Sunday, December 30, 2007

Another Birthday, Another Year

Today's my birthday, folks. Thanks for your well-wishes and positive thoughts.

Having my birthday so close to both Christmas and New Year's, and during the winter season, has always meant that I'm both reflective during my anniversary of life, and that I also have lots of things to distract me from the fact that I'm aging. Funny, though, maybe it's the fact that my Mom never 'blended' my birthday with other holidays and was always sure to get me separate presents, have separate parties, etc. that I never confuse the three holidays. Instead, although it's sometimes irritating to get 'combo' birthday / Christmas presents from friends who don't realize how annoying that can be (just give me one present for one holiday, dammit!), I see this time of celebration and cold weather as a time to reflect on the year that's just past, and the year to come.

Yes, I make new year's resolutions (or 'goals', as I like to call them, since that feels a little less daunting), but overall I like to just think about where I've been this past year, and where I want to go. And there's been a lot for me to reflect on this past year.

First, there was my trip to visit my father and then right after that, my first-ever trip to the Philippines, where I met a lot of other family for the first time. Before my PI trip, I had a a great send-off with friends, which made me feel strong and protected for what ended up being a very emotional and physically taxing (tropics in the summer) journey. I also had tons of support from friends who donated more than $2500 to me for my trips. It was hard to fundraise for myself in some ways, even after I've raised literally millions of dollars for organizations and other people. But it was a big part of me claiming for myself my right and my need to take these journeys, and I got huge validation from my community through this fundraising drive. I also started the year right with a belated birthday party for myself.

Those two trips were the double-whammy of my spring, hitting me with a load of intense emotions, from joy to sorrow to anger and everything in between. I learned a lot about my family during those trips, and therefore about myself, about my roots and where my weird quirks and values come from.

As I said in an earlier post, I did a lot of other traveling this year, much more than I ever have before, logging a bunch of miles on my Southwest Rapid Rewards account in the process. I traveled a bunch for work. I moved into a new position at work this past year, one that was both stressful and challenging in a positive way. My time management and control issues were definitely put to the test, and I realized that I can't do everything, and shit, that's really okay. It was also the first time in many years that I worked a full year at full-time at one job, only doing a few contract gigs here and there. That was interesting. I don't think it's necessarily the right career option for me for the rest of my life (I like having more flexibility and independence), but it's been good to get grounded in one place again after working on a bunch of different projects for the past few years. And CFJ is also a great place to work.

I did a two-week stint at VONA this year, one week with my long-time creative hero Jessica Hagedorn, and a second week with my new creative hero Chris Abani. I learned more in those two weeks than I had all year about my writing, and what I need to do to move it forward. Thanks Jessica and Chris, for reals.

Lastly, but definitely not least, H. and I got engaged (there was no proposal involved, just FYI, we just discussed it and decided it was the right time, in our typical non-conventional fashion). We've been planning our wedding for the past couple months. You can read more about that on my wedding blog.

It's been a bit of a whirlwind year, but a lot of good things that I've been wanting to do for a long time happened. And the best part of it is that I had a major if not the main role in making them happen. It was a good year for self-empowerment. Damn, it was just a good year! Thanks to all of you for supporting and encouraging me throughout the year, and for reading my blog.

I look forward to a happy, fulfilling, (hopefully) peaceful, and prosperous new year with all of you. I really believe that the best is yet to come.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

List: Why I Hardly Write About Politics on this Blog

1. A lot, and I mean A LOT, of other people write about politics from a much more well-informed and articulate voice than mine. For starters, see some of the links right here in the margins of my blog. Not that I read much political stuff either, except for sometimes Harper's because it's just really well-written and takes interesting perspectives on stuff. I have to admit that a lot of other political writing puts me to sleep. Maybe I'm afraid of putting people to sleep too!

2. I am self-centered. At least I'm honest about it. I've read plenty of other blogs by so-called 'conscious' or political people who really just talk about their friends and their opinions anyway, so why not just put it all out there and be transparent? This blog is about me and my life, and as much as politics touches my life--which of course politics do quite frequently, in very real ways--I may post something about politics here. I try not to be too self-centered in my everyday life, so I figure I can use this space to be a bit of an ego-hog if I like. Besides, I feel like a lot of leftists are so obsessed with politics and not enough with examining the problems and issues in their own lives that they end up being some really frakked up people, if you know what I mean.

3. I don't feel like I have a lot to contribute to the 'political debate' that may not completely offend others, and I'm not trying to offend people in this blog. I really am not trying to invite some crazy right-wing and/or racist lurkers to read my blog and start trying to post some ill comments. Of course, I could just moderate them out of existence but I'm way too honest to do that, and then it might just get out of hand.

4. It seems like this blog ends up mostly being used by my friends and acquaintances to keep up on my life and hear more about what I'm thinking about life. And that's just fine by me. In our frenzied and over-scheduled urban American society, I have so little time to keep up with friends and folks that my blog ends up doing that for me. To me, that's a good use of technology!

And one more thing--tomorrow's my birthday! So wish self-centered me a nice happy one.

Monday, December 24, 2007

List: What I'm Going to Do for the Next 2 Weeks

1. Get Christmas out of the way first. Not that I don't like Christmas, I actually enjoy it quite a bit. But I'm not very religious about it and I don't get too caught up in the gift-buying craze, especially now that H. and I are saving for the wedding. I like to get small, thoughtful gifts that please people and make them feel as if someone listened to them. I like to give people what they want. I like to just give gifts to people, really. I'm a giver. No wonder I'm a fundraiser then, eh? I'm a professional counselor to givers!

2. Stay at home and clean my house. It's been a long, sometimes tough, and very busy year for me. At last count I'd made 12 out of town trips this past year, including going to meet my father for the first time, going to the Philippines, to the Rockwood Leadership program for four days, to Portland for a conference I trained at, and to LA three times for work. I also got to go to Louisville, Kentucky for work which was interesting and fun (really!). So my house is a mess. I haven't organized squat in my house in months. And what better time than the cold winter to hole up with the heater on and get to cleanin'?

3. Write. I have a lot of material knocking around in my head, waiting to be poured out onto the page. I've realized that I need to just do my writing when I have the time, and not beat myself up so badly about not being able to make the time when I'm super-busy and stressed-out about work, the wedding, my father-in-law being ill, and the holidays. It's pretty crazy, and telling, that even during this wacky month of holidays I find myself guilt-tripping myself--'What, you can't do all of this AND write 100 pages too?? What's wrong with you?"

4. Read. I set a goal of reading/finishing four books (two of which I've already started) this break. I'm off until Monday, January 7, 2008 so i think I can do it. I've been reading a lot more lately than I have in a long time. It feels good.

5. Wedding planning. We're going to book our photographer this week (had a great meeting with Hasain Rasheed and his partner, Joanna Kaplan, about working with them; it's pretty much a go--I mean, look at those amazing photos! And they were really cool, nice people to boot. Had a good feeling about them as soon as we walked in the door).

That's it! That's enough. I decided it was too crazy to try and pack more stuff into my winter break. I know for some people this already might seem like a long list, but, hey I'm a Type-A Capricorn. I like to keep busy!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

You are cordially invited...

...to check out my new blog on weddings, marriage, and the insanity of the 'bridal industry'.

And no, we are not going to have the word 'cordially' on our wedding invitations. ;)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Constant Planner

What can I say? I love planning things. Almost as much--no, sometimes as much if not more--as implementing those plans. Case in point: as we near the end of the calendar and our fiscal year for my organization, I find myself getting excited about drafting a new annual fundraising plan and quarterly workplans in Excel worksheets. Sick, huh? Actually, I know that without people like me the world would be a very unorganized, slightly confused, and not as great place. I really do feel that in my heart.

Second case in point: I was the chair of the event committee for a big fundraiser for a nonprofit on whose board I sit, which was held back in October. It was a good fundraiser, went off well, although I think the planning process itself wasn't that fun for me. I was just way to busy with other things to be very present during the process, and sent lots of late night emails to the various people I was working on it with, and begrudgingly went to meetings. I also knew that planning this fundraiser was keeping me from moving forward as quickly as I wanted to on my wedding planning and I felt a little resentful of that. But when it was over, it felt good, and I told myself--time to move on!

So I started planning the wedding in earnest. You can read more about that on my my other blog. It's been a little stressful, but it's been fun. I especially love going to venues to check them out for the ceremony and reception, and I can't wait 'til we start trying different caterers' food. But it's been a time suck, to be sure, and I find myself reflexively searching for wedding favor ideas or wedding dresses online when I probably should be writing or cleaning the house or something. I get a bit obsessive; it's a personality trait I'm working on.

So it's funny that within all this big-event planning what I'm getting excited about this week is planning yet another event; H.'s birthday is in a week and a half and I'm going to throw him a small get-together with friends (not completely a surprise but he doesn't know the details of the event). I love making the invite list and then sending that initial email out to everyone to get the ball rolling. I also love looking for stuff to do that night online (if anyone knows of any good stuff happening in the City on Sat., Dec. 15 lemme know). So really, I think it's not just planning, but event planning that gets me going.

