New York City

KGB Bar event was very fine.

Then the party at the Red Room

In between in my hotel, they keep playing White House Down.

Jamie Foxx is president and Channing Tatum is fighting for him.

The head of the secret service is hunting down the president.  You never know who you can trust.  You think they are your friend and next thing you know, they are using the nuclear launch codes.

This morning I had breakfast at the Harvard Club with Benjamin and Dave, I had a California breakfast.

I like Richard Jenkins in this movie; I always like him.

I walked around New York after that; it’s a nice day.

I went into a Sephora store where I was thinking of breaking my Walgreens pattern for something a little more uptown.  The Sephora store on 5th avenue and 48th is impressive with large golden doors.  I was immediately assigned to Randy who looked at me, went and got his coat and said, “I’m going on break.”

At that point, my tiny impulse to go upscale passed and I walked down 5th avenue to find myself a snack.  I bought Macintosh apples, navel oranges, and Turkish figs.

I like Turkish figs.

Published in: on March 13, 2016 at 2:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

All I see are gray clouds.

Cleveland is wet and cold.

When I landed, I rented a car.   I couldn’t find a classical station.

I listened to Death Cab for Cutie and remembered my kids going to see them in Hollywood before they were famous and I thought, what a name for a band!

“All I see are gray clouds,” they sang, and it is the right song for Cleveland.

I have Morgan Freeman on Waze directing me around Cleveland.  “I am vice president, but you are president of this car,” he says.

I visited Mac’s Backs-Books and talked with the owner.   I bought the Children’s Home by Charles Lambert.  I am very excited about reading it. I love this bookstore, it feels lively, energetic, cozy.

Cleveland is an old city.  Compared to the huge hot thrum of Los Angeles and the busy moneyed streets of San Francisco, Cleveland’s streets and buildings look dark and solid.

I went to Severance Hall and though about George Szell conducting there and how many recordings I have from this great symphony, and sometime when I am in Cleveland, I will go there.

The building I was most excited by is the Peter Lewis Building, a Frank Gehry building which I saw from all angles. A structure with many angles glittering against the grey sky.

Tonight I am going to an Italian restaurant with my editor and fellow writer.

Tomorrow New York.  The air here is thick with water.  All I see are gray clouds.

Desire and water.x00119-9-2jpeg-79b5b01152f532ac

Published in: on March 10, 2016 at 3:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

We need a strong and wise leader for president.

More than half the millennials consider at least one of their parents to be their best friend. There was a time when a good parent was supposed to be an authority figure. Now we want to be friends as well, and with all these parents being buddies with their kids, it’s no wonder we want a leader who we could be buddies with as well.

It’s hard to imagine sitting around in your Wranglers having a beer with George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, the Dalai Llama, Gandhi, Martin Luther King or Angela Merkel. Each of those leaders feels like someone you’d want to meet with on your best terms, someone who deserves all of your respect. It’s an election year, and we will be deciding on the person who will be our next leader, and one of the leaders of the world. Do we want the most intelligent person, the most well informed or someone whose opinions we agree with? For many Americans, the candidate we like best is the one who agrees with our own ideas.

Recent elections have shown that from the time presidential candidates have appeared on television for debates, Americans have come to need their leaders to look good. It’s hard to imagine Abraham Lincoln, who suffered from depression and probably Marfan’s disease, coming across as the bon vivant Americans wish for now. Obama and Michelle both eat burgers and fries. They seem funny, friendly and likable. But no president in recent years got elected on quite the amount of likability as W. who seemed like he would be a lot of fun to hang out with — and that won out over intelligence and experience for many Americans.

In the current election, it appears that it will come down to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and part of the election question will come down to likability. In a spouse, likability is a real plus. In a friend, certainly, but should it be a primary reason for voting for the leader of our nation? When the Donald insults women, people cheer, and that makes him feel that he is likable. Hillary’s intelligence makes her seem less likable to some voters. We don’t get to choose our parents or our bosses, but we do get to vote for who will lead our country.

Claudia Rankine’s book Citizen has taken the country by storm. In it, we see micro-aggressions against African Americans told in poetic narratives. She tells stories of people being clearly insulting; each one is a reality we’ve seen and heard. Someone says to a black woman in line, “I didn’t see you,” as if it were possible to be invisible.

The Donald is clearly comfortable with not being politically correct; he’s comfortable with micro-aggressions which are for him plain speech. To win a political campaign, you have to be willing to insult your opponent. You have to be willing to get down in the mud, to get dirty.

