Friday, December 31, 2010

My December Sun

My Dad always used to tell me that only 1% of the population of the world gets to see the sunset over the ocean.

Each December my sun creeps out over the Pacific. On clear bright mornings (like the spectacular one today!) it paints a glimmering path of gold across the sea to the edge of the world. Maybe the ancients wanted to fall off--into its beauty and so they hoped, rather than assumed, the world was flat. On grey December mornings my sun yawns sleepily and stretches its refracting light through fog and ocean, its like waking up to a morning dipped in sliver. In the shortest days of the darkest month my sun shines the brightest.

It says goodnight to me in hues of hopeful pink and magnificent magenta. Each dusk my sky is a finer masterpiece than you will ever see in a museum.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Leaping into my 30's

I turned 30 this year. With my birthday falling at the end of the year, I spent most of it pondering how to mark the occasion. I wanted to find a way to celebrate and honor the first 30 years of my life while also setting the tone for the direction and goals of my next 30 years. I wanted a little fun and a little reverence.

I've always wanted to go skydiving. I don't know exactly why. I am not afraid of heights, in fact, I often climb to the edge of structures both natural and man made while fighting the urge to jump off of them, to jump away from them, to not be held down my gravity's force, or any other forces for that matter. I think more than anything else I wanted to experience something new, something I had never experienced before. I love the symbolism of jumping out of a plane...leaving my 20's behind and leaping into my 30's.

On the morning of my first day as a 30 year old adult, my mom, sister and I drove to the Lompoc Airport, home of Sky Dive Santa Barbara. Despite Skydiving being the choice sport of adrenaline junkies, I found it to be more peaceful than anything else--once I was out of the plane. Sitting on the edge of the plane, with my feet dangling 13,000 feet above the Earth I was afraid I was going to fall, as soon as I realized that I was supposed to do just that it was smooth 120 mile an hour sailing through the sky. As I tumbled toward Earth, I revered at the beauty of it all, the blue of the Pacific stretching out for miles, the green of fields and trees. I thought about death and then life. I felt like I was in God's hands, my atoms mingling with the upper atmosphere. I was out in the universe and I loved every second of it.

There is a unique perspective provided by 13,000 vertical feet of space. Space enough for the wonder and the possibility and the passion to set in and take hold of you all over again.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Perplexing Grace

For those of you who know me well, this will come as a shock. One night last week, I indulged a panhandler outside of Seven Eleven. My late night, insomniac sweet tooth got the better of me. So, my roommate and I walked two blocks for some Reece’s Pieces and maybe even a package of Mint Milanos. There was a small and withered man sitting outfront in a wheelchair, and all he wanted was something to eat. He said he didn’t want booze, or cigarettes, or any cash. Just something to eat.

He must have caught me on a hormonal PMS upswing because I caved and bought him a turkey sandwich, potato chips, and a bottle of water. I almost started crying as I stood in the check outline. (It was a busy Wednesday night at the Seven Eleven by City College.) I don’t know what came over me. Maybe because this wasn’t some kid with dreadlocks and a clever sign about needing cash for weed, but a man who just needed something to eat. Maybe my Uncle Marty, a passionate advocate for the homeless who passed 3 years ago, was watching over me. I am not usually sensitive the plight of the homeless. Though I try not to be judgmental, I find it offensive to be harassed for my spare change while I’m walking home from work.

When I handed the man outside of Seven Eleven the bag of food, he asked me for one more thing. He asked me to say Grace with him. I held his dirty hand as he blessed his food, thanked God and blessed me. His name, he told me was Gaston. It was only the second time in my life I’ve been afraid to shake someone’s hand. I’m not gonna lie…I washed my own hands as soon as I got home.

In no other place I’ve than I’ve ever been to before, Santa Barbara always feels so disparagingly extreme between rich and poor. I’ve almost always been self conscious and concerned about my own place on this monetary totem pole. I’d be lying if I said, never once was I consumed and led astray by trying to climb higher on it. But that night, outside of Seven Eleven, a perplexing sense of Grace helped me get a little more perspective.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Most Likely To Forget Her Cap and Gown At Graduation

his morning I was telling a friend of mine that sometimes I would forget my own head if it wasn't attached to my body. Tonight, I was looking through my high school yearbook..Go Dons! I remembered that somehow it was printed in the yearbook that I was most likely to forget my cap and grown at graduation. I remember being so pissed when I opened my yearbook senior year. I don't remember ever getting to vote for these catergories, and I certainly wasn't told that I was receiving this one.

But now, almost 12 years later, I make that statement about myself all the time. It doesn't really bother me, even though I don't exactly agree with it. Its not so much that I forget stuff. Its just that I don't always think we need that much stuff. I learned the definition of the word need early in life, as in, "No, Kara you don't need that dress from Nordstrom. You may want it but that is not the same as needing it." Don't tell my mom, but I was actually listening to her.