It feels good to plan things, feels good to get things done and know that I thought it through so that I could get things done easily and with less hassle. I don't know if this puts a damper on my sense of spontaneity--who am I kidding, of course it does!--but I know that it helps me relax when I finally get to the big day, knowing that every detail has been thought of, every emergency has a point person to handle it (even if it's me), and that everything is going to be okay.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

On Children

Been thinking a lot lately about children--my future children, the children currently in my life, and the plight of children in general in this country and in this world. I guess it's because the winter holiday season has swung into high gear, and because I'm in wedding-planning mode (went to try on dresses today--what an ordeal, but that's another story) that I have children on my mind. My favorite song about children is 'On Children' by Sweet Honey in the Rock. I was talking about children and that song today with my friend A.--how a lot of people I know who don't even like children all that much are having children and falling in love with them, or at least, fallling in love with their own children, but how many people don't see looking out for the welfare of all children as a priority in their lives. How many folks just want little replicas of themselves running around, and don't understand the unique spiritual role that children play not only in our lives, but in the future of the planet. And that our roles as parents and supportive adults in their lives is not to mold them into our own images, or to treat them like highly prized pets, but to be the stable, rock-steady foundation for them (or 'bows' as Gibran calls us below) so that they can move forward into their own future. A. agreed, then told me something I didn't know, that that song is based on a poem by Khalil Gibran. So I looked it up, and here it is.

On Children
by Khalil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let our bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cylons 'R' Us

I love Battlestar Galactica, the new version, of course (I don't really remember the old one, although H. does, and likes that one too). And we just finished (finally!) watching all of Season 3, with its tear-your-hair-out cliffhanging ending, which included the revelation of the identities of four of the 'Final Five' (or F5 if you're really a geek) Cylons, a different breed of Cylon from the first seven (or 'Significant Seven', as Ron Moore and the other BSG crew call them). There are tons of theories swirling around the blogosphere right now about who the fifth and final Cylon is, and I have my own opinions, which I will be sharing tonite at a Battlestar Galactica Razor screening at Ludovic's place. Fascinating stuff. I don't know if it's just that I love the show so much, or that I'm trying to study and absorb as many ideas about narrative and plot structure from great shows and books and movies as I can as I write my own 'galactic bible' for my novel, but this shit is just so interesting to me. Check out this great write-up on the functions of the F5, as well as this one, written by someone who I hope is at least getting paid good money for his 'study' of BSG backstory and Colonial / Cylon philosophy.

Geeks of the world unite! Frackin'-A!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Oh my Gosh! A Reading!

I haven't done a public reading of my work in ages. I don't count VONA readings because they're only semi-public and are part of such a supportive atmosphere that the butterflies in my stomach beforehand are more about wanting to impress my peers than fearing that I'll be booed off the stage.

So I'm excited and a little bit nervous about this reading I'm doing next Monday, November 26 at Cover to Cover bookstore in Noe Valley in the City. I'll be reading an (as-yet-unfinished) essay on 'togetherness' as a positive trait in immigrant families. I have an idea of what I'm going to write about and therefore read about. Should be interesting. The reading is being organized by my old work buddy Jeremy Adam Smith, quite an accomplished freelance writer and blogger in his own right, who's the managing editor at Greater Good magazine, in which a brief version of my essay was recently published.

So if you'll be in the neighborhood or don't have anything else happening for you on the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend, come through and help me calm my butterflies. I promise I'll do my very best to impress you.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

BSG Razor!

I haven't had time to post my own reactions to the Battlestar Galactica Razor extended episode. I'll cheat and post someone else's interesting take on the feature. If you don't want to read any spoilers, don't bother. Suffice it to say that it's a damn good piece of television, and that I was lucky enough to be one of the thousands of people across the country that got to watch a free big-screen version of it last week. Aren't you jealous?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Crazy (re: SF Bay Oil Spill)

The images of oil-soaked waterfowl and an oil-streaked San Francisco Bay are just heartbreaking, and infuriating. Please donate supplies or money or volunteer as you can to help with the cleanup effort. Officials are warning people not to go to beaches on your own to do cleanup, as the fuel that was spilled is extremely hazardous. You must be trained first to help with birds and other cleanup efforts. The Baykeeper site has updated info.

And, oh yeah, stop driving your car so much! Get on the bus or BART or walk already, for God's sake. This is all just too much.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Food, Love and Moms

Great post here from Renita Weems. Thinking about it as I eat the warming, delicious arroz caldo, which I 'requested' (a word I heard a lot in the Philippines to describe when someone asked for a certain kind of food to be brought back to the States from the islands) my mom make for me this week. I've been sick with a bad cold and cough and it was just what I needed.

I've learned how to make arroz caldo myself, but there's something special about having your mom make you a dish like this. It's made with love and care, for sure, but for me it's also special because my mom and I haven't always had a good relationship. It's been rocky, to say the least, and fraught with many difficult tensions and ongoing dramas that I'd rather not get into right now.

But food has always been something we had in common, something we could use to comfort ourselves and each other, something we both loved. If there's anyone I got my foodie-gene from, it was definitely my mom. She and I like to go to new restaurants (for her) together. H. and I took her to Roy's in San Francisco for her 60th birthday. She tells me she now prefers baby salad greens and balsamic vinaigrette over iceberg lettuce and Wishbone salad dressing. She brags to people about how I introduced her to Vietnamese, faux-meat and gourmet Indian food.

And most importantly, food is the biggest way that my mom confidently, easily can show me that she loves me. And it's the easiest way for me to accept her love, no strings attached and no drama involved.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Insomnia's Good for Getting Stuff Done

Like emailing everyone that's coming to my house this weekend for a one-day writing retreat, including Mel and a bunch of other VONA alumni. It'll be fun to see everyone and to have a space where I can finally focus on my writing for a while.

I've been feeling very frustrated by my inability to write while holding down a full-time job, planning my wedding for next year, trying to have a social life and taking care of my home and relationship. I know, I know, what's wrong with me! I've toyed with the idea of attending an MFA program to help give me this structure, and right now I'm seriously thinking that it might be the way to go for me. I've done my fair share of writing without having that structure to rely on, and it's worked for me to an extent, but I feel like it's going to be really difficult for me to prioritize my writing, deepen my writing practice and really hone my craft unless I devote some serious time and energy to it.

Hence, my late-night Googling to research low-residency programs. I've already received information in the past about Goddard (the alma mater of Junse Kim, one of my writing teachers) as well as Warren Wilson and a few other low res programs that I've heard of from other writers. I'm also checking out the local schools, like Mills, etc., but I'm feeling like I need to get out of my safe little comfort zone of the Bay Area and learn how to interact with other human life forms.

Things at work have been a bit challenging as of late as well, leading me to be dissatisfied with the part of my life that sucks up a good 40-50 hours a week. It's so hard to stay motivated sometimes, I have to remind myself why I'm doing this work and getting paid so little. I'm trying to hold out and stay on track with my own professional development goals, but it's hard sometimes, I'll tell ya.

Okay, back to MFA research. Hope I get to sleep more than a few hours tonite. But if I don't, at least I will have gotten some stuff done.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hurry hurry, slow down, hurry hurry!

That has to be the slogan/mantra/life philosophy of this country: speed up to slow down to speed up. The one thing I learned to appreciate in the Philippines was the pace of life, how despite the enormous burdens and incredibly taxing physical work and living conditions that most people there live with, they don't do anything at a very fast pace and thus experience some happiness and still seem to have a good time despite it all. Like my auntie, who has twelve children and five grand-children, worked hard all her life and has the leathered skin and tough hands to prove it, but still manages to be one of the sweetest, most serene people I know.

Things have been crazy for me and H. lately: car troubles; a not-serious (at least for us) accident we were 'involved' in the other night (I say 'involved' because I don't think we were at fault and we didn't even hit anything); I just got done helping to coordinate this event for a group I'm on the board of; work has given me a crapload of deadlines (including an unanticipated one this week that I'm miraculously going to be able to meet). Now that most of the craziness is dying down, I find myself moving into the 'slow down' mode of our national 'culture', if you can call it that. Really, I think it's a national sickness.

