Archive for August 2010

Andrew Solomon at The Moth

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As someone who’s struggled with depression my whole life, I’ve followed Andrew Solomon’s work with great interest. His depression tome, The Noonday Demon, had a lot to do with me brokering some kind of accord with the beast.

My guilty pleasure these days is listening in the car to podcasts of the storytelling series The Moth, so I was excited to see Solomon’s name pop up on my iPod. I wasn’t disappointed. I found it so moving that I had to pull the car over. It’s called “The Refugees” and it’s about his meeting with a Cambodian woman who undertook a grassroots effort to help depressed women who, like herself, had survived the Khmer Rouge.

I’m not sure how to link to it, but you can find the episode on iTunes. Listen to it. It’ll change your day.

First Haircut

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As a Leo mom who is still technically a licensed cosmetologist in the state of California, I love Tariku’s hair long. But my fantasies of him looking like the newest member of the Jackson 5 have been at war with my dread of the daily battle to detangle. So we decided that we’d just take a tiny bit off the ends and hope that made it easier to comb through.

I’m not sure what traumatized me most about the experience. First, I showed up at the salon and was told by the stylist (after having cancelled on me last week) that she was running behind and I’d have to wait an hour. An hour. With my two-year-old. Needless to say I was heading out the door when the owner walked in and offered to do it. I threw caution to the wind and let her cut it. Tariku liked her and she did an okay job, though when I pick it out he looks a little bit like a lopsided bonsai. Plus it’s shorter than I would have liked.

T was a trooper and he was just happy that I brought his muppets DVD. He LOVES Miss Piggy. He doesn’t care one way or the other about his hair. I, however, have been randomly crying ever since.

I have to remind myself that it’s not the end of the world and that childhoods are chock-full of bad haircuts. But it was so hard watching her cut his hair and thinking that it had been a part of him for his whole life.

It’s also hard to explain the pressure that accompanies being a white mom dealing with black hair. It’s a loaded subject and everyone has an opinion. I have actually been stopped in the street by a barber who offered to cut it for me. I thanked him but told him that I’m kind of a hippie and my kid is going to go to hippie schools where no one is going to tease him because he has an afro.

As a mom, how can you always know that the choices you’re making are going to foster a positive self-image? I just want him to love his awesome hair. I want him to keep loving all of himself as much as he does today. I’m not exactly sure how to foster that kind of self love, but I’m committed to trying.

Road Trip

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We are a family who love to be on the road, though until now Tariku has only driven for long distances in what is essentially a rolling hotel room. So we were unsure of how our drive to the Weezer show at the Del Mar Racetrack last weekend was going to go.

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Well, for starters it took a full four hours through crawling traffic. Tariku has a strict no-car-sleeping policy, so about three hours into the drive I had just about run out of songs and snacks and we had a mutual mini-meltdown, but I have to say that for the most part it was a joy. Tariku is a born adventurer and loves to just drive and drive with the window down, smelling the sea air and heading to someplace new

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As for the concert, as someone who has been watching Weezer shows for eight years, I think the guys have turned some kind of a corner recently. The shows seem more electric than ever and I’ve even held my breath a few times wondering if Rivers was going to take a spill off of his precarious perch on a high speaker. They’re creatively and energetically out on a limb and it’s thrilling to watch. And T-bone, as usual, partied wildly for the whole show. The only full sentences he says so far are song lyrics.

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Legoland on the other hand- not as thrilling. More like a Sartre play come to life. I guess I’m going to be one of those awful moms who grudgingly shuffle through Disneyland while making sarcastic comments about gender-brainwashing and consumerism. That should get me a starring evil role in T’s memoir.

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But at least he’s been to like a million rock shows already and he’s only two. That has to count for something, right?

Ooh, La La.

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My friend Clare (food and culture blogger extraordinaire) just took this picture in Brittany.

Lil’ Thrasher

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T-Bone partied all day at the video shoot for the new Weezer single “Memories.” The band shot it at the Pink Motel with the Jackass Crew as well as a bunch of pro skaters and BMX guys. T thought the skaters were rad and the feeling was mutual. I had to stop him repeatedly from attempting to hop on a skateboard and drop into the pool. It’s an awesome song and if the vibe on set was any indicator, this video is going to be a cult sensation.

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Hollywood 411

My friend Anne Alderete just put together this piece for the TV Guide Channel. All that AND she’s a terrific cook.

It airs tonight at 8 on Hollywood 411, but you saw it here first, folks. Doesn’t Scott look cute?

From Hamburg to Legoland

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It’s taken me a while to blog about the Europe wrap-up because as I stepped onto L.A. soil, I realized that there hasn’t been a proper summer for anyone around here and now it’s nearly over. I’m not complaining- a summer isn’t a bad trade for a dream-come-true book tour- but I have had an allergy to the computer screen ever since. I want to make some summer memories with T and to give myself much needed time to relax.

My last couple of days in Europe were anti-climactic anyway. I did a couple of interviews in Hamburg, but my TV appearance was cancelled so I had a day to just walk around, which is my favorite thing to do when I find myself alone in a foreign city. Hamburg is a lovely place, but in many ways it feels like it was bombed to pieces then put back together. The sadness of the war seems imprinted in the fabric of the city. Or maybe i was just pensive because it was my last day.