More often then not, I have everything I need right at my finger tips. And if I find myself feeling like I need something else, I can usually just look around and find I have more than I could possibly ever need.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


I'm starting a column for DEEP Magazine. I am thrilled to have my own column and an introductory bio but the head shot is freaking me out. Luckily, I have some very talented friends, one of whom happens to be a photographer. Rebecca Farmer took a ton of photos for me earlier this week. Just this morning she brought over 12 on a CD and I have been shamelessly looking at them all day. Of course, I immediately posted them to my Facebook account, for some reaffirmation and attention. But I keep scrolling through the album, over-analyzing the way my hair falls across my face, whether or not my thigh looks fat, and if I am starting to get crows feet around my eyes.

Its not vanity, I swear. Photos of myself always make me realize that I never actually get to see my own face with my own eyes...logistical challenges of facial geography render this impossible. It still trips me out. As someone who thinks she has a pretty good handle on what type of person I am, I realize that I have no idea what I look like. I know that I am 5'7", ok 5'63/4" tall and that I have short brown hair. My driver's license says I have blue eyes, but sometimes they look green. So when I look a little too long at my reflection, or scroll through my portraits for the fortieth time in one hour, I'm really just thinking, oh that's what I look like.

Monday, September 13, 2010

I Want My MTV, Sometimes

I grew up with MTV. They’re just about a year younger than me. I used to love the Real World, one of the first reality TV shows but people stopped getting real and just started getting drunk. I have to admit that in high school I watched TRL religiously, but that show ended not too long after my college graduation. A combination of my false sense of maturity and a lack of actual videos and shows worth watching greatly reduced my viewing time. To be fair, I don’t watch anywhere near as much TV in general as I used to.

Last night I watched the VMA’s, I hadn’t seen one of the music videos that were nominated. I didn’t really care what attention-whore outfit Lady Gaga was wearing, nor did I think it was trendsetting and original. They gave us the Jersey Shore cast, in a hot tub. Just when I thought there really was nothing left for me on MTV, they gave us Florence and the Machine.

WOW. She is amazing. Her voice is surreal, angelic like Natalie Merchant, with Chrissie Hynde fierceness. She rocked the stage, barefoot in an ethereal Goddess like gown, with her flowing red hair and porcelain skin. She was truly beautiful without shock or scandal, and wowed the crowd with her talent, not T & A or her meat suit. Thank you MTV.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


I believe the power of our subconscious is highly underrated, although the subconscious probably prefers it that way, wink wink. This is why, when I clicked my way upon Shrinking Violet Promotions, and their Summer Hiatus Experiments, I fell in love with their blog immediately, well that and they have pictures of shoes.

I tried their most recent experiment, writing down a problem each night before bed for your subconscious to work out while you are sleeping. It has been 3 nights, and I'm seeing results. On their blog, contributors, R.L. LaFevers and Mary Hershey sight examples of problems and struggles within the writing process to let your subconscious work out while you rest but I used the same process for some life issues, although both of those issues seem to be pretty much intertwined for me. Either way, solutions to my questions have been popping up all week like lucky pennies shinning on the sidewalk. I've got a new approach and enthusiasm for tackling some of the same old issues.

ps...I did some more clicking and found that Mary Hershey and I in the same town...I guess the World Wide Web is still a small world after all.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Newest Obsession: Mermaids

Between growing up in a beach town and on a healthy diet of Disney, its hard not to love mermaids. These mythical creatures, also known as sirens have long captured my imagination, and my heart. In Homer's Odyssey, I loved their dark power over sailors. I related to Disney's Ariel, and her longing for another world. And let's not forgot Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah's grown up mermaid love story, Splash. I'm working on a new story, about a girl who discovers she is a mermaid. There are many subplots, and I am thinking this might turn itself into novel. Along the way, whenever I get stuck, or more likely am just procrastinating, I Google my afternoon away looking up mermaid legend and lore, and lots of images.

The picture I posted today is of a statue in the Copenhagen Harbour honoring Hans Christen Andersen and his story, you know the one Disney cartoonized. There are so many reasons I love this statue, the way she is placed on the rock, looking longingly out to sea, the way her legs are still discernible beneath her flippers--as if she is mid-mermaid-morph. I am half Danish, and also love the personal connection. I hope to see this statue in person one day...maybe on a Danish book tour for my mermaid novel.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Back Roads Baby

This morning I drove from Santa Barbara to Montecito via the back roads. For those of you who don’t know, this route is one of the most beautiful drives in the world, especially in the morning. The sun is rising in the East over an exclusive range of mountains, one of only a hand full of ranges that stretch both north and south and east and west. When it gets over the peak, the sun stretches its golden arms out across fertile farm valleys, sleepy beachside towns, and the blue Pacific Ocean, hugging California with morning light. Ahh, it’s good to be back.