I’ve long realized that I like to be in a room with people who seem brilliant, people from whom I can learn. I think of conversations with truly great people: Rita Dove, Claudia Rankine, Percival Everett, Peggy Shumaker, Blase Bonpane, all of them people I have learned from. If you’re in the room with someone who is highly intelligent, who is a great leader, do you feel small or do you feel lucky? I feel extremely fortunate, and I think this country would be fortunate if we could have a wise leader.

Seema Reza, who leads the writing program at Walter Reed Hospital, has a new book coming out this year called When the World Breaks Open. It’s a narrative memoir which traces her divorce, motherhood and her leadership of the writing program. She is a leader who, having risked all to divorce her husband, is ready to walk the tightrope with her returning vet students and her sons between being likable and being a leader. She writes of a taste for sour, sweet, flesh, sugar, fire. “The sweetness lingers in the corners of my lips, I catch it on the tip of my tongue and words I form are gentle, kind, ingratiating…” She writes of a world where balance is the dance of life. Where strength means willingness to take risks with grace.

In the coming year’s election, I hope we will elect a man or woman who can make us hold our heads up high as Americans, a person of honor, dignity and intelligence, a person of integrity who will stand up for our friends and attempt diplomacy before fighting. A strong nation requires strong leadership.

Published in: on March 8, 2016 at 8:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

There was a dog on the freeway

There was a dog on the freeway, a German Shepherd and the cops stopped all the cars for miles while the three cop cars got the dog off an off ramp.  We were slowed down for a long time, the cop cars weaving in front of us.  One Honda kept getting aggressive with the cops and the cop seemed angry.

It was raining.

When I left the house in a thunderstorm, I thought they must have seeded this weather;  you almost never see thunder and lightning here in So Cal.  Around Griffith Park, the rain was in sheets, the lightning all around me.  I felt like I was being carried up to the source, to the sky source.

I was listening to Aaron Copland’s Rodeo.

This weekend we were in Del Mar with Lisa and Sally, sleeping well in all that sea air.  Such a joy being with friends.

The rain feels big and invasive but in a good way, the way steam invades you in the tropics.

Tobi and I did a big planting yesterday and our plants are happy now, their roots climbing down into the water, their own root funky town.

Lightning is like God talking. Drive carefully she says.  Breathe.

Published in: on March 7, 2016 at 10:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Slicing and drifting

On the freeway in the morning, fog drifts.  I slice down through the city and as I slip past Dodger Stadium, morning rises and I drink my coffee. Coffee sustains the waking.  Los Angeles smells of dirt and smoke. My students speak of drifting.


Drifting involves  aiming one’s car at a wall and miss it completely; drifting is the opposite of grip driving, which involves taking a corner without sliding. This can be done without any regard to horsepower, weight, or any other factors. Essentially this means any car can drift, however, some cars are more apt to powerslide than drift. Drifting originated in Japan, thus most cars used to drift are Japanese.


We do not drift except when we are willing to die.

Published in: on March 2, 2016 at 9:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Burning through my health points

We all come with a certain number of health points.  I came with more than my full share.  I had a bucket load.  But I am burning through them at a fearful rate.  I keep wishing for more sleep, time to think.  I keep imagining that I can have more energy if I drink more water, try oil pulling, gargle with salt water, get chiropractic help, I’m willing to hang upside down so that more energy pours downward.  I’m willing to try anything.  In video games,  you come with a certain number of health points, but you gradually lose points.   I’m going to drink my carrot juice. HP repair.


In the video world… the concept of regenerating health requires the player to find med kits and then the wounds will automatically heal if they can avoid damage for a set amount of time.  This allows the player to be in top condition at the beginning of every skirmish, ready to fight to the full in every battle.   I am not in a video game.

Published in: on February 29, 2016 at 9:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Lois, my life long friend.

We walked out in the evening with the dog, Zooey, who is ridiculous.

Mark has eyesight problems in the dark.

March is Cleveland and New York.  April is Houston and London.

My friend Lois came by to see me today with her husband and mother-in-law.

Lois is my longest term friend, my oldest cell mate.

We know who we are.

We were immediately lost in conversation.

February has been nice.  Being home.

But March and April are all travel.

Our Emperor tree is in full bloom now and the jasmine and the orange tree.

We feel the world awakening.

Tomorrow we go to our friends’ house to watch the Academy Awards.

