Monday, June 27, 2005

Mindbuzz: VONA Day One Reportback

Today was the first full day of my Voices of Our Nations (VONA) novel workshop experience, and two hours after I've left campus and my comrades-in-writing, my mind is still buzzing from all the great conversations, critique and cameraderie I experienced--just in one day.

I feel as if I've spent the morning in intense meditation: as I walked down the street to my house from the bus stop, the air seemed clearer and more crisp, I noticed the elderly Korean couple walking slowly arm in arm with their big black German shepherd, I heard the small and large sounds of everyday living around me that I normally take for granted. I felt as if my brain had been tuned to a new frequency, my awareness heightened after the morning workshop with Chitra Divakaruni and the other novelists in the room.

I have to admit, after the orientation yesterday for VONA I left feeling a bit apprehensive and fearful about what this experience would be like. The words 'life-changing', 'intense' and 'extroardinary' were bandied about by VONA faculty and alums alike, making me wonder whether I would have a nervous breakdown this week--not what I was planning.

But I'm getting it now: the passion and commitment of the other writers (all writers of color, for VONA is exclusively for us) is truly intense and beautiful, especially for me because it's been a rare experience for me to feel kinship with other writers in a supportive, non-competitive way. It's fuckin' great.

And it was pretty cool to get this feedback from folks about my sci-fi/fantasy novel-in-progress:

"This is really well written...Your language is beautiful" (from Chitra!)
"I found myself captivated and drawn in by the story"
"Wow! Very nice! Sci-fi! I was riveted"

We got into an interesting discussion about the sometimes-assumed 'responsibility' of writers of color to write about our culture, about race and politics, etc. One of Chitra's comments particularly struck me: "It's not so much about the milieu we write in [whether contemporary fiction or sci-fi or whatever] but about the concerns that we bring to our work." (I'm paraphrasing; hopefully you get the point)

The folks in my workshop are an eclectic and intriguing lot: a former journalist for the Chicago Tribune who lives in Guadalajara and rents rooms to writers and tourists; a globe-trotting Hemingway admirer who recently returned to the States from a writing/reading stint in Chile; a young Latina writer from Oakland who is working on a complex family drama novel told from the perspectives of two sisters and their daughters. And that's just a few of them. I feel privileged to be in their company and happy to be sharing with all of them the gift of our writing.

More to come,
In Peace,

Saturday, June 25, 2005


Thanks to Gura, found the Pinoy Cook web site.

Got to give props to Caffe Roma in North Beach, where I am now enjoying a smooth cup of cappucino and free wi-fi.

One more: where to find free wi-fi cafes in San Francisco.

Deeper thoughts soon to come...

Oh yeah, Happy Pride!!


Thursday, June 23, 2005

What I'll Miss About San Francisco

So I haven't mentioned in my blog yet that H. and I found a new place--we're heading back to the East Bay, and I have to say I'm really happy. Originally, we were only going to live out in Frisco for a year until his business got up and running, but it's been a year and seven months and I'm ready for some sunshine, warmer temperatures, the laidback Oaktown vibe, and a 20-minute 'commute' to work versus an hour-and-a-half one.

But there are some things I'll truly miss about living in SF. Not that we won't be here all the time--I don't think H. could stay away for even a few days, and I've gotten so used to the conveniences and attractions that set Frisco apart from Oakland and all the other cities in the Bay Area to stay away for long either. So what'll I miss? Let me count the things...

-Serendipitous access to art venues and other creative attractions. For example, last weekend we checked out the free Intersection for the Arts 40th anniversary celebration block party, which took up the long block on Valencia between 16th and 17th. We saw the Marcus Shelby Trio perform, got to peep some YouthSpeaks poets, but didn't get to see Ntozake Shange because she cancelled at the last minute. Bummer. But we did also get to see a fine exhibit of anniversary-related art in the gallery on the top floor of the Intersection building. H. took home a poster from the blood-red punkesque mural that featured the words 'Jello Biafra v. Dianne Feinstein v. Quentin Kopp'. How San Francisco.

-Another time, H. and I stumbled quite on accident (we were on our way to Trader Joe's for mundane grocery shopping) a Dia de los Muertos exhibit at SOMArts, consisting of some amazing altars by local artists, including one memorial to Frisco residents who had been killed by gun violence in the previous year.

-Last artsy example: Tonite I stopped by theVoices/VONA faculty reading (again, free!) at USF to hear Junot Diaz, Elmaz Abinader, David Mura and Jimmy Santiago-Baca read. Just five minutes away from my house. I'll be in my Novel workshop with VONA next week, and glad that I'll have to take the 38L to Arguello instead of all the way downtown (oops, I'm supposed to talk about what I like about San Francisco).