I want to learn how to be serene and calm and grounded despite all the madness that life throws at me. I'm tired of hurrying up to slow down, despite my addiction to activity and work and deadlines. I need to sit still. Of course, my meditation cushions have been steadily gathering dust in my closet for many months now, and there's a people of color sit I've been wanting to get to in Oakland, just a few blocks from my job! So there's something strong pulling me to resist the urge to sit, just sit, and be still. I need to move through that resistance and just do it. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Hobbies I've Had, Never Had

In my lifetime thusfar, I've had plenty of hobbies, some that may seem odd or ill-fitting my personality. Here are a few hobbies or interests I've had, many of which I no longer pursue:

-Calligraphy
-Kali (Filipino martial art)
-Meditation (always struggling to sit)
-Fiction writing
-Poetry-writing
-Stamp-collecting
-Sticker-collecting (when I was a young girl)
-Bead-stringing and jewelry-making (when I worked at a bead store, I still have a crapload of beads)
-Salsa dancing (one of my favorite ways to release and relax)
-Hiking (I still try to go at least once a month)
-Jazz, ballet, tap, modern dance
-Gardening (in containers)
-Playing piano and guitar
-Yoga (still do it almost every day)

Then there are the hobbies and interests that I've kept waiting in the wings, so to speak, the things that I've always wanted to 'get into' but haven't gotten around to making part of my life. Not a coincidence, I don't think, that these are some of the more adventurous, outdoorsy, require-more-time-and-money-investment hobbies:

-Hang gliding
-Sea kayaking
-Sailing
-Backpacking
-Quilting
-Knitting
-Playing electric bass

Someday, someday, I will get to one or all of these other as-yet-untouched hobbies. Just blogging to remind myself that they're just there, waiting for me, like promises.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Yes, We're Gettin' Hitched

Well, the truth is we're already more 'hitched' than many married couples...H. and I have been together for more than five years, have lived together for more than three of those years, and although we haven't gone to couples counseling or been officially married at City Hall, a chapel in Las Vegas or a nearby beach we've gone through a lot more ups, downs and life-changing moments than many couples who've made it to the altar already.

Maybe that's why when we first announced our plans to get married next year to family and friends, I wasn't super-thrilled about the news, didn't blush with that bride-to-be enthusiasm that so many people seemed to expect me to have. It's not that I'm not thrilled to be commemorating my love for H. with a ceremony and a party with all our friends and family. It's only partially because I feel ambivalent about marriage as an institution, fraught as it is with so many generations' worth of cultural baggage and strange societal expectations that have nothing to do with love and everything to do with perpetuating an insane economic and social system that I don't believe in. I think the real reason that I wasn't overenthused about our 'news' is that, in many ways, I feel married to H. already.

He is my best friend, closest confidante, and favorite person to be around, hands down. He has taught me so much about life and love and friendship and I know I've done the same for him. It sounds cliche, but it's true, he's helped me become a better person, and I know that I'm not the only person who's noticed this. I've never felt more spiritually and emotionally close to someone, although don't get me wrong, we have our 'off' moments to be sure. We fight, we threaten to leave (well, I do, I guess), we have our doubts about whether this relationship is going to work. But after all that, we always come back to each other, realizing how our fears and insecurities have gotten in the way of us recognizing what's really important: that we want to build a life and a family together that will carry both of us as well as our children-to-be, our respective families (soon-to-be one family) and our community of friends forward into a better and happier future.

We've been on that road for some time already, and I see our 'engagement' (it feels funny to say that word, especially since he didn't officially propose, we just decided as a couple to do this) and our upcoming wedding as just a ceremonial way to mark that H. and I have chosen this path together.

Lastly, I've finally gotten juiced about planning the big day--as some of you know I've organized my fair share of fundraising and other big events in recent years--so I'm feeling like the momentum is really starting to build. Wish us luck finding a ceremony and reception site, and let me know if you have any ideas about nice places.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Moon-full

The moon is outrageously, ridiculously, deliciously bright tonite. She is shining so bright that I don't need artificial light in my house, am sitting here in the 'dark' with my laptop the only unnatural illumination inside, even the streetlamps outside pale in comparison to the pregnant moon hanging like a black-backed sun in the sky.

I just wrote a piece that I may or may not share on this blog at some point, a short freewrite about what I really want in my life. The moon (and a nice strong rum and coke from Cafe Van Kleef's, courtesy of M.) is my inspiration tonite. She is filling me with crazy ideas. Did you know the word 'lunatic' comes from the Latin word for 'moon' (luna). Of course you did. That's why you are probably outside right now as I write this, howling at the moon like a coyote, and making your sad, repressed neighbors tsk-tsk to themselves, hanging out their windows, silently wishing that they could be howling at that brilliant white disk in the sky, just like you.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Perfect Saturday

Feel like this is my idea of a perfect Saturday, sitting here blogging after a relatively full afternoon of organizing and cleaning the various piles of clutter in my home (mainly my home office and books, am going to tackle the junk on my dresser in the bedroom next). I'm not feeling my best--that time of the month, y'know? Sorry to those of you for whom that's TMI (too much information)--and putzing around the house clearing old junk and recycling random papers I'm not sure why I keep is somehow therapeutic for me, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Sometimes, at times like this, though, I feel like my life--and the lives of many of you reading this blog, as well as the lives of many of those living around us--must be a fraud, a sham, a strange and utter illusion. Because beyond the transparent borders of our relatively neat, precious and well-organized lives, full of busyness and activity, work and play and family and social activities, lies a world of war. No, I'm no exaggerating, there is a world at war around us, and it is too easy, most of the time, to ignore this world.

But I'm not going to sit here and quote statistics to you about how many US soldiers have been killed in Iraq or my friends and family members who have loved ones there. I'm not going to talk how ridiculously racist and inhumane it is to only talk about the lives of these soldiers as if they are the only ones that mattered, or pontificate about how unjust this war is. All I want to do is acknowledge it, and bring some attention to my own lack of awareness of war. And not just the war in Iraq, but the wars being waged in our own neighborhoods, communities, cities, states, our own country. While I count myself blessed to not be an active perpetrator or recipient of the violence that rages around me--and know that I have helped construct my life in a way that I don't deal with many of these wars, and that can be a very good thing--I still want to acknowledge the suffering and rage and bitterness that exists because of it.

So there, I've done it. And hopefully gotten you to do it too.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Feeling Better, Books on the Side

Wasn't feeling well today--icky, blue, fatigued, out of it. I slept a bit, chilled at home, did a little work, took it easy. Now I can't sleep so I've been catching up on my online social networking (yes, I've been bitten by the bug). A cool thing that they just started on Goodreads is a widget you can post on your blog or web site or myspace page showing what books you've read or are reading or want to read. You can check mine out by scrolling down--see the little box in the righthand column? Go ahead, click it. You know you want to.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Wishing I'd Been Drunk in Paris

Had a drink with my good friend A. tonite at Cafe Van Kleef in downtown Oakland, probably my favorite after-work bar. Near the front door there is a small, chalkboard sign that 'advertises' a short menu of Provencale dishes: salade nicoise, poulet, a couple other items. I say 'advertise' because the only food you can get at Van Kleef's is spicy popcorn and maybe a hot dog if you're lucky.

But still, the place does remind me of Paris: the slightly grungy, quirky, charming collection of random art--sculptures, paintings, found objects, glass embedded in the counter outside, a random brass trumpet, a ladder near the back wall that doesn't seem to go anywhere or serve any purpose besides as a trellis for other random artworks; the slightly bohemian, smoky, dark ambiance; the French tricolore flag (or is it Belgian? isn't Van Kleef a Belgian or German name?) hanging limply, like an old rag, in the entryway. The foreign music they frequently play, from Buena Vista Social Club to 'C'est Si Bon'.

The drinks are strong and moderately priced here: $8 for a good, stiff but sweet Sidecar, which is what A. and I had. I always get tipsy just from one drink. And you can smoke outside, which is nice. Another touch of l'experience parisienne.

Funny, I realized today as I sat talking to A. and getting tipsy off my Sidecar, that H. and I didn't get drunk at all in Paris. We had a couple glasses of wine with our meals, yes, but we didn't go, as our friend V. adamantly suggested, to a bar au vin for an eminently French experience. Oh, well. There's always next time.

I've been craving being in Paris lately, and tonite, for an hour or so, I got to feel like I was there, even if it was a Canadian cigarette and not a Gauloise that I puffed on, and even if people were speaking English et pas francais. It's all good. For a little bit, I got a taste of Paris, right here in Oakland.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Soup in the Air

What the hell is the Bay Area turning into? LA? Did you see that smog-soup that's passed for air yesterday? And it's back today! My theory is that people were so excited about the Bay Bridge being open again that they headed to cross it in droves. I mean, come on, the sun is frickin' ORANGE!!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Rest in Power: Manong Bill Sorro

I don't have Bill's birth and death years to post, but I'm sure in the days and weeks to follow, many facts and feelings about Bill will pour forth from the pens of his many admirers, comrades, friends and spiritual / political "children". I feel blessed to have known him, even a little, working with him politically a bit through Filipino civil rights work, and more socially through friends who were lucky enough to have more day-to-day interactions with Bill through their work at Mission Housing, SOMCAN, and other key San Francisco organizations..

I've always enjoyed running into Bill at community events, rallies, readings, meetings. He always had a smile and a hug ready. I felt a real love radiating out from him towards the people around him, a quality that's very rare in these cynical days, even within progressive circles. Bill always encouraged members of the younger generation of activists like myself, who often came to those events with a lot of energy and were sometimes greeted less-than-enthusiastically by other movement veterans who, I felt, didn't quite know what to do with us. Bill was a tireless advocate for the poor, the oppressed, for Filipinos and especially for the manongs (elders) who were displaced from the International Hotel in San Francisco. Bill was one of a handful of thoroughly committed activists (many of whom started the Manilatown Heritage Foundation) who saw the fight to save the I-Hotel through from beginning to end--a thirty-plus-year community battle that was eventually won. I'm sure that Bill was and is proud of the fact that an exhibit commemorating his contributions to that fight is now housed at the new I-Hotel on Kearny and Jackson Streets in San Francisco's Chinatown/North Beach district.