They have a lovely pool; maybe I’ll go for a swim.

There has been a great deal of swimming at their pool over the years.

Lois is lovely, vibrant, very smart.

She always had a pool of happiness she could dip into at any time.

We need more time together.

There are times when I write like a maniac.

Others when I catch up on sleep.

To sleep perchance to dream.

Published in: on February 27, 2016 at 10:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

I walk the dog who dreams of squirrels.

I sleep too much and dream of books. Sometimes in the dream I am writing a book, and sometimes the book is writing me.

I’m reading Truth and Beauty.  Kim Dower got me on an Ann Patchett kick, and reading this book makes me think about the kinds of friendships one has.  The friendship of Ann and Lucy is profound and deep and crazy all at the same time.  They hate and love each other all at once.  They envy each other’s success, they scratch at each other and adore one another.

It’s a real friendship when you go through some bad stuff, even some ugly stuff and you come up the other side and you are still friends.  Our whole family has been through some madness and to the dark parts of the world and back again.  We’ve flown way out into space and then found our way around the dark side of the moon.  In the dark places, we found reasons that we’re an epic family.

The deep big friendships are the ones that you went down into Hades and there you ate the pomegranate seeds that mean you will always carry a bit of Hades with you, and you started up the long climb up through winter into the bright morning and early sunlight and it is spring then.  The air brightens then, sunlight pouring into the tunnel, and the jasmine is in bloom, and there in the spring you see your friend.

Lucy and Ann have a big friendship, and I really like reading about it.  I like to think about having a big wonderful long friendship like that.

We just watched Captain America Winter Soldier.  I’ll be honest, we are not the ideal audience for that movie, but Jack watches all the Marvel comic movies and we don’t want be complete losers in the Marvel department.   If I were a Marvel character, I would fly.

Published in: on February 26, 2016 at 10:40 pm  Comments (1)  

Leaving Bel Air in the dark

Leaving the Bel Air Hotel around 6 pm as the dark.  I follow Waze which doesn’t take me up the 405 but down Sunset and then into the gates of Bel Air.  I drive past mansion after mansion, huge castles built into the hillsides.  I keep driving up into the hills.  Each house worth millions.   The darkness became thicker.  At the top of Mulholland, still listening to Hamilton, I could see the other side of the hill, my side.  The houses are tiny, it looked like clusters of villages.  My village is palm trees and orange trees and chickens.  The darkness was fully arrived by the time I got home and for dinner we each had shrimp and a few asparagus.   We are learning to eat less, sleep more, think deeply.

Published in: on February 25, 2016 at 10:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Amy Hassinger’s After the Dam, look what you have to look forward to!

We live in a time of hurried tales, jumpy rhythms—a time when video games are more popular than baseball, that pastoral sport that feels so elegant, so nineteenth century. Amy Hassinger’s novel After the Dam has the springy energy of a twenty-first century novel with the graceful pacing of a baseball game. You want to know what’s going to happen, and—wait for it—the story comes toward you gliding on dancers’ feet. Amy Hassinger’s writing is beautiful and smooth as glass.


Her main character needs to get away; she rushes, she takes her daughter and runs. Backwards. Back to her grandmother’s farm. Back into the childhood part of her life when she felt herself to be small and the world to be safe. But when she gets there, the world is anything but safe. Her grandmother’s farm, her family inheritance, is about to be handed back to the Native American tribe who first owned it; her grandmother is dying; the dam near the farm is in danger and her high school lover, a Native American ex-Marine, is taking care of the dam and is ready to take her to bed; and, if this were not enough, she has a baby who she carries uncertainly through her chaotic life.


Amy is a dancer and her choreographed abandon shines through these carefully planned pages that feel like a flung arm, a poised leg. We feel hard work and spontaneity meet. Amy gives us a character for whom there seem to be no good choices. Good choices hide from us because our own tangled desires get in the way. Amy’s writing has a richness and beauty that is inescapable.


I heard her read from the book in Nebraska at the MFA residency where we both teach and I was transfixed. There was one scene where two characters make love under the stars, and the scene is so magical that you feel the stars and lovemaking colliding in a way that is not sentimental, but instead, seamlessly elegant, like entering a waltz in a ball gown. We at Red Hen are very excited to be publishing After the Dam. Amy likes to uncoil the spring and show you how life works, how it begins at the center of the galaxy before all the stars spread out and became the Milky Way.31bROteH57L._UX250_

Published in: on February 22, 2016 at 9:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

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