This got me thinking, as one easily does meandering their auto coach through eucalyptus lined lanes, about back roads, route 66 probably the most famous, a novel I started reading in junior high but never finished called Blue Highways, and my Dad who always had a time saving route that never saved much time but offered better view. I caught onto his tactics at an early age. I love back roads. I love going slow. I love the view. I love less traffic—which is why I’m not going to name any of my Santa Barbara roads.

When I was 12 and my parents were going through their divorce my Dad would drive us to school on his days. Every now and then he would drive right past our school and head south. We would take PCH or Highway 1. We’d drive along the ocean. These trips always coincided with a big ocean swell. The waves would splash up over the rocks and on to the road. My Dad would talk story and point out famous surf spots like County Line and Malibu. We’d always stop at the Malibu Inn for a cheeseburger. Now that I’m out of school, my Dad uses airport drop off and picks as an excuse for some back road rambling. The traffic has gotten worse, the surf breaks are more crowded but the stories haven’t changed and sometimes, if your lucky a bit of the Pacific will splash your windshield.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

March 4, 1990

(This post is long overdue but I started writing it before the internet was invented so cut me some slack.)

A nine year old girl goes into a packed bookstore. Her 29 year old self stumbles upon the book her mom bought her that day, Zen in the Art of Writing, and appreciates the irony that Ray Bradbury, author of the Martian Chronicles, spoke in the Earthling Bookstore. That nine year old girl didn’t even know what irony meant but she felt it, like an inside joke between her and the universe. It tickled her bones, made the hair on her arms stand up, and put a smile on her face.

This 29 year old has been thinking a lot about that 9 year old lately—in some ways she let her down but it’s not too late, and the day that her mom took her to hear Ray Bradbury speak. She didn’t know who he was then, but reading the book he signed for her 20 years ago she can tell his words sunk in, especially in the way he describes how images sink into his subconscious and resurface in the most mysterious of ways years later. The memory of that day, 20 years ago is seeping out of my imagination right now. Granted I got a little prodding from fate when I found the book on my mom’s shelf.

Holding a piece of that day in my hands, the memories started popping up randomly like shinny pennies laying with Lincoln’s bust up in the street. Sitting on the floor in the old Earthling, next to stacks of books and the smell of them wrapped around me like a blanket, a baby blanket—like one you could buy at Chicken Little, the family run local baby store in the space that used to be the Earthling. A blanket that is still wrapped around me now, a blanket of memories and words as I sit at my computer working on my baby of a story.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Glowing in Motherhood

This is to all my beautiful baby mamas! It is so amazing to watch my lovely friends turn into amazing mothers!

When I was growing up my mother had a very uptight friend. (She is not anyone you would know or remember or anyone who would be reading this blog so don’t start trying to guess who it is.) Her house was always perfectly arranged, beautiful yet unlivable and uncomfortable. I could never breathe sitting on her designer couches and trying not to accidently break anything, or get anything dirty.

She was always dressed immaculately. Her belt matched her shoes, matched her handbag. Her earrings matched her necklace, matched her bracelet. She looked like she walked right out of a store window, perfectly coifed and as lifeless as a mannequin. She freaked me out.

Then she had a baby.

We went over to visit her and her newborn. Interestingly enough, I don’t remember a man. If she had a husband or not…actually the more I think about it I do remember her having a husband, but he was more like a decorative mantle piece than a person.

We walked into WWIII. Ok, it wasn’t that bad actually. It looked like my bedroom usually looks, with piles of clothes on the floor and an unmade bed, but the contrast to pre-baby house and post-baby house was that dramatic. My mom’s friend was a complete mess. Unruly hair, which had not been washed, let alone combed in days and, most shockingly, my mom’s friend was still in her pajamas…AT TWO IN THE AFTERNOON!

At first I thought, wow she’s really let herself go. I almost began to feel sorry for her.

Looking back now though, I wonder if she felt some sense of relief, as if it was finally ok to stay in her pajamas all day and not get dressed. As if her baby put life into perspective. In truth, the baby matters way more than the little things…what’s a little bright orange carrot puree stain on the sofa matter when you are holding the child you birthed in your arms? I’d like to think this way, but knowing my mom’s friend she was probably about eight seconds away from a panic attack and a full anxiety break down because her bathrobe didn’t match her bath slippers…that’s funny but not true. She did actually seem more relaxed. And approachable…and for the first time I thought of her as beautiful. It didn’t matter what label was on her clothes or pajamas, she was glowing in motherhood.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Little Somethin' Somethin'

Her fingers furiously raged down on the keys as Ralph opened the package. It was wrapped in brown paper, like goods from a traditional European shop, and bound on all four sides by cord. There were no markings on it, no addresses—neither to, nor from. Ralph stood on the front porch examining the sleepy street. He slowly turned his head to the left glancing up Micheltorena street toward the Riviera. The sun was barely over the ridge and just beginning to creep down the hillside to wake up the town with gentle hues of pink and orange. He brought his head back to center and fumbled with the package, back and forth in his hands. He turned slowly, this time to his right, down Micheltorena towards the Mesa where the ocean waited for the sun to announce the new day. There was no one out yet, where did this package come from?