Actually, the first time I saw Bill was on film, before I ever met him, and before I knew who he was, when I watched--and was transformed by--the Fall of the I-Hotel, a documentary about this struggle for dignity and housing. Bill was just a young buck back then, living in the Hotel and fighting alongside the elderly tenants for the right to live in what was left of a once-thriving Manilatown in San Francisco. If you haven't seen this movie, you have to. It's not only an amazing documentary but it's a beautiful testimony to the spirit of that struggle and of people like Bill who helped make it one of the most visible and significant movements for housing rights in this country.

Inherently tied to Bill's dedication to radical activism and empowering the oppressed was his sweet, generous, loving and funny spirit. Aside from seeing the warmth and fire he brought to political events, I especially loved to see him with his equally warm, generous and amazing wife, Giuliana (aka "Huli") Milanese. While Bill and Huli seemed to snip and snap at each other the way lots of long-time married folks do, there was always a sweet layer of flirtation woven throughout these mock 'arguments', a sweetness that I hoped I'd be able to find with another person someday the way Bill and Huli had found with each other.

I won't say much more about Bill because others will be much more eloquent than me in their eulogizing of him. Eric Mar, the folks at POOR Magazine and Portside have started doing so on their blogs. Suffice it to say that the movement has lost one of our great champions, who had a heart that was wide-open and full of love, and an unmatched passion for justice that burned in his veins. Those two things don't always go hand in hand, but in Bill, they were one and the same.

Rest in peace and power, Manong Bill. We miss you and love you and will never, ever forget you.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

It's Almost Over

Summer, that is. And along with the end of summer comes an old, familiar nostalgia for longer days, heat and that special sunshine brightness of those three middle months of the year. And now that I'm not in school anymore and don't have the fun, slightly festive ritual of goinig back to school to help me make the transition to fall, I feel like I have to create new rituals--consciously or not--to help ease the way. For example, I bought myself a new backpack because I was tired of lugging multiple bags around carrying my random possessions around all the time, and I liked the ease of just carrying one thing on my back. I realized today that I bought it around the same time that back to school shopping season started. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Nice

I just got out of bed after laying there for a while listening to H.'s breathing. First time in a while that I haven't had to set an alarm to wake me up for work or some other commitment (like leaving early to go watch Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective at Stern Grove a couple weekends ago). It always feels nice to just be able to wake up on your own, without a loud ringing in your ear, and get up when you feel like it.

I walked into the kitchen to make my daily cup of Chinese herbal tea, and looked at the clock: 10:01am. Damn. I haven't slept in this late in--I can't even remember when. Most days I get up by 7:30am, even in the Philippines when I was on vacation, because it was too damn hot to sleep past 7am. I recall the 'old days' when I was living the carefree college life in Berkeley, how some days when I wasn't holding down a weekend job (really just the last year that i was doing organizing on campus and no longer attending classes), I would sleep 'til noon, 2pm, 3pm, after having gone out the night before or stayed up late talking to my roommates (who had their own crazy hours and lives).Now, at 35 years of age, I'm shocked when I don't get up 'til 10am.

I'm not sure whether that's sad or interesting or cool. It just is nice right now to have a little time to myself, and to not have a million things to do today that I wake up knowing I won't be able to finish. I've also been traveling a lot this year, for work and family and personal stuff. On my flight to Portland last weekend for a conference at which I helped train with GIFT, I tallied up the number of trips requiring plane travel that I'd taken thusfar in 2007. It came to about once a month, or seven trips. Ugh. Travel is wearying, especially when it's required for work or when your flights are longer than 3 hours a leg or entail having long-ass layovers (which many of my flights this year did).

So suffice it to say that it feels good to not plan on traveling anywhere requiring a plane flight for the rest of the year--unless we decide to take a funder trip to New York at some point in the fall, that is--and to know that for the next few weekends I have a little more time to settle in at home, clean my house, organize my home office, finish filing my taxes (almost done! Just have to send them some money), and work on my writing. And spend some time with friends and family, which I've been doing a little more of lately, trying to take advantage of the nice weather.

Today, I have a whole day uninterrupted to do all these things. I may have plans later this evening, but it's all good. Although waking up later does leave you with less daylight hours to accomplish all the things on your to-do list. But the extra sleep was obviously needed.

Speaking of taking advantage of (what I hope turns out to be) a pretty day and good weather, any of y'all in the Oakland area should come by to the "Taste of Park" block party at the little rec center across the street from the Parkway Theater on Park Boulevard and 3rd Avenue, today and tomorrow. My baby DJ Hen10 will be playing a quick set today in the park, and I'm guessing there'll be lots of families with kids and fun things to do. I'll either be out there checking out the vibe and eating some food, or holed up in a cafe across the street getting writing done or mopping my floors at home. Call me if you wanna meet up.

Peace,
Rona

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Rest in Peace: Chauncey Bailey

I and many other Oaklanders and supporters of the Black press are still reeling from the recent murder of Chauncey Bailey, a well-respected community journalist, last week.

The themes that this tragic incident bring up for me are, again, literacy and the power of writing to shake loose entrenched power structures, to speak truth to power. My experiences over the past few months seem to be pointing me in the direction of taking my writing to the next level, and Chauncey's death and my feelings about it are just another sign that I need to pursue my writing more seriously. His death has affirmed for me that writing can be one of the most powerful acts in the world.

I didn't know Mr. Bailey, had never even heard of him before his death this past week. But as I walked to work the other day, I encountered his spirit in the palpable emotion and heaviness I felt when I walked by the police barricades near Alice and 14th Streets in downtown Oakland. I asked a police officer what was going on; he told me someone had been shot, killed. I kept walking closer to the crime scene (everything had been cleaned up by then but a small crowd had gathered) to find out more. Now, for the non-Oaklander folks reading my blog, despite what you may have heard or what you believe about Oakland, walking through downtown at 9:30am and finding a murder scene isn't a normal occurrence. I asked a woman standing near the intersection if she knew what was going on; she'd been walking with a man who was talking on his cell phone, saying something about 'machine gunned'. I figured she knew something.

"Someone was killed," she told me. I asked if she knew who it was. "Chauncey Bailey, the editor of the Oakland Post." My mouth fell open. I knew the Post as a respected Black newspaper in the East Bay. I've read it off and on over the years, and am a big supporter of the ethnic press in general, as many stories that mainstream news outlets won't tell appear in Chinese, African-American, Spanish-language and other ethnic media.

"He was a friend," the woman said. I weakly mumbled "sorry", knowing that nothing I could say could comfort her at that moment. Before I could voice my fear of why Mr. Bailey had been killed, she voiced it for me.

"I guess he was writing some stuff that someone didn't like," she said. I shook my head, tears springing to my eyes. No, I didn't know him, but when writers are killed for writing controversial stories, you know democracy is truly dead. And while I don't really believe that our country (or this city for that matter, progressive as it can be at times) is a democracy, it's rare that I witness first-hand how much our society has degenerated into madness.

I left the scene after a few minutes, kept walking to work, my mind reeling. I hoped in a twisted way that this man had been shot over some personal or financial matter--borrowed money from the wrong people, that kind of thing. Because that would've been easier to handle than knowing that he'd been killed for writing something someone didn't agree with.

As I walked towards my office, I saw three people--two women and one man--walking swiftly towards the 14th and Alice intersection, urgently talking on their cell phones the way I'd seen the man do earlier. The woman stopped halfway down one block and started crying loudly. I've seen her in the newspaper photos from the scene of Mr. Bailey's killing.

Many of us in Oakland know that Mr. Bailey's death, tragic and insane as it was, is just one of the many murders in Oakland over the past several years. While I don't think any of those deaths are any more significant than any other, it's clear that because of his prominent position in the community and his role as a leading community journalist, Mr. Bailey's death has earned more media coverage and attention than those of the dozens of other Oaklanders who have been murdered. I only hope that, true to his muckraking spirit, his death provokes our city's leaders and residents to take a good, hard look at what can be done to truly end the senseless violence in Oakland, and inspire us to stop blaming each other, pointing fingers at thugs or gangsters or politicians or cops as the sole 'reasons' for the violence. We should all be intelligent enough to know by now that the social and political and economic forces that have created this situation are much more complex than that.

And in the end, I believe that in some way we all contribute to this problem of senseless violence whether it's by not being involved in what's happening in our neighborhood, or by not trying to talk to our neighbors, or by turning our backs on the youth and poor people in our community that, if not provided with the right support, information and guidance, may turn to crime in order to 'get ahead' or just plain survive in a harsh, often hostile world.

I also hope that the other middle-class, relatively new Oakland residents like myself understand and not judge the resentment that those who have been here much longer feel when the only time that crime in Oakland is paid the attention it deserves is when it happens in supposedly 'safer' areas like downtown Oakland or Piedmont Avenue or Lakeshore, or happen to white people. It's a justified resentment, and has everything to do with race and class and the changing demographics of Oakland. I still consider myself a 'new' Oakland resident and I've lived here for the better part of 15 years. But that's still very different than being born and raised in Oakland, so you folks out there that haven't even been here for a year or two better get that straight right away if you want to be part of the solution and not the problems here.