-The food. Did you know that San Francisco has more restaurants per capita than Paris? Or something like that. The grub in this town is really off the chain. Whether you're jonesing for cheap Thai take-out (King of Thai) or chi-chi gourmet raw vegan food (Millenium), late-night Chinese food (China First on Clement is our current favorite) or slammin' Italian food (North Beach or Richmond district, for starters), Frisco's really got it all. There's also this spot for hardcore carnivores called Espetus Churrascaria, a Brazilian-style barbecue place, that I've been wanting to try. Well, okay, Oakland does have an edge on SF when it comes to barbeque overall, but we won't get into that now.

-The beaches. From China Beach to Baker Beach to Ocean Beach to North or South Beach (okay, those last two aren't really beaches but they are close to the water and have great views), SF's got the best access to beautiful ocean views of any urban area I've been to. Even when the ocean is covered or obscured by fog, you can't beat a drive down the Great Highway.

-The cafes. There must be at least five times as many cafes in San Francisco than in Oakland and Berkeley combined. Which means you can always find a spot to park your booty and grab a cup o' joe (or tea or chai or whatever you're into) and write or chill or people watch or whatever. My favorite cafe spots in Frisco? La Boheme on 24th and Mission for the eclectic and gritty experience; Crossrooads Cafe in Southbeach for a chill vibe and quick access to waterfront walkways; Mario's Bohemian in North Beach to write in and get a nice view of Washington Square park; and Bazaar Cafe's backyard patio and free wi-fi is my pick for the rare sunny, warm day in the Richmond district.

But even with all that said, I can't wait to move back to Oakland. I'm an East Bay girl at heart. But I think at least a small part of my heart will be left behind in San Francisco when I migrate back across the Bay Bridge.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Multitasking Me

Got to send out props to the ever-insightful and observant Max Elbaum, who wrote in a comment to my previous post that I could become a columnist if I really focused my energy on achieving that goal. Max—who is a published writer in his own right—observes that I seem to have 'other priorities' right now, which is true. But it's not just true right now, it seems to be true at every other point in my life. I just always have a lot going on, and can never be happy focusing on one thing at a time. What can I say, I'm a classic multitasker.

One of the reasons why I don't feel I could 'just' focus on my writing is that, in order for me to feel connected to the issues I care about—such as, say, racial inequality in public institutions or the erosion of a woman's right to choose how to create (or not create) her family—I need to be engaged with them on more than just an intellectual level. While interviewing folks for articles about said issues is one way to stay 'connected' to what's actually going on in people's lives 'on the ground', I have to say that I'm not sure if that would be enough for me to feel like I'm really part of a movement to create a better world.

About five years ago, my day job—which took up most of my time—used to be working for a national trade association of independent, mostly progressive/social justice-oriented, publications like The Nation and the SF Bay Guardian, etc. And although I did and still do believe that those publications are crucial parts of a broad social justice movement, I have to say that doing that work, stuck in my office most of the time, and hardly ever working with or around folks of color, low-income folks, immigrants, youth, etc., was horribly unfulfilling. The independent, progressive media in this country is still woefully white (and privileged and male, in terms of leadership), despite my old organization's efforts to make it more diverse and multicultural.

Could I make a living as a columnist/freelance writer/journalist/left-wing pundit? Possibly. Do I want to? I don't think so. At least not now, or at least not on a full-time basis. Opportunities have presented themselves, but I have to say I'm pretty happy working at an organization I love, getting to raise money for an organization that helps young people of color, mostly working class, in Oakland, in San Jose, in Fresno and Long Beach and San Diego and beyond, can have the opportunity to bring their marginalized voices to the broader public debate about their schools, about their lives. Knowing that my work directly impacts the ability of thousands of people all over the state to have a say in the public policies that affec them directly makes me feel incredibly proud, happy and fulfilled. I feel it's part of my calling to live my values through my work in this way.

Does that mean I can't be a creative or political writer, and a published one at that? Of course not. It just might mean, though, that my writing career won't take shape in a very consistent, linear way—more likely, it'll grow in fits and spurts, especially during those times when I'm lucky enough to get paid for my writing, or when my activist work on education issues and fundraising converges with my writing talents.

But that's okay with me. I have the writing of my novel and some short story projects to sustain me creatively, this blog to sustain my political writings and get my words out to a small degree in the blogosphere, and the random opportunity to do an interview or write an article for an activist rag. And that's okay for me, for now.