This was the first time he had seen a story in manuscript form. It was not a book. A book is binding and backbone and ribbing. It is sturdy and strong and protects the story it carriers around the world. A manuscript is a loose and dangerous thing. Its pages are not bound to anything and can be whisked off in a gust of wind and lost forever. A book is permanent. A manuscript is full of hope and potential. A book is in retirement. Its achievements catalogued and recorded and praised.

He read the first sentence. Ralph B Sipper Bookseller, who would be controlled by no woman. Well, that is the name and title on the sign outside, he thought to himself. Anyone walking by could have written this. But he also thought about his marriage. His former wife was largely frustrated with his immobility, his inability to act or alter his intentions to accommodate or even include her. Suddenly, he realized the precariousness of his situation, standing on his porch holding in his hands his life, typed on leaves of paper that could be haphazardly drawn from his hands and lost forever. He backed up into his door. With his right hand tightly holding the package closed he reached behind him and pushed the door handle down. He leaned his backside into the door and eased back into his house as if he did not want to turn his back on the world while retreating from it.

Her fingers furiously raged down on the keys, striking them like spring hail on unsuspecting pedestrians. Her fingers struggled to translate the images in her mind as rapidly as they were racing through it. Finishing the first page, Ralph placed it face down in a new pile next to the tall stack he was reading through. He picked up the second page, there was only one sentence written across the top. And then suddenly, a second appeared. Ralph shook his head. Closed his eyes and felt the lids smooth down over his eyeballs. Surely, they were playing a trick on him. When he opened his eyes again two more lines appeared.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Too Hot Yoga

Holy sweaty balls...well, I don't have balls but if I did, they would be sweating right now. I know this for certain because everything is sweating, teeth, boobs, knee caps, and even my Achilles tendon...the actual tendon underneath my skin is sweating in between bones and joints. My entire body is lathered in sweat.

In down dog, instead of focusing on pressing my chest towards my thigh, I am watching the sweat roll down my arms, bead up at the peak of my elbow, and drip slowly onto my purple mat. My hands are sweating too. I am not talking first date nervous palm sweat. I've got full blown, guilty suspect in a police interogation hand sweat. Even my finger nails are sweating. My form is slipping, literally. Finger nails aren't an intergal part of my down dog but my palms are, and they are so sweaty they keep slipping out from under me and really throwing my dog off. This is my first attempt at Hot Yoga in the 16 years I have been practicing. The intent of my practice has never been to sculpt lean and toned bodies like Madonna and Gywneth, but hey, if that happens on my way to inner peace, balance, love, light, and spiritual awakening I will be grateful for all of the Universe's gifts.

I have never walked out of a yoga class before. I am a firm believer that each moment is speaking to you, teaching you something you need to learn, no matter how much it feels like your hamstring is about to snap or your shoulder is going to dislocate. (On a side note: you should listen to your body and don't actually let those things happen.) But this morning, as I struggled to breathe, even in childs pose, I thought the unthinkable. Walk Away. Ironically, or not so ironically depending on whether or not you are one of those people who thinks everything happens for a reason , I have been thinking that about a lot of things in my life lately. Walk Away. As my labored breathing made me light headed and dizzy, nausea rose from deep in my belly where the breath could no longer get to. I realized my efforts were no longer serving my purpose. I had to walk away before I passed out.

It felt good to walk into the cool waiting room, plus the black spots disappeared from the corners of my vision. My temperature returned to normal, my body stopped struggling to cool itself, and I could breath again. Hot yoga taught me its ok to walk away, and try something different tomorrow, after you've washed your sweaty yoga clothes.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Wind Blow Straight From Hell Jeep

When I was 15 we went to Hawaii for Christmas. We flew into Honolulu…I love the Hawaiian language; although, it is more fun to speak it than to write it. We rented a jeep. A decade and a half later the “Wind Blown Straight From Hell Jeep” still lives in infamy in our family lore. Even I have to admit, it seemed like a good idea at the time. And, besides Kali Murphy’s family had rented one when they went the year before and I wanted one too!

Of course we had to unzip all of the Jeep’s plastic windows and put the top down. It was great driving out of the airport, zipping through Honolulu. Air is different everywhere you go. I can still recall the delicate and fragrant humidity nestling up against my epidermis and lapping back and forth between layers of skin like gentle tides on a sandy shore. Stopped at stop signs, the heat wrapped around our shoulders like a tropical version of the stylish Parisian pashmina. My very straight and very long baby fine hair just laid on my back, too dense for the hot moisture to creep between the strands and raise hell like it was doing to my mom and my sister. Their hair had quickly turned into half curly, half straight messes. I smugly chuckled to myself, and am almost positive that my mom caught me in the rearview mirror, because she took a sharp right and rapidly accelerated onto the freeway, quickly passing the much slower local drivers.