We're all in this together. And it's fitting that National Night Out is coming up this Tuesday, August 7th. There are at least three events happening within a seven-block radius of my house that night, and I'll be attending at least two of them. I think I'll need to go just to witness some of the positive things about Oakland that sometimes are easy to forget when we hear about killings and violence: people of all colors getting to know each other, getting along, trying to make Oakland a better place.

And I hope this night--and other efforts that people living and working in Oakland continue to make to build a stronger and more peaceful community--makes Mr. Chauncey Bailey smile a little, wherever he is now. Thank you, Mr. Bailey, for asking the tough questions and for doing your part in speaking truth to power. You've inspired me, and I know you've inspired many, many others.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Again on Literacy

This is a major theme in my life right now, and I'm planning on writing an essay on it. The more I talk to folks about it, the more I see it's a very common theme for all people of color--and probably for lots of white folks too, but here in California that history's a bit more obscured from my everyday experience.

But until I get started on that essay, here's an especially moving passage I just read from Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon on the same theme. This is from a conversation between twelve-year-old Macon Dead III and his father, the Junior, talking about what happened to Junior's father, Macon Dead Sr..

"'Pilate said somebody shot your father. Five feet into the air.'

'Took him sixteen years to get that farm to where it was paying. It's all dairy country up there now. Then it wasn't. Then it was...nice.'

"'Who shot him, Daddy?'"

"Macon focused his eyes on hs son. 'Papa couldn't read, couldn't even sign his name. Had a mark he used. They tricked him. He signed something, I don't know what, and they told him they owned his property. He never read nothing. I tried to teach hi, but he said he couldn't remember those little marks from one day to the next. Wrote one word in his life--Pilate's name; copied from the Bible. That's what she got folded up in that earring. He should have let me teach him. Everything bad that ever happened to him happened because he couldn't read. Got his name messed up cause he couldn't read.'

'His name? How?'

'When freedom came. All the colored people in the state had to register with the Freedman's Bureau.'

'Your father was a slave?'

'What kind of foolish question is that? Course he was. Who hadn't been in 1869? They all had to register. Free and not free. Free and used-to-be-slaves. Papa was in his teens and went to sign up, but the man behind the desk was drunk. He asked Papa where he was born. Papa said Macon. Then he asked him who his father was. Papa said, 'He's dead.' Asked him who owned him, Papa said, 'I'm free.' Well, the Yankee wrote it all down, but in the wrong spaces. Had him born in Dunfrie, wherever the hell that is, and in the space for his name the fool wrote, 'Dead' comma 'Macon.' But Papa couldn't read so he never found out what he was registered as till Mama told him. They met on a wagon going North. Started talking about one thing and another, told her about being a freedman and showed off his papers to her. When she looked at his paper she read him out what it said.'

'He didn't have to keep the name, did he? He could have used his real name, couldn't he?'

'Mama liked it. Liked the name. Said it was new and would wipe out the past. Wipe it all out.'"

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Need to get off my butt and two cool pics

I've been in a serious procrastinating funk. Not about life in general--I've definitely been writing more, which is great, and reading more, which is good too--but about specific things, like cleaning my house, filing my taxes (I know, I know, it's bad), staying on top of my bills, etc.

Maybe it's because that stuff feels like real work and my writing (at least right now) feels more fun. I'm trying to ride the wave of actually feeling motivated to write. I'm nearly done with my first real draft of a short story that I'm hoping to submit to this. Just emailed Mel, Denea and Ricardo (from my 2005 VONA novel workshop) to see if they can give me some good critique/feedback on it so I can do more work on the rewrites.

Had brunch last weekend with the always-delightful (and I don't use that word very much) Max Elbaum and his partner Ellen, who are always so supportive of my writing work and are just good people all around. They really helped me feel more grounded and secure in this vision of my life as a writing life, which can still be a political life. We talked about how I'm lucky that the two career paths that I have before me right now--fundraising and writing--are both things that hold a lot of promise and opportunity. One is more immediately lucrative than the other (and if you can't figure out which path this is then you're probably an alien from another planet or a corporate person), but it's nice to know that I have a choice.

Speaking of the writing life, here's one of its perks: meeting your writing idols and getting to take pictures with them. That's Jessica Hagedorn with me (second from left), Mel and Patty (the Pinay crew in our VONA workshop), and me with the rest of the VONA novelistas and our teacher, Chris Abani.


Photo by Patricia Justine Tumang


Photo by Ibarionex Perello

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Recent Adds I Wanna Highlight

Slowly but surely been adding new folks' blogs to my blogroll...including:

Favianna Rodriguez, activist-artist and business woman extraordinarie (my kinda gal!) who helps operate Tumi's, where my partner H. works now.

Baguio, Philippines native Frank Cimatu's Pine for Pine. I don't know Frank but I liked Baguio and I like his blog, so there it is.

My friend and former co-worker Jeremy Smith's teamblog, the Daddy Dialectic, a cool forum for men who are new fathers but longtime activists to talk about the challenges and joys of daddyhood in the early 21st century.

Ludovic Blain III, a new-ish friend / movement buddy who's into so many different things it's hard to keep track. From electoral politics to Garifuna and lots of other kinds of music to environmental justice to philanthropy, he's got it covered.

Enjoy the musings and weird antics of my friends in the blogosphere! ;)

Peace,
Rona

Friday, July 20, 2007

It's a Small Start

As someone who's worked for or been involved with progressive, grassroots organizing groups for the past ten years, I know that sending random letters like this won't solve alll our social problems, but it's a start. And it makes me feel better. And hopefully someone in Dellums' office will respond to me and tell me what resources the City of Oakland already has to prepare its residents for the next Big Earthquake.

I encourage you all to write similar letters to your city council representatives, to Dellums, etc. And soon I"ll try to pull folks together for a more organized effort to prepare ourselves and our beloved City.

emailed to: officeofthemayor@oaklandnet.com

Dear Mayor Dellums-
Let me first say that I am pleased and proud of your actions regarding the current Waste Management lockout of our garbage workers. I know that your efforts and those of other stakeholders will ensure that everyone in our city regardless of income level, race or neighborhood will receive the garbage pickup service we are entitled to.

I am writing to you because I know that one of the reasons you ran for Mayor of Oakland was because you wanted to 'save' Oakland from the fate that the great city of New Orleans faced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina--to save our city from the inevitable fate that, as a 'minority majority', largely African-
American city, Oakland would someday end up struggling to survive after a huge natural disaster.

The small but still shocking earthquake last night at 4:42am was just one of Mother Nature's reminders to us that we have a long way to go to ensure that Oakland is prepared for 'The Big One'--the 7.0+ earthquake that is predicted to hit the Hayward Fault sometime over the next 30 years.

It's clear to me that Oakland--although we may have some important resources to prepare our residents for this disaster--is far from being ready to potentially shelter, feed, and provide medical care for thousands of injured people if a large quake does strike. Oaklanders are a resourceful and community-oriented folk; if we weren't we wouldn't have been able to elect you our Mayor. But we need the resources, strategic thinking, infrastructure and coordination of our City government to take us from being good neighbors to each other to being able to take care of each other when the next big disaster strikes.

I don't want to stand aside and wait until the Big One happens for us to find out that our City can't take care of its people. And I hope that you don't want to wait either. Disaster preparedness should be a major priority of your administration, for being prepared is all we can do to protect ourselves against the potential loss of many hundreds or even thousands of lives during a major temblor.

Please let me know if there are city- or regional-government initiated efforts to address our city's preparedness. I am willing to organize in my neighborhood and beyond to help make sure that Oaklanders have the infrastructure we need to survive the Big One.

Sincerely,
Rona Fernandez
Oakland, California

That Wasn't No 4.2 Quake!

But alas, it was. The USGS says the reason it felt so strong was that it was centered closer to the surface (not in the deep depths of the very active Hayward Fault.

The temblor jolted me awake, made my heart thump like a running bunny's, and prompted H. to urgently whisper, "Let's go!" He forgot that doorways aren't really safe places during earthquakes. If you're in bed during an earthquake you're supposed to stay there and cover your head with a pillow in case shit starts falling down on you. Makes sense.

These smallish quakes are nice, fairly gentle reminders from our all-powerful Mother Earth that we need to get prepared for 'The Big One', children, and I for one am not going to be one to stand around (especially after what we've seen happen to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina) and watch Oakland be ignored after a major catastrophe strikes. Which is what will happen unless Mayor Dellums and other powerful Oaklanders (and people like me) don't get together to prepare ourselves for the inevitable. San Francisco and Berkeley are both way too prominent socially, politically and economically to NOT draw resources and media attention from Oakland, where the damage will be just as great if not greater when the Hayward Fault ruptures someday.

