to swim at least an hour a day and hike around the islands I swim to. This means I have to bring sandals on the swim.  I have goggles now so I can see the seaweed that I would use if I were building a house here.


There is one large rock with pink rock fingers going down into the sea at the small island off of Livadi Geranou Beach. I call her the painted lady.


A few years ago, the cat had four kittens.  All four of them have come by to eat cat food, but only one is really friendly.


At home we don’t write in the evenings; we watch Game of Thrones.  Friends suggest Downtown Abbey. We’re actually too tired to write here, but we write anyway.


It’s the sunlight which is thick like the gold marmalade they serve at the end of meals.  I bought some to eat with sheep yogurt.


While swimming and walking I think of future chapters, but I also think about last year and everything that happened and realizing how amazing my friends are and realizing the world is large enough for those of us who make mistakes.  Greece is full of light, and we are writing in that light.  Some doors close, other doors open.

Published in: on May 30, 2016 at 7:36 am  Leave a Comment  

A country of good cheese.

The Greeks take cheese seriously, the mizithra cheese is so delicate and lovely.  I’m going to make Mark some pasta tomorrow with it.  Tonight we had haloumi roasted with figs.  Almost every day we have Greek salad with feta.  Last night I made a ratatouille with fresh mozzarella.  The cheese in this country is very good.


We are here early enough in the year that the island is quiet and cool.  There will be many fresh figs in August.  But already the summer jasmine, the night blooming jasmine is opening.


We walked around a massive hermitage built like a castle crouched along the bay.  The door was open, but we didn’t go in.  The water is very clear but the salt in it is heavy.  Mark got me goggles today so my eyes wouldn’t look like an alien.  The salt water makes me tired like a bear who has climbed many trees and not eaten enough fish.


Before we leave, we will go to the small restaurant by the bay of the windmills where the old lady carefully picks the squash blossoms and stuffs them with rice.  We have many more days.


We are awake even when we are asleep, and when we are asleep, we are dreaming.

Published in: on May 26, 2016 at 9:23 am  Leave a Comment  

End of Days or just ordinary preppers

“I have a gun in my house and in my truck,” my brother-in-law announces at dinner.  “So if anything happens, I’m ready.”  What he has of value is a giant television.  I don’t imagine many people hauling off with that.  What do you have that you are willing to kill for?  A Stradivarius or a one of a kind vintage car?  Is that worth a life?

Americans like the idea of being ready for danger.  If you have a gun in your house, you are the dangerous one in the neighborhood.  Do you picture yourself in your home, shooting out the windows Western style at bad guys who want your food and water?  If these bad guys are really dangerous characters, they would take your gun, shoot you, then make off with your cans of tuna, nuts and raisins.

Being prepared for emergency is a good idea.  Many people in disaster prone areas like New Orleans, California or areas of the Northwest that get snowed in have generators and food and water for days. If you do any camping, as we do, you probably have enough supplies to camp and cook in your back yard.  We have a disaster pack in my car so that, if I couldn’t drive home in an earthquake, I could ditch my car and walk forty miles home.  The backpack is uncomfortable, and when I think of myself walking alongside the fallen 405 toward home, I imagine that it would take a day or two.  I carry old running shoes in the car.

There are religious people who believe in preparing for the End of the World.  I grew up in such a place, in a cult in Southern New Hampshire that was prepping for the Tribulation.  In long sermons on weekends, our leader George would explain that the Russians were going to attack, the Tribulation was coming and the world was ending.  I wasn’t sure whether these would be separate events or would occur simultaneously, but it was best to be prepared.  We had enough food stored up to last through the winter.  We did End of Days training in which we would get up in the middle of the night, roll our belongings into a sleeping bag and disappear into the woods where we would survive for a few days.  We learned to kill and eat animals that were not tasty like squirrels, snakes and raccoons.

Collecting guns as a means to protect yourself has come to seem fringe in a country with many violent deaths due to gunfire.  Considering how long it’s been since we’ve had a war on our own soil, it’s amazing how many people die in this country due to gun fire….  The man who shot up Sandy Hook was a prepper who collected guns.  Many Americans are fans of the Second Amendment which was put into the Constitution during a time when there still was a frontier, cowboys, Native Americans fighting for their lands, border wars with Mexico, and danger of wild animals. Carrying a gun around in your truck, outside of Texas, may make you feel manly, but given the number of accidental deaths due to guns in this country as well as passion killings, it seems hard to understand why so many Americans want to include a gun as a means of preparing for disaster.   Americans love the idea of Clint Eastwood, the idea that you can be ruthless when it matters and that makes you a hero.  When does being ready to kill someone make you a hero?

Americans like guns because of fear, because they like the frontier myth and also because we, as a nation have a tendency toward paranoia, toward an us and them mentality.  Guns enforce the idea that we are right and “they” are wrong.  In all the post apocalyptic movies from The Road to Mad Max, there are wars over resources.  Being prepared for a disaster is buying into the potentiality of the conflict you against nature.  Most of us would agree that once the grid is down, having the ability to survive with your resources until help comes is a good thing.  Where the possibilities get scarier is when you start to imagine the potentiality of man against man.  There’s us.  We have food and toilet paper. There’s them who don’t have food or Charmin.  Ask yourself, do you feel lucky, punk?

I was in Los Angeles during the 1994 earthquake.  Many Mexican Americans remembered the Mexico City earthquake and wisely moved out of their houses for a few days to be sure the aftershocks were over.  They camped at the park near my house and Western Bagel gave them bagels and cream cheese.  I walked by to get bagels, and there were Mexican families spread out on picnic blankets putting schmear on their bagels.  The bagel store wasn’t worried about being robbed.  Over fifty people had died in the the earthquake.  We had survived: we were eating bagels.  The sun was shining through the palm trees.

Published in: on May 24, 2016 at 9:01 am  Leave a Comment  

The sky is full of lemons.

The trees in the yard are full of lemons so we put lemons on everything. On the rocket salad, the arugula, the Greek salad, we put lemons in our lentil soup. Lemons in the tea.


The flowers are California flowers.  Bougainvilleas, oleander, night blooming jasmine, honeysuckle. The jasmine makes the whole patio smell sweet.


Cats. The island has a lot of stray cats.  We are feeding the two that live in our patio.  Mrs. Pirate Godwin and Baby Godwin. Baby has a small tuft of white hair on his belly, but the rest of him is black.


I took in too much salt water yesterday and I feel woozy today.  I am not a dolphin.


In my next life maybe.  In this life, a writer.  Among other things. Identities are multiple.


The bitter melon is sweet.

When I lie on the patio and look up, the sky is full of lemons.

Published in: on May 24, 2016 at 8:51 am  Leave a Comment  

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