My sister and I fought over everything. One of the most coveted things in our young lives was the front seat of the car. My mom devised a brilliant plan that quickly put an end to all the fights over the automotive throne. Since my birthday is on the 23rd, and my sister’s is on the 20th on all of the odd days the throne is mine. Even though we are both well into our adult lives now, this practice is still used whenever the two of us are riding in the same car. And, it is how I came to be seated in the back of “The Wind Blown Straight From Hell Jeep” that fateful Hawaiian afternoon as three tourists made their way to the North Shore for Christmas.

My long hair quickly became a hair hurricane, a furious flurry funnel whipped into a frenzy on top of my head. My hair was going every direction, except the strands that were stuck in my lip gloss like hand prints in the sidewalk concrete. I would like to share the details of the Hawaiian country side speeding by us, but I couldn’t see a thing. It was a plot from a crossover movie of the Adam’s Family and National Lampoon’s Family Vacation and I was playing the love child of Chevy Chase and Cousin It. Even my follicles were flipping out.

“MOM! MOM! DO YOU HAVE AN EXTRA HAIR CLIP?” my shouts didn’t make it through the hair barrier.

“What, I can’t hear you, it’s too windy.”


She didn’t even pretend to ignore me, but looked at my mom and laughed. It was a two hour ride to the North Shore. I was going to have to devise a MacGyver like hair contraption if my mane was going to make it. I fished around in my backpack and pulled out a long sleeve shirt I wore on the plane ride over. I lifted it up to my forehead when a gust of wind went straight up and over the front windshield, missing the front seat and was sucked into the backseat. I managed to get the sleeves tied around my head but the torso of the shirt was flapping about madly in my face. I tried to smooth it over my head to contain my locks but then the wind got underneath it and flung the shirt off my head and out of the back of the Jeep. There was no hope.

I begged my mom to pull over. I knew there were extra hair-ties in my toiletry kit, if I could just get to it. My mom maneuvered the jeep to the right lane. The black of the asphalt began to fade as we slowed, and I could see the red volcanic dirt on the shoulder. My hair finally calmed down. I reached back to smooth it out but my hand got stuck in a giant nest. It was tied together in finely woven knots that my fingers, and even finger nails couldn’t comb through. My hair had congealed together and formed a dreadlock for survival. I managed to find a hair tie and pulled the majority of my hair back. I threw on a baseball cap for added protection. As we moved back on to the highway and sped up another gust of wind whisked into the backseat, lifted the bill of my cap off my face when another gust that felt like it was coming from the side launched the hat completely off my head. Another article of clothing lost to the Wind Blown Straight From Hell Jeep.

At this point even I had to laugh. However, to this day I have an irrational fear of dreadlocks.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Chicken Stock

I’m reading The Pat Conroy Cookbook, Recipes of My Life right now. I just read him for the first time over the Christmas holiday when I stole my Aunt Julie’s copy of South of Broad, her gift from my Uncle Jeff, before she could get her hands on it. I’d heard of Conroy before, I’m sure most people have. Prince of Tides: Barbara Streisand, Nick Nolte. But that was all I knew, and I never actually saw the movie.

I was hooked after the first paragraph.

His words, his sentences, the way he fits them together to evoke images and emotions are truly a gift, to the one who possesses it and those who it is shared with. I consider myself lucky to have collective and personal memories of some of the places that Conroy holds dear to his heart, they are in mine as well. I spent summers in the South Carolina low country. I spent my summer breaks playing in the inter-coastal waterways, where violent and beautiful summer storms sparked by afternoon humidity and low pressure systems moving off the coast lit up the sky and shuttered in my soul. Thunder storms still make me feel like I am 8 years old laying in the hallway underneath the skylight in my Grandma Ann’s house on Hilton Head Plantation.

I had to leave my Aunt Julie’s house half way through South of Broad—because of work, not because of the book. As soon as I got home I ordered my own copy from Amazon. I usually can’t stand being up-sold but Amazon got me this time, and I am glad they did. It was brought to my attention that people who bought South of Broad also like Recipes of My Life. I’m half way through Recipes of My Life and I love it. The short stories accompanying each recipe are so delicious you could scoop them off the page with a spoon.