So let's get a campaign started, people. Let's get Oakland ready for the Big One. Gimme a holla if you're down for the cause.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Following the Process

I keep saying I'm going to blog about this and keep forgetting. So here goes. In our VONA novel workshop, Chris Abani gave us this 'homework' for after the (very intense) workshop:

1. Put your novel away for one month. Don't read it, look at it, or start rewriting it.
2. During this month, read novels, watch television and movies. Absorb and study everything you can about storytelling. (Chris promised us reading list(s) in August, but told me in the meantime I should read James Baldwin's "Giovanni's Room" which I am about half-way through now).
3. After one month, STILL don't look at your novel, but rewrite (from memory) the first 60 pages of your novel, longhand. Yes, longhand.

He said we'd be amazed at what we came out with at the end (in the longhand 60 pages). That by this time we woud've sliced away / forgotten all the unnecessary stuff and be left with the raw, nerve-hitting, essential stuff of the novel. I'm pretty sure that me and all the other women that were in Chris' class are going to try it. We'll see how it goes. I for one am enjoying having permission to not work on my novel for a month! But Chris says that research, and reading other novels, and watching TV and movies, etc. is all part of the process too. (And I am working on a short story that is completely separate from the novel, so I'm still writing, which is good).

Friday, July 13, 2007

Needing a Change

Not sure what kind of change, but I feel that this most recent VONA experience has left me (once again), a different person. I feel a much stronger pull to my writing now, now that I've been validated as a writer by two accomplished, published writers whom I respect and admire, the fierce, funny and multi-genre diva Jessica Hagedorn, and the equally fierce, brilliant and generous Chris Abani.

I've heard this from other writers before, that there were writers that came before them that they felt gave them 'permission' to write. Natalie Goldberg writes about this, I forget in which book. For me, this 'permission' came in the form of both Chris and Jessica telling me (and the other students in our workshops) that we are writers, and in them treating both of us as adults, giving us lots of good criticism and not as much praise, which is what I feel like I really needed to believe that I have the writing ability and talent to make a go of it in a more concerted, systematic way.

I'm actually writing this right now from a Holiday Inn room in Louisville, Kentucky, where I'm attending a conference for work. While the people here are quite open and welcoming and the content of the conference is interesting, after being at VONA the last couple weeks it just pales in comparison to that vibrant, provocative community of writers and artists.

I've been scanning the 'Conferences and Residences' section of Poets and Writers, and even had a talk with H. the other night about how, since he's working more steadily now at his job at Tumi's, maybe I can start making a plan, in the next couple years, to work less and write more. It's a scary thought to me, and one I need to mull over carefully. Obviously, I also need to talk to my job about this, but they also know I'm a writer and that this is important to me.

I just need more time to write. Even here, alone in my hotel room, I feel a peace and an openness to the act of writing that I haven't felt since my time at VONA. I can understand now why some people just really need to go away to write. I just need the time.

So I took some time tonite to work on a short story I started a while back, involving a bit of time travel and political commentary. Thinking of submitting it to an anthology of Philippine speculative fiction that Dean Alfar is editing. Wish me luck!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Some things

Just added a bunch of new people to my blogroll:

Jason Guillermo Luz, an old friend from Cal, who also just recently returned from a trip to the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

LA Foto Boy aka Ibarionex Perello, who took photos at VONA and has some gorgeous images on his blog.

Melanie Hilario's The Mel Mystique. Mel was in Jessica Hagedorn's class with me last week at VONA. Another Pinay writing sci-fi/fantasy. Yeah!

Olufunke Grace Bankole's Iyan and Egusi Soup. Olufunke's another VONA alum, but didn't get to meet her.

Chuck Cuyjet's Open Journal. Chuck was the workshop director this year at VONA, and always had a smile and a hug ready. I loved his energy.

Want to blog soon about the REsegregation decision of the US Supreme Court, but I feel like I'm still in denial about it. Give me a minute, I'll compose my thoughts and send the out soon.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Saw this coming a mile away...


Your Score: Katharine Hepburn


You scored 14% grit, 28% wit, 42% flair, and 23% class!




You are the fabulously quirky and independent woman of character. You go your own way, follow your own drummer, take your own lead. You stand head and shoulders next to your partner, but you are perfectly willing and able to stand alone. Others might be more classically beautiful or conventionally woman-like, but you possess a more fundamental common sense and off-kilter charm, making interesting men fall at your feet. You can pick them up or leave them there as you see fit. You share the screen with the likes of Spencer Tracy and Cary Grant, thinking men who like strong women.


Find out what kind of classic leading man you'd make by taking the
Classic Leading Man Test.




Link: The Classic Dames Test written by gidgetgoes on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test



I knew it even before I took the darn quiz, but I love these things so I did it anyway. How predictable! I got Katherine Hepburn because she's the only old-school Hollywood leading (white) lady who was complicated enough to come anywhere close to matching the sass, smarts and style of women of color.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Privilege

As I sit here writing on my boyfriend's computer on July 4th, I'm thinking about privilege. My mental gears have been churning frantically since I got to VONA last week, and being in Chris Abani's workshop has only switched the setting higher. He throws out so many things to process, at such a rapid pace, and challenges you to stop being lazy and really think and take control fo your novel. It's a wild ride, intense and overwhelming, but incredibly healthy and healing, in a strange way, at the same time.

So today I'm thinking about privilege, because Abani told that all of us in his workshop are middle class, that no matter what our socioeconomic background we've had the privilege of an education. Yes, all true. But then it got me thinking about the many levels of privilege I have, and how much privilege I've attained in just one generation here in this country, how removed I am from my mother's experience and even further from my grandmother's experience (and I'm only focusing on my mother's side of the family because that's the only part of my blood-family that know well).

It's interesting that in a writing workshop that was exclusively people of color, I started to ponder how privileged I am. Some people might think that all we talk about at VONA is oppression and 'The Man' and how we are so downtrodden and silenced in the mainstream. God, if we only talked about that, how boring VONA would be! Instead we have much more engaging and relevant conversations about themes of voice, language, self-loathing, immigration, violence, relationships and love in our work. And we see over and over again how even if we are only writing about people of color without even talking about colonialism or whiteness or racism in the US or whatever, we've got plenty of privileges and oppressions to deal with just within our own nations/peoples/communities.

I started listing today all the different kinds of privilege I have: economic (I have enough money to not just eat but to have health care, go to therapy, have a computer, go to this workshop, buy new clothes every so often, etc. In other words, I'm not just surviving, even if I am living paycheck to paycheck most of the time); educational / intellectual (I have an undergraduate degree in a country where only a small percentage of people even attend college, let alone graduate with a degree); access to money and exposure to people with money (through my fundraising work); political (I vote and have knowledge of the inner workings of our government through my job, and have more access than some people to policymakers and decision-makers); literacy and communication (I can read and write at a fairly sophisticated level in one language--English--and I can communicate somewhat in three other languages--Spanish, French and Tagalog).

This last privilege, the privilege of literacy, is one that has been haunting me lately with the weight of its importance. Not just for me as a person--who would I be if I didn't know how to write? I wouldn't haev the job I have, the friends I have, I wouldn't be a writer, I wouldn't read books--but for my family, the people that I've known as my community, etc.

The importance of literacy struck me in a very simple but deeply emotional way when I was in the Philippines. My second day there, I was in Lingayen, where many of my cousins grew up and still live. The cousin I was traveling with, R., brought me to the bamboo hut (bahay kubo in Tagalog) that he and his siblings grew up in for part of their lives, and I saw with clear eyes the poverty and rural conditions that my mom had known as a girl growing up in the Philippines, not far away. My cousin and I talked about how our mothers--his mother is my mother's sister--had lost touch for a good 30 years, being in the US and the Philippines respectively. It always was a question in my mind how they could have 'let' that happen. It never entered my mind how difficult it would've been to maintain communication for them during that time, given their class status and life circumstances.

My cousin explained how in the town they were growing up in, there wasn't even a phone until a few decades ago, and even then there was only one phone in the whole town, so communication by phone was not very reliable.

"Why didn't our mothers just write to each other then?" I asked naively (my mother can write, although she doesn't like to because she's not very skilled at it and usually makes me write out checks for her and sometimes even sign her name; she's embarassed that she doesn't know how to do this well).

My cousin just looked at me and said matter-of-factly, "My mother doesn't know how to write."

I felt so stupid that I hadn't even considered that. For the first time in my life, I think, I realized what a huge privilege it is to be literate. And because I was literate, why I was the one who was asked to write the obituary for my adopted grandmother when she died seven years ago, and to write and give the eulogy at her funeral. i finally realized how hard it must've been for my mother to have me get impatient or frustrated with her because she wanted me to write out her checks or sign a birthday card for her. I realized that I had taken for granted the one skill I have that I would be an entirely different person without. I cannot imagine life without writing, as I can't imagine life without eating or drinking or music or dancing. It's inconceivable to me. Even something as simple as writing a letter to your sister who is an ocean away was not something my aunt could accomplish by herself.