But who knows what the future might hold? Maybe I will follow in the foosteps of a Rodel Rodis or Emil Guillermo, with a Pinay twist. Maybe I'll become the Juan Gonzalez or Arundhati Roy of my generation. The future is full of possibilities, and I'm not ruling out any of them. All I know is that, for now, I'm perfectly happy where I am. And that's a blessing that I'm not quite ready to risk losing. Not just yet.


Sunday, June 12, 2005

Warning: Inconclusive ramblings follow.

Random musings on this somewhat anti-climactic Philippine Independence Day. One-hundred-seven years after the Aguinaldo's Kawit declaration, and where are we as a nation, as a Filipino diaspora? Recent polling shows that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is the least popular president since Ferdinand Marcos. Recently, Rep. Liza Maza introduced legislation meant to lift the ban on divorce in the Philippines. How far have we come?

I read an interesting column by Emil Guillermo in AsianWeek the other day, lambasting the 49ers for their training video, which contained a buck-toothed Asian man chonging it up a la Mickey Rooney in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'. To quote Sin La Salle in 'Be Cool' after he shoots a Russian gangster for twice calling him a n*gger: "Racial epithets. Why must it always come down to that? Makes me sad for my daughter."

Emil's a good writer. I like his stuff, generally. Articulate, well-thought out arguments, fairly progresive politics. I've read a few of Rodel Rodis' columns in Philippine News. I like some of his stuff too. Makes me wonder where the Pinays (especially Fil-Ams) are in this whole columnist biz. Don't know of any that have gained the prominence of an Emil or Rodel. And the interesting feedback I've been getting about my essay that appeared in Phil News makes me think: "Why couldn't I be a columnist?" I already write this blog, right? Heh.

I realized the other day that I haven't been writing about much political news on this blog. Perhaps it's because I work in a non-profit that does pretty cutting-edge, progressive social change work. Meaning, I have plenty of people around me all the time whom I can politick with. Today, for example, I coordinated a fabulous house party for my organization, Californians for Justice, where a bunch of activists got together to hear about our work, listen to a youth leader from Oakland High School speak, and give us some cash. It's nice to be in those spaces, where we can feel completely comfortable with our politics around race, class, gender, etc.

But it was also nice to be in a place where I was challenged a bit around my politics—my friend T.'s wedding in Sacramento. T. is Chinese-Vietnamese, was forced to immigrate here when she was a child because of the Vietnam War. T. married S., a fellow Chinese-Vietnamese refugee. They were joined at their wedding banquet by 500 family, friends and well-wishers. The program was in Cantonese and English. The crowd was probably at least 90% immigrants or children of immigrants. It was a trip, but a cool one. And the food, damn, don't get me started. All I'll say is: Twelve course Chinese banquet. Abalone. Walnut Prawns. Peking Duck. You get the picture.

Because of the wedding and the house party, I've spent more time in a car this weekend than I have in months. I'm tired, and ready to grub on some homemade pasta and roasted asparagus.

G'night, folks-

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Eating Out

It's really been all about food in restaurants this weekend, which is nice since I've been trying to bring lunch to work from home and cook more. Eating out now feels like a reward instead of just an expensive necessity. Started the weekend early by eating out for all my meals on Friday. First, had Shan Dong for late lunch on Friday with V. and H., then crossed the street for a taro pearl drink, on V.'s recommendation. The milk was not too heavy or creamy, tasted very fresh. Yum. It was good to catch up with globe-trotting V., who recently witnessed some racial profiling/police harassment at a Giants' game.

Dinner that night was at Red Sea with M., whom I also hadn't seen in forever. It was a gorgeous day on Friday in Oakland, and the sun shining through the slats in the blinds at the restaurant made me feel like I was tanning while sipping my honey wine and eating stewed collard greens with injera. Double yum.

Today, H. and I had lunch with his mom and sister for said sister's birthday at Kamakura, which I haven't been to in ages. Decent sushi, not quite fresh enough for the prices they were charging. But I didn't have to pay for it, so that was nice. Stuffed myself silly with spicy tuna, oshinko, New York and Hollywood (tuna, avocado, cucumber and tobiko, I think) rolls. Triple yum.

Then for dinner tonite we had standard Chinese food at H.'s dad's favorite spot in Potrero Hill. Sorry, not gonna give up the restaurant name--gotta keep some places secret, eh?

I think tomorrow we'll take a break from restaurant food--maybe I'll make pancakes with fruit compote and maple syrup, scrambled eggs and turkey sausage for breakfast instead. Quadruple yum.

Happy eating,