“The making of stock is for poets and philosophers, dreamers and deep thinkers with a dinner party coming up populated by only people you love.” Pat Conroy, Recipes of My Life

I’m sitting on my couch with the smell of thyme rising from the chicken stock simmering on my stove. Like finally getting around to reading Conroy, cooking is something I’ve always wanted to do. I mean real cooking. I can prepare meals but cooking is different. I’m sitting here writing while the stock is wafting through my house, and I’m wondering what took me so long. The smell is wrapped around me like a blanket. It is new and old at the same time. I started with the chicken, picked it a part, like a moment that unfolds into a story. I halved and quartered the onion, pulled its layers back like revealing the subtext of those moments in a story, with tears in my eyes. I added in the supporting cast, carrots and celery, and gave the leading role, accidentally to thyme. This story isn’t over yet and I don’t know what I’m going to make with my chicken stock, but like any good story, you don’t know exactly what you are going to get out of it until it’s done.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Hey Hey Susita

Since I was whining about genre in my last post I figured I'd better switch things up this time. Here's a little poem thing. When I read it, I sing it to myself--in my head, even I don't want to hear my singing voice out loud. I don't play guitar or piano or anything except the radio but maybe someone will read this and strum a little melody to sing it to. have fun.

Hey Hey Susita

You blew into town

And burned my tera cota childhood down

I told them so

That they should leave

That you wouldn’t go

Hey Hey Susita

You blew into town

And burned my tera cota childhood down

Your ashes rained down something new

Your flames lapped up the old

Cauterized by your heat, the wounds of time healed fast

Burn it down and start it again

Dust to ashes

Ashes to dust

Its nature’s way

Hey Hey Susita

You blew into town

And burned my tera cota childhood down

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Irony, Guacamole, and Santa Ana Winds

Irony, Guacamole, and Santa Ana Winds

Why I Don't Like Genre

“Carson doesn't have much faith in the notion of genre, or at least she pays very little fidelity to it, “I'm not sure if that's fair to the reader, but I just really have no idea what I'm writing most of the time,” she says, claiming, “I still feel most at home making things into blocks of prose”; “there are all these kinds of fun available in poetic forms, and I experiment with them from time to time, but I never feel very adept at any of that.” ”

by Craig Morgan Teicher

Let me start off by saying, I have never read, or even heard of Anne Carson. I found an article about her new book “Nox” in last week’s Publishers Weekly Newsletter still bolded in my inbox. Without knowing anything else about her, I instantly liked her. I don’t like the notion of genre too much either. Like Carson, I feel most comfortable writing in blocks of prose, although my blocks tend to be paragraphs forming a short story. I am stalled, and sometimes intimated by the rules and formats of more structured styles. My problem with genre is that I often don’t know what I am writing—again, something I share with Ms. Carson. I don’t know what my story is going to be, and I don’t want to force it to be anything, it’s not a boyfriend after all…I kid, I kid.

I don’t like favorites either. I like a lot of things, and often it depends on my mood. When I am writing, I like quiet and solitude. I feel least alone when I am alone writing—oh the irony. I lied, I do have some favorites, and irony is one of them, so are guacamole and Santa Ana winds. In the most crowded of places I feel alone. Which makes me wonder…what does it mean to be lonely? (I’m not going to answer that right now.) Genre is in the business of defining things. As I writer, I am in the business of describing them—I think there is a conflict here. My problem with genre is most likely somehow tied to my issues with authority.

Carson's book comes in the form a xeroxed copy of her journal. It is filled with photos and old postcards, as well as her prose and her translations from the Roman poet Catullus. According to the article it is billed as a book of poetry but the author herself refers to it as an epitaph, and it is also described as an accordion. I am more drawn to it now that it lacks definition. I can not wait to open the box this story is packaged in. And isn't that what genre essentially is, a box in which the story comes. I don't like to be put in a box, I don't think anybody does. And I especially don't like to put my stories in them.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lavender Has A Wild Side

“God gets pissed off when you don’t notice the color lavender.”

I read this on someone’s Facebook page last week. A side from the fact that I don’t believe God gets pissed off, I do think people should notice lavender. It is a cheerful herb, the greeter of the garden. It is not to bold or bright. It doesn't yell at passersby. It draws them in, first by their nose, then by lifted head, its tall blossoms stand like a proper English gentleman rising to greet a lady as she enters the room. It echoes the grace and beauty of bygone days filled with formal pleasantries and propriety.

Lavender has a wild side too. In the unfettered days of my youth (yesterday and hopefully tomorrow) lavender was the crop of hippies and the flirt of alternative therapies. Lavender got around, ending up in everything from my sock drawer to my honey. How could lavender go from proper lady of the English garden to wild seducer of household products, and then I realized, it must be the French variation. A flirty cousin, raised in strict plots and narrow rows had finally found her rebellion in chocolate bars and cheesecake. A place in Santa Barbara used to make an amazing lavender chipotle cheesecake. I wonder if this naughty temptress is the one who will save the bees, inviting them all over to pollinate so their population doesn't keep declining. A lavender light district is what those bees need. Maybe being easy is a good thing for bees. Those gentlemen callers buzzing around gardens like shored sailors make our gardens grow—urban rooftop plots, unruly country side spots, forgotten shacks, and neglected drives, English and French alike.