And in one generation, me and my cousins have this privilege, this right, really, to write. Being at VONA has helped me understand more deeply how important this is, and how important it is for me to use my writing to make the best damn novel or short story or poem that I can. I'm not going to squander this gift, this privilege, this right; I'm going to use it to set the world on fire.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Ass-kicked

I feel a bit beat-up, like I had a long, drunken night that ended in a mini-brawl that I can't remember and now I'm awake and trying to figure out what happened. No bruises or anything, just that feeling. Ass-kicked. I did not literally get my ass kicked--well, actually I did get my literARY ass kicked. I had my fantasy/sci fi novel workshopped in Chris Abani's 'Complete Novel Workshop' during my second week here at VONA. It was a good whuppin', because I'd been a 'bad' writer--hadn't developed my characters enough, hadn't written my 'bible' for the world that I've created, etc etc. Chris at one point even called it an 'intervention' to 'save' me, the 'addict'. Addicted to writing an illogical book, I'm supposing.

It was about what I expected. He had told us yesterday in orientation that he would make us cry, that he would really call us on our shit. And he did. His favorite question it seemed was: "What are you afraid of?" And at first I couldn't figure it out. I didn't think I was afraid of anything, but I realize now that I am afraid of making my protagonist vulnerable, of making her human (even though she's technically not), of making her consider doing something I feel every woman has a right to do but at the same time I would never want to do: have an abortion.

It was such a big revelation to me, but it came in a pretty unspectacular way, after a fellow workshop participant mentioned something about my protagonist being conflicted about wanting her baby, about whether she might abort it. As my stomach muscles tensed and I felt a strange nausea that rose to my chest, I realized that that was what I had been running away from in my story: my protagonist has to want to abort her baby. Whether she does it or not is an entirely different situation--or should I say whether she succeeds at aborting her baby or not is an entirely different situation.

It's so fascinating how the psyche works. I'm very openly pro-choice, have been trained to do clinic defense and was on the advisory board of Our Truths a publication which provides a forum for women who've had abortions to talk about their varied experiences. From happy to conflicted, from depressed to relieved. But this was still a hard thing for me to allow my character to even think about, let alone to do. Call it Catholic guilt, call it unresolved emotional issues, or whatever. It's the thing I needed to realize before I could really let this characcter be vulnerable.

As Chris said, I've had my breakthrough. Now I just gotta figure it all out in my writing. Wish me luck.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Other VONA-ites & Their Takes

I did a quick search for other bloggers writing about their VONA experience these last few days, and although I don't know these folks I know we share a kinship now as fellow VONA alums. Head-nod to Black Girl Lost...In a Book and Gemini Poet. If anyone else out there knows of other blogs by VONA-ites, please holla.

Peace and Writing,
Rona

Friday, June 29, 2007

Collard Greens, Gay Sex and Other Thoughts Post-VONA

I'm sitting at home now eating spicy stewed collard greens (no I didn't make them from scratch, I'm not that talented). I came back a couple hours ago from USF, where I departed early from the VONA student reading. I had read a piece that I wrote in Jessica Hagedorn's character development master class, from the point of view of a character named David, who has just had sex with his (straight male) best friend of 10 years and is regretting it.

It was fun and fascinating studying under Jessica. She's witty, quick, smart as hell, funny, down-to-earth and opinionated as all get out. She was straightforward and honest with her criticism, and gave us some good exercises to help flesh out our characters (in my case, David was a fairly flat side-character in my story, with his best friend being the point of view character and protagonist; working in Jessica's class helped me figure out some important stuff that's going to help me finish my story and make it stronger).

I'm realizing how cool and achievable it is--with lots of hard work, diligence and attention--to write fiction. Good fiction. Not that my story is near being finished, but it's a lot better now than it was a few months ago (I just workshopped it in Junse Kim's fiction workshop as well, which finished up right before VONA jumped off). If I apply myself, learn my craft, and listen to my characters, I can create a story that is both intriguing as well as entertaining.

I rented two big favorites of mine to help me come down from my VONA high--I haven't watched TV in a few days now--The Empire Strikes Back and Rome: Season One, Volume 2. I have fairly 'low brow' taste when it comes to cinema, although I do like a good art house or foreign flick now and again. Both of these films contain well-told stories, however, but they don't beat you over the head with their cleverness. They draw you in without holding your hand, and immerse you in worlds so real with characters so human and flawed and fascinating that you can't resist going along for the ride.

And that's what I'm going for with my story. Tonight after I hugged Jessica good-bye she looked me straight in the eyes, her hands squaring my shoulders towards her and said, "Keep working. I want you to finish that story. Just finish it." I couldn't have asked for more succinct encouragement, and it couldn't come at a better time.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

All Shook Up

Been fearing earthquakes a lot lately. Not the little barely-noticed-them jolts that are so common, especially where I live in Oakland (it feels at times as if our building is built on not-so-steady ground). No, I'm talking about having fears of the proverbial 'Big One'--the one that geologists, amateur and professional--say is coming to the Hayward Fault, most likely, in the next 25 or so years. But really, it's not just the Hayward Fault earthquake I've been paranoid about--so paranoid that I've lain awake at nights after feeling a suspicious trembling (most likely my partner moving around next to me), my heart pounding in my chest--it's just earthquakes in general. I was in LA this past weekend and felt the same fear. Earthquakes, as it were, can happen almost anywhere in California. It's a fact of life I've known since I was a child, having been born and raised here and having lived here all my life.

Today I went to therapy and finally confessed to my therapist (who is very good, by the way) that I've had this strange, intense fear of earthquakes lately. So intense that I hadn't told anyone about it, for fear that I would be seen as silly and bizarre, or that I would cause what I feared the most to come true. She asked me, in that inimitably matter-of-fact yet nurturing way of hers, "Symbolically, earthquakes shake you to your foundation. Do you feel like you've been shaken, that you've changed lately?"

My answer was, unequivocally, yes. I have changed. From my trip to meet my father and sisters to my trip to the Philippines for the first time, I have swallowed, absorbed and manifested many changes in my life that I never thought I would. Feeling possible feelings of forgiveness towards the father who abandoned me before I knew who he was. Meeting family members I never even knew existed. Building a relationship with a sister who, though born and raised 3,000 miles away from me, is so much like me that it feels natural to be with her. Immersing myself in the culture of my 'homeland' without knowing the language, without being able to say much more than "I'm hungry" or "It's hot" or "My name is Rona." All this has changed me, in ways that are obvious and in ways that I have yet to see and understand.

So yes, I told my therapist today, I feel as if I've had a series of earthquakes in my life lately. All self-triggered, so to speak, but emotional and psychological earthquakes all the same. Catharses. Cleansings. Life changes.

Today, on the BART ride home from my therapy session, I felt a little less skittish about riding the train underground. I felt a release, a letting go within me, of the fear that had tensed my shoulder muscles every time I felt a tremor from the rumbling of a truck outside, or of the train rolling into the station. It started to make sense. I suddenly understood that I didn't have to be afraid anymore, that my fear wasn't serving me in any way except for to make me feel imprisoned, trapped, helpless.

So crazy how having one person listen to you and attempt to help you make sense of your deepest desires and insecurities can loosen the grip of your old patterns, old grooves of habit and thought.

And now I feel ready for another potential shake-up: I start the first of my two VONA workshops tomorrow morning at 8:30am sharp. I'll be studying character development with Jessica Hagedorn, and then next week going through a novel workshop with Chris Abani. VONA was a life-changing experience for me two years ago, and though I'm trying not to have too high expectations for my second time around, I know at the very least that I'll learn something, even if it doesn't rock my world.

And really, that's okay if it doesn't. Because I've had plenty of 'earthquakes' this year already.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I Love These Things

These tag-and-you're-it random list-questionnaire things. Don't know why, but I do. Guess I need some structure in order to narcisstically reveal personal information. Thanks to Efren for giving me the opportunity to indulge.

A. Available or Single? Nope. Very partnered and taken. I'm available for free gourmet meals though if you want to take my boyfriend too. ;)
B. Best friend? My partner/boyfriend H., most definitely.
C. Cake or pie? Mmm, this is hard. Depends on the flavor. For cake, if it's coconut cream from Sweet Inspiration or guava from Hawaii, I'm all about it. If it was warm apple or cherry pie a la mode, I'm there.
D. Drink of choice? Loving the Serenity Kombucha stuff lately (H. thinks it smells like rotting fruit). But my budget prefers Italian sparkling mineral water. A holdover from my trip to Rome last Spring.
E. Essential item? My Palm Z22. I'm lost without it!
F. Favorite color? Purple for home-oriented things, various shades of green for clothes.
G. Gummi bears or worms? Ick. I'll eat them but only if there's nothing else around.
H. Hometown? This is starting to be too much information...
I. Indulgence? Chocolate gelato, Mexican chocolate or ube ice cream from Mitchell's.
J. January or February? February--Valentine's Day!
K. Kids and names? None yet! But hopefully soon..
L. Life incomplete without? Dancing, love, friends, my sweetie, and delicious food
M. Marriage date? N/a
N. Number of Siblings? 3 half-sisters
O. Oranges or Apples? Mmm....Apples. Fuji apples.
P. Phobias/fears? Dying without feeling as if I've accomplished everything I want to accomplish.
Q. Favorite Quotation? Don't have one anymore. They all sound too trite for me to enjoy for more than a few months.
R. Reason to smile? The sweet, small moments in life: afternoon sunlight, golden and slanting; sleeping in on Saturday mornings; watching children play and be goofy and innocent; hearing a golden oldie salsa hit from the Fania hey-day.
S. Season? Summer. The season of beaches and long, warm days (like today!)
T. Tag three people: I know they probably won't do it but here goes: Oscarchoy, Ludovic who's looking for a job, and Bino.
U. Unknown fact about me: Jeez. It depends on who you are. I love the musical (and the soundtrack to) 'Rent' (but not the movie so much).
V. Vegetable you hate: Ampalaya / bitter melon (Efren and I are on the same page with this sucker).
W. Worst habit? Biting the skin on my fingers. Yah, I know it's gross.
X. X-rays I’ve had: Too many. CATscan, chest x-ray (i've had lots of coughs in my lifetime), dental of course.
Y. Your favorite food? Good food. Seriously, I like all kinds of cuisines, and living in the Bay Area means I can pretty much take my pick of cuisines most days and nights. Some perennial favorites are Chinese, Filipino, Ethiopian, Indian, Japanese and Mexican.
Z. Zodiac? Capricorn (western astrology). Metal pig (Chinese).

