Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Food on Oahu

While I was in Oahu this summer, I swam and snorkeled and studied and hiked. I walked, wrote, did yoga. I read, visited art museums, watched foreign films.

But, I did not eat.

The trouble was that food was hard to get. I know; it sounds crazy, I mean, Waikiki has tons of restaurants. But Waikiki was also an hour away--by foot--and who wants to show up to PF Chang's all sweaty, then walk back with a stomach full of Kung Pao chicken?

We all had little fridges in our rooms. And down in the basement, with the mosquitoes, there was a microwave. But getting food was tricky. Mostly, we would walk along the foot of the Manoa mountains, past avocado and orange trees, by a little stream, and after 20 minutes, we'd end up at Safeway.

But then, there was the carrying back of the groceries. They had to fit in a backpack, and hopefully not spoil in the humidity on the way back to our rooms.

There was an empty chair one day in class, because the otherwise resourceful professor of a respected university was trying to find food.

One night, I craved all these things, all together: corn bread, papaya, butternut squash. When it was all piled up on my plate, I thought how funny that everything was orange -- and high in potassium. Potassium is key, because you're sweating all the time on Oahu, even when the afternoon monsoons are pouring down.

Another night, my friend shared her green meal with me: spinach pasta with pesto, and green beans on the side. I found that friend a mango.

I stole a ladle of soup off a stove, but it was for someone else, and that is another story.

Everything we craved on the island grew right there. We wanted starchy root (taro), and whether or not we liked them, we ate a banana a day. Papaya and avocado were also biological staples. Water, water, water, water. We drank gallons and gallons and gallons. The coffee was not yummy. And in 35 nights, I had beef only two times.

Twice, I was poisoned from Vietnamese food, but I recovered from each in a day.

And once, we got these little fried cinnamon dough things from a famous place called Leonard's, and those dough things were divine.

The best meal I had was with Dave, on the west side: incredible plate lunch from a little hole-in-the-wall. And there was a good breakfast on the beach at Duke's, during a big canoe tournament. My favorite snack was a Bird Bar--full of seeds and nuts and honey--from Down-to-Earth, a vegan market.

In all, though, I didn't eat much.

When I got off the plane, I was tired and sunburned, and my hair had grown long and blonde and stringy. But the first thing my daughter noticed was that I was holding my pants up.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Future of The Future of Us

"It's 1996, and less than half of all American high school students have ever used the Internet.

"Emma just got her first computer and an America Online CD-ROM.

"Josh is her best friend.they power up and log on -- and discover themselves on Facebook, fifteen years in the future."

I loved it, The Future of Us, by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler.

I love that the plot is driven by high school junior Emma's obsession to have a good marriage fifteen years ahead. Emma's motivation is clear: her own parents are divorced and remarried, with lots of complications.

The effects of divorce is just one of the social issues Future explores. There's also homosexuality; stereotypes; teen sex, drinking, drugs.

Who will Emma end up marrying? Will she be happy? What will Emma and Josh do about the future they can see? The six-day mystery unfolds in 65 short chapters, through alternating narrators Emma and Josh. Each chapter is so compelling and fluid that moving through the book is smooth and fast. I never found a good time or place to put it down -- wanted to keep going, had to remind myself to slow down and enjoy each word.

I can see Mackler's call for respecting individuality and complex family dynamics (The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things). And there are threads of Asher's theme of how one small "ripple" affects a lot of other people (13 Reasons Why).

While I might have traded out a couple characters for a little more 1996 -- what everyone was wearing/eating/drinking/watching/doing -- I cherished the details, like the songs that "played" in the story, and the "Wayne's World" part, and the problem with Pluto.

The Future of Us
is tight and real, funny and sad. These talented writers marry wit and philosophy, delivering a thought-provoking tale of two teens trying to thrive in a quickly-changing world:

"No matter how small the ripple, the most vulnerable part of the future is going to be our children."


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Biggest, Best Critic

My work always lands in her lap last, when other eyes have already seen it, when I think I've made all the changes, when I think the story is good to go.

But it's never done after it gets to her.

She tells me, "The character's hair would not be wet. It's been 4 hours." "He wouldn't know her name yet." "He'd never know how much the other guy's boots cost."

She tells me the conflict might not resolve that fast, that the MC wouldn't say "Epic", that the love scene needs some work. She crosses out telling, pushes me to show.

She explains that the intro needs tightening, less repetition. The middle moves fast, except Chapter Ten. The end works: the whole thing makes sense now. I'm thrilled when I find a "Good!" or a star.

She reads the whole thing in a day, maybe two, working hours at a time, marking up almost every page with her purple pen.

"It's so good, Mom," she writes on the last page, my 12 year-old daughter, Daney.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Our Paths Do Cross

You wouldn't think it, but our professional paths do cross, Dave's and mine.

Often, volunteer fire fighters from Dave's department are in my writing classes. They tell of rescues, of danger, of life with the guys at Station One. Sometimes, I "poach" a potential prospect. I see organization, committment, clear thinking, and I ask the student if they've ever considered fire fighting.

Then, there's my own writing. A few years ago, after a fire ravaged through Lake Tahoe, I wrote, of all things, a travel article about it. Dave and I had left the kids behind, had driven to Angora Lake, where we stood at the lookout over acres and acres of ash, a flag unfurling above it all.

And recently, there has come the perfect pairing of these two seemingly contrasting worlds. After a handful of months, I've created Oregon's first Fire Officer Composition class. Choosing the literature was fun--and tricky. I found a slew of excellent memoirs, novels, short stories, and essays, before I ended up picking really action-y stuff, stuff on smoke jumpers, on 9-11.

Over two full days, these officers will read and write their own stories: their most significant call, how to ventilate or how to place a ladder.

This is not report writing, the local chiefs have told me. They want narrative, narrative, narrative.

Undoubtedly, after reading and reading and writing and writing, these public servants will be much different thinkers. I believe that I will be, too.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Bitter Fruit of "Osage County"

Drugs. Denial. Deception. Suicide. Abuse. Incest and infidelity.

The Weston family has it all, in Tracy Letts' Pulitzer-Prize winning tragic-comedy, "August: Osage County."

Every so often, we come across art, after which are not the same, nor would we be the same without having had the experience.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival Director Chris Moore's rendition of this play is exactly that art. From the opening music to the skeletal set and carefully-cast characters, every element of "August" is rich, significant.

Why am I liking this? we wonder in the dark. What about this is so compelling? And what does this say about us as viewers?

Tension. It's piled up high, like mashed potatoes and gravy. Each character has conflict with every other. There's sharp wit and sharp tongues, and we want to see the actors unravel, to see their resolve. We want to know that we could survive all this, too, should it happen to us. We learn that our lives are not as bad.

We are all human is the message the play delivers. To what degree is unimportant. "There is a little bit of the Westons in each of our families," Moore writes in the playbill.

Pain. Love. Lies. Commitment: "August" explores what makes us family.

Crickets, cello, Violet's creep down the stairs: the exceptional irony in this play is Moore's tying together all the little details to show one family's falling apart.