Growing amongst other herbs like basil and rosemary, lavender is always the prettiest, with her pale purple bouquets. Rosemary, despite delighting just about every plate it touches, doesn't do much for the eye. It is a bit aggressive, overbearing. One hot summer it quickly took over the whole yard. I thought we should let it go, especially since there wasn't anything else growing there. But the man of the house hacked it to pieces and discarded it. Basil is also bright and cheery, with a fragrance rivaling that of lavender but without little bouquets of its own. I grew basil for the first time this year, right in the kitchen window-box. I used old bright yellow coffee cans for pots. Watching the stems stand up out of the cans gives me a sense of accomplishment. I watered it when it was just dirt, and watched as stems started popping out and growing taller. One day two little leaves started venturing off the stem. Another day, buds formed on the leaves and two more little leaves grew out of the center. I like checking for new leaves while I drink my morning coffee.

It is still no match for lavender though, that well rounded lady of the garden, whose impeccable manners and innocent fun make her an invited guest just about anywhere she grows. Her scent reminds me of summer, of being a kid, of farmers markets, of harvest parties, of fields, of socks, and of my mom. She is a constant companion, undemanding and easy to be around, whose company I always enjoy whether it is in tea or honey or just to see her as I glance out the window. No, I whole heartedly disagree, lavender shouldn't be noticed, it should be felt.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

First Motorcycle Stop: Cambodia

My Day Trip To Prey Veng

By Kara Petersen

While staying in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in the spring of 2009, just the beginning of the rainy season, I was invited to visit a friend’s family village. Prey Veng is roughly 3 hours from Phnom Penh across the Mekong River, and rough the road is! Much of it is unpaved, like most Cambodian infrastructure that is still standing, it is a haunting whisper of a beautiful and sophisticated past destroyed by one of the bloodiest genocides in the history of the word. The journey to Prey Veng is a perfect day detour from the occasionally overwhelming city. Though the city is full of colorful life and sites worthy of your time, without a trip to the quiet Cambodian countryside a stay in Cambodia is not complete.

Once outside of Phnom Penh, a ferry escorts travelers across the Mekong. We wait patiently for our turn on the ferry, trying to sympathetically ignore the peddlers and beggars. Curiosity pulls my eyes out of the window to see what type of bug is roasting on top of that stick, but a glance is perceived as intent to buy, and therefore must be avoided. My curiosity hasn’t taken over my tongue, and I have no desire to actually taste the bugs.

Cars, people, vans, bikes, and tuk-tuks cram together for the short ride. I get out of the twelve passenger van and stand against the rail to gaze down river. I take a deep breath of the humid air, filled with exhaust, and close my eyes. For a moment I am a young Marguerite Dumas in French Indo-Chine, a scene from one of my favorite books, The Lover. Despite the petrol scented smog, the ferry provides a respite from the bumpy road as we glide over the smooth and gentle waters. My imagination slowly fades and I return to present times as we land on the other side of the river.

This is my first glimpse of the Mekong, a moment I have been waiting for all of my life, on a crowded ferry my ankles are caressed and welcomed with splashes of murky green water. I wish I could dive in and take the river through Vietnam to the South China Sea.

On the other side of the river we stop in a little cafe, not resembling any cafe I've been to before. It has the salty odor of fresh seafood, although I think technically the fish come from the river and therefore, it is riverfood. A man is plucking live crawfish out of a laundry basket and throwing them into a bucket of water. It reminds me of my Grandma Bonnie’s story of a crawfish whose fate is much kinder. Fate has not been kind to the people of Cambodia. Everyone you meet has a scar, in the form of a story or literally on their body, from the torture of the Khmer Rouge. Yet, like the hero in Grandma Bonnie’s story, their smiles reveal the hope that a kinder day is coming to them soon.

The traffic on the other side of the ferry is worse. It is like waiting in line to cross the border from Tijuana, Mexico to San Diego, California, which is probably why I kept trying to speak Spanish to all the Cambodians. We stop for coffee and lunch. If there is a Starbucks in Cambodia, I did not see it. Because I have an internal Starbucks honing beacon, I know this means there are no Starbucks in Cambodia. Coffee in Cambodia is found on the streets, in plastic bags, with straws sticking out of the plastic baggies, which are held closed by rubber bands. I order mine with sweetened condensed milk, and as long as you drink it before the ice melts, it tastes exactly like a grande-iced non-fact-vanilla-latte. For lunch, our group brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and potato chips but I didn’t spend $1200 on a plane ticket and 12 hours on a plane to eat peanut butter and jelly. To the Cambodian food court I go!

Only the men in our group, two Cambodians and one South African, head toward the street food, I follow them. Mordegai (The South African, I could tell you what he is doing in Cambodia but that is another story—check back soon.) our scenic and culinary guide enlightens me as to what each item is. In a glass case, on top of a little cart, there is a grill with four different plates of food. The first plate is glazed chunks of meat with bones sticking out of them and little red flecks of chili pepper in the golden sauce. "Short ribs," Mordegai says. In the second dish is thinly sliced silver dollar sized flat portions of meat, also probably pork. Seeing as they lack the enticing glaze, I skipped over them. The 3rd dish is in a bowl and far too adventurous for me. It is a mix of different hunks of meat, including oblong round portions I am quite sure are some poor male animal’s testicles. I quickly pass the testes over. The 4th dish appears to be noodles with vegetables and piqued my intestinal interest. I opt for that but Mordegai points out that it is actually ginger and not noodles. Following his suggestion I order the short ribs.