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Closing the Circle

I'd heard recently from my former boss, John Anner, that the Independent Press Association (or IPA) had imploded after several years of mishandling, lack of political vision and (what seems to me to be) corrupt and unethical decisions made by key leaders in the organization (namely the Executive Director, Richard Landry and whatever Board members were supporting him).

This came as sad news to me, and I'm sure many others. You see, I worked for John at the IPA, for a little over two years after my start-up stint at School of Unity and Liberation. Back then, in 1999, the IPA was a smallish organization with big ambitions--the main reason I joined John's fledgling staff and stayed through the dot-com boom (and subsequent bust), when I could've gotten a job, like many of my friends did, making twice as much money and working half as hard for some weird tech company. John has always been a visionary, with the fundraising, communications and marketing skills to match, and I learned much working with him and the other talented folks at IPA, like Jeremy Smith, Martha Bowen, Linda Jue and Abby Scher.

Looking back on the whole experience now, I realize that the IPA taught me some important things about organizational culture, politics, and what it takes to build a real movement in the U.S.--things that I don't think I would've learned if I'd stayed in the world of small, grassroots nonprofits; these kinds of organizations, as John Anner has put it in his inimitably opinionated way, are often 'in love with [their] own marginality'. I also learned stuff about indie publishing, but that was secondary, really. I love magazines but I don't think I ever had the same passionate commitment to the indie publishing world that John, Jeremy and others at IPA possessed.

The real lessons I learned during my tenure at IPA were much bigger, and had (I realize now) a long-lasting impact on me and my worldview. Here's a rough summary:

1. Think small, be small, win small. The counterpoint to this lesson being Think big, be big, win big.. I was having a conversation with a colleague the other day after haggling with one of our youth board members over whether she could raise $500 or $1,000 as part of her board fundraising goal (Californians for Justice has a board that's mostly made up of high school-age youth and college-age young adults). I was exasperated afterwards (of course, she opted for the lower goal, despite my positive encouragement that I thought she could raise much more--which she definitely has both the skills and the contacts to do). I chatted my colleague and said, "I don't want to help people raise $500, I want to help people raise $5 million!"

This sentiment is a direct result of my experiences at the IPA. John and the rest of the IPA crew often thought big, huge even: they bought a distribution company to help get our member publications out to a wider audiences, then brokered deals with Barnes and Noble and Borders to increase that reach (I know, the hardcore lefties are rolling their eyes, but we ain't gonna win over 'the masses' if the only place we're trying to reach them is in radical enclaves like Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley). The IPA advocated to get indie publishers to use recycled paper, started an advertising co-op to help its members generate more sustainable revenue, and launched a project to get more articles by journalists of color in the still-embarassingly-White-male-dominated left press.

My head spins now thinking of all the IPA accomplished in such a short period of time. John and co. thought big, went big, won big. It's an attitude and approach I think many leftists--especially folks working at the grassroots, like me--could do well to embrace.

2. My opinions matter, my politics are important, people will listen to me. I didn't have years and years of writing and publishing experience before I joined the IPA staff. But for some reason the good folks there still paid attention to me, still took what I said and considered it valuable enough to maybe put into practice in terms of policy or programs. It amazes me now when I reflect on that time that they took anything I said very seriously! I was young and more than a little arrogant, and wore my radical politics on my sleeve (a fashionably chic sleeve, of course), sometimes alienating the very people that I needed to work with to accomplish our big goals. This meant a great deal to me, and I don't think I even realized it until now, at 35 years old. It makes a big difference in one's self-confidence to have people you respect and admire and who are accomplishing great things in the world stop and listen to what you have to say.

And at the IPA, we listened to our members, too. The importance of this seemingly simple act cannot be underestimated. These publishers were small, grassroots media-makers--the kind that the big trade associations, distribution companies and bookstore chains didn't listen to, because they didn't have to or necessarily want to. The IPA helped change that, because we listened to our members, asked them what they needed, and took it upon ourselves to figure out ways to give it them. The last round of IPA management obviously didn't do that, as many different accounts tell. Bumping members off the email list because they were critical of organizational practices or asking board members to resign--I can't even imagine even thinking about doing those things when I was Membership Director at IPA. The members didn't 'help us' fulfill our mission, the members were our mission. Listening to them wasn't a nice thing to do to make them feel better, it was our job. It's a perspective that I've grown to take as a given in my line of work with nonprofit grassroots organizations, and sometimes I forget that most of the world doesn't operate on this assumption: that you have to listen to your constituents, the folks whom you are serving, the people who are most impacted by the problems you are trying to find solutions for.

But these lessons weren't just imparted to me--I'm sure that many members of what was once the IPA would agree: the IPA's ambitious vision--for an indie press that could sustain itself financially and reach tens if not hundreds of thousands of more people, that could help sway the hearts and minds of the 'unconverted' masses that need to be won over if we are to build a real movement for social justice in this country--this vision and the programs and infrastructure the IPA created to help realize it, taught all of us that we could dream big, that we could do more, and that we could, one day, if we struggled through our differences and kept our eyes on the prize and were willing to think outside the box, build the kind of world that we'd only dreamed of.

Of course, that vision has not been realized, not even close, but it's incredibly reassuring to know that we've stepped a little closer to it, and that we even held parts of it in our hands.

Rest in peace, IPA. And may the lessons you taught us stay with us for a long, long time.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Procrastination is...

...I don't feel like being on a schedule. I want to just sleep in and relax and take my time getting up, and then later on go eat ice cream from Mitchell's in the Mission.

...I want to go have brunch at my friends' place and hang out eating waffles and turkey sausage and drinking french-pressed coffee 'til 3:30pm.

...I don't want to go do my laundry like a good girl, I don't care if I the only truly clean pants I have left to wear are the brown polyester slacks I bought in a rush to wear for a training one day, which I for some reason refuse to get rid of even though they are completely unflattering in every way.

...I want to go have dim sum with Efren and Howard in Daly City and then go to Target and buy meaningless trinkets, toiletries and office supplies.

...I don't want to have to go to work tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day. I want to be on vacation and laying on a beach in Maui.

...I want to stay here and cuddle with my sweetie in bed, because we were out late last night at the Leftist Lounge where H. spun a solid set that had the whole floor groovin'. Hate to say it but the other DJ's we heard were pretty sucky.

...I don't want to do the hundreds of pages of reading I have to finish by June 27 for VONA because I'm tired of reading student manuscripts and wish I could just re-watch Seasons 2 and 2.5 of Battlestar Galactica instead.

But most of all I want to stop feeling like a lethargic piece or warm rubber, so I will stop complaining now about all the things I want and don't want to do, and go be a good little Capricorn girl and wash my undies and jeans.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Cafes Make Me Happy

I'm sitting in Gaylord's Caffe Espresso on Piedmont Avenue, procrastinating from finishing my short story to submit at writing workshop tomorrow, but I've found this cool travel web site called Jaunted, which you can search to find cool things to do and see and visit when you travel all around the world (which I want to do more of).

Jaunted has awesome cafe listings, which made me realize how much I enjoy cafes. To write in, to hang out in, to read in, to drink coffee or tea in, or just to people watch in. I love how in cafes you can be 'alone' and enjoying your own little anti-social activity, but still be surrounded by a mess of people and therefore not feel 'lonely'.

I wish I'd known about Jaunted when I was in Manhattan a couple months ago and ended up at a random cafe in Soho because it was the only one that looked half-cool and wasn't packed with too-trendy hipsters being painfully self-conscious and stylish.

I also recently joined a couple of Flickr's cafe-photo groups. I especially love the photos of Parisian or French-inspired cafes. The French and the Italian have the whole cafe thing down.

Maybe one day I'll post my list of favorite cafes, and why they make me happy. In the meantime, I've got to finish my story.