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,

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.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Edit Mode

An in revision mode for a short story I've been writing off and on for about two years. The story just got critiqued in a workshop I'm in with Junse Kim, an excellent teacher by the way, you can find him teaching public classes through The Writing Salon in San Francisco.

I also submitted the same story for Jessica Hagedorn's character development workshop that I'm doing in a few weeks at Voices of our Nations or VONA. I'm excited to finally study with La Hagedorn (as Bino calls her. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on her work.

I'm super-excited to study with Chris Abani. I've heard he's a great teacher, and his writing just kicks ass. I'll be getting my sci-fi novel (yes, the same one--it takes a long time to write a book when you're working full-time) workshopped in his class.

I lied, actually, because I'm not just in edit mode: in a few days, when I turn this story in for another round of workshopping, I'll have to start doing tons of reading, since Abani's workshop, dubbed the "Complete Novel" workshop, requires each student to turn in at least 100 pages of their manuscript, and I want to finish Abani's The Virgin of Flames before then too.

Wish me luck...Con Cariño,