I eat short ribs on rice, not sure what kind of meat it is but after seeing the six pigs bundled together and tied up on the back of a moto, I was hoping it wasn't pork. I eat two of them, and although the flavor is good, sweet with a little kick from the chili peppers, the meat is a little tough and intertwined with fat and sinew. It is served with a condiment of sliced ginger, carrots, cucumber, and chili peppers—delicious poured over rice. A cup of soup similar to miso but without the tofu, accompanies the meal. Its warm broth is a nice compliment to the spicy chili.

Unfortunately, I think, we have to skip dessert and get on our way. But then, walking back to the van, Mordegai points out a cart full of upside down turtles. (Sorry Mom!) And, I am relieved to be leaving.

Driving a short distance down National Highway 1, we make a quick right onto a narrow dirt road. We bounce through bicycles and honk our way through motos carrying all sorts of things. I see more pigs. This time in a woven basket in the shape of one of those things they use to spin bingo balls around in. They are packed in there and squealing like, well like pigs. I was surprised by my lack of concern for them. Being a lifelong lover of the swine, ever since reading Charlotte’s Web, I thought for sure this site would have tugged at my heart strings. But here it doesn’t. I am positive if I saw such a thing driving down State St. in my hometown of Santa Barbara, California, I would be horrified. But in Cambodia it is part of the landscape, like the babies on motos and cows in the middle of the street. The large blonde skinny cows pop up with more frequency the further we get from the city, and cause traffic jams. Twice, cows pulling wooden carts of hay block the path entirely, and despite honking and other coercion we are completely at the mercy of their will as to when we will be granted thoroughfare. The houses are mostly well kept. Built on stilts, each has a miniature pagoda in the front where offerings of fruit and incense wait for Buddha. Some of the houses are surprisingly nice, you can almost imagine living in them as you romanticize about the simple country life. There are beautiful bright flowers and bushes. Some of the houses are painted in a friendly blue and have adornments leading up the front stairs. Roosters, chicks, hens, and cocks run from beneath houses and roam around the yards.

The family has a small store. They don't sell anything labeled or immediately recognizable but I guess it is a variety of spices, soaps, and other household items. Their small store is adjoined to their house, and they invite us inside to sit on the mat in their living room. I am quickly awakened from my romantic ideal of country living on the Mekong when I see the car batteries under the table powering the television and realize they have no electricity.

After greetings and small talk we make our way through the back yard and down a little path to the beach. We pass a small concrete structure that barely comes up to my chest. They call it "The Little House" and it is their bathroom. On the left of the path is a small patch of pineapple plants amidst a grove of King's Fruit trees, large round fruits that look like coconuts covered in thorns. I have yet to try them but am told they smell like sweaty feet and taste the same. After being told this I am not sure why anyone would want to eat them?

I taste milk fruit for the first time after only hearing of its existence hours before. It is a small green fruit with thick skin that peels away to reveal milky layers of white and magenta until you reach its center. In the middle of the fruit is a translucent cocoon with six chambers spaced out like a three dimensional star. In each section is a dark seed. After sucking the sweet tissue from the seed, I spit it in the bushes.

As the brush backs away from the path and spreads open, it reveals the river just ahead. It is wide. It shifts from dark to light and back with the passing of clouds across the sky. Its beach is broad, and I am disappointed to find it laden with trash. The brush thins out to meadow like reeds that grow shorter and shorter until there is only sand, stretching miles and miles out before me. I spend the rest of the afternoon swimming in the Mekong with a group of villagers who are bathing themselves and their cattle. The Mekong is one of the 10 largest rivers in the world. Its width is quite a sight to behold. The world is a wondrous place, and just when I think God can't have created something more beautiful than what is before my eyes, I turn a corner and he says: Hey Kara, look at this!

Welcome To My Blog: sit down, take your shoes off, and stay awhile.

This is my third trip to blog land, and you know what they say about the third try--it wears three shoes. In the past I’ve written about sleeping on my mom's couch, which luckily for me but unluckily for the blog didn't last very long. In the second round I wanted to write colorful profiles of my rainbow colored explorations on the CTA, except that I frequent the Brown Line most. So this time, I’m giving myself permission to follow my whims. This blog will be about story, which I seem to find everywhere, and beauty. Beauty is a constant and welcome distraction. It tugs me out of my mind, beckons my eyes elsewhere, and gives my imagination a motorcycle; on which I ride through the possibilities of the world with the whisper of words blowing like wind through my hair.