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I spent some nice time by the water and enjoyed the Rickmer Rickmers ship museum, which fit in perfectly with the themes from The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet. I finished the book on the plane on the way home and thought how satisfying serendipity is.

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This weekend we have another journey planned. We’re taking a family road trip to the Weezer show in Del Mar Saturday night and plannign to hit Legoland on Sunday on the way home. I’ll see how Legoland compares to Slovakia and Germany.

Eastern Promises

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Before I arrived at Vienna International Airport yesterday morning, Eva Urbanikova, founder of Evitapress, was just a name on a book contract to me. But in Slovakia, Eva is a local TV celebrity, author and entrepreneur. It seems the only thing she’s lousy at is reading a map, so after my arrival at Vienna airport, we tried for two hours to find the University of Vienna. I wanted to make the pilgrimage because it was there that my beloved grandmother went to university and she was the one who instilled in me my love of books in the first place. The goose chase through Vienna’s narrow, winding streets was a bonding opportunity and by the time Eva took this picture, she had told me the amazing story of how she had started her successful publishing house with the money from her self-published bestselling memoir. Now she’s committed to empowering women to tell their stories.

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We drove from Vienna to Bratislava and met my translator for lunch on the bank of the Danube. The time between lunch yesterday and now has been a coffee binge of epic proportions, a lesson in Slovak history and a barrage of Czech and Slovak press that, while exhausting, has been fascinating and is certainly a rare privilege for an American author.

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I began the morning with an appearance on a morning radio show called Fun Radio, the host of which is the biggest celebrity in Slovakia and nearly just won Dancing With the Stars. It felt a bit like I was in the Eastern European version of the movie Lost in Translation, but it was a hoot.

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We did the rest of the press back at the hotel, which overlooks the main square of Bratislava.

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I have a thousand stories about pig ears and castles amd Communism and a place called Chicken Hell, among other things, but I’m so tired that I was sure I was seeing ghosts a minute ago. Plus I have to be up at 5:30 to catch a plane to Hamburg tomorrow, so I’m going to sign off.

But before I do, I want to share a tragic story. Eva’s sister Yanna (pictured below on my hotel balcony) is crazy about beat poets, so she went to America as an exchange student when she was in high school. She landed at a farm in Arkansas and her English teacher had never even heard of Ferlinghetti (you haven’t lived until you’ve heard the name “Ferlinghetti” pronounced with a Slovak accent). Instead, her school had a class called “meat lab,” in which they slaughtered, processed and prepared animals for lunch. She never even got to visit San Francisco. I swore to her that if she could find a way to get to L.A., I’d drive her to San Francisco and take her to City Lights myself.

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Seriously, I’m beyond overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the journalists and the generosity of my publisher here. I won’t soon forget this journey.

A Dance That’s Never Been Done

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Day off today an A’dam. Of course I went to the Biological Market (their version of a Farmer’s Market) because that’s what I do for fun. I met a woman named Birgit Snitker, who spends half the year in West Africa and the rest of the year selling incredible jewelry she makes from the beads she finds there. We talked about how old jewelry has a soul. I wear almost all antique jewelry, including my wedding ring, for that very reason, so it gave us a chance to trade stories. I bought a fabulous necklace and we planned to meet in Africa one day.

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Then I ate Dutch apple pie for lunch because I’m a grown up and I can.

As I finished the last bite of my pie at an outdoor cafe, the strains of Ode to Joy came off the water and I stood up to see the first of the Gay Pride floats drifting down the Prinsen Gracht. The rain made it possible to actually get a spot, so I parked it across the canal from the Anne Frank House and watched as the party raged. When the “Double Pride” Jewish float went by holding up a Star of David made from blue balloons, I think I saw a tear in the eye of my neighbor, a shirtless dancing boy wearing an Israeli flag as a cape. I personally had chills to the tips of my ears.

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Then the African pride boat passed and the woman on the microphone hollered, “Do a dance that’s never been done before, cause this is the African pride boat, Bitches!”

After the festivities, I might have been guilty of doing the teensiest bit of shopping before meeting my friend Audacia Ray, her sweetie David Beasley and their buddy Jennifer Lyon Bell and her bambina for dinner. I love the travel phenomenon of meeting acquaintances from home, who become fast friends in the new context.

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We had a fantastic dinner, talked sex-positive activism and film and books and babies. Jennifer recently directed a female-friendly erotic film called Matinee. It sounds awesome and will be available through Good Vibrations in three weeks. It’ll be a late birthday present for Scott and maybe he’ll forgive me for leaving him for so long and going out to dinner with porn directors without him. I’m having a blast, but I miss him and the baby like hell.

Tomorrow, Bratislava.

I Have a Crush on Amsterdam

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Being an author in Europe rocks. I’m buzzing with the beautiful night walk back from dinner, the streetlights reflecting off the canals and the dance music from the various Gay Pride parties giving the whole city a celebratory atmosphere. I love Amsterdam. I love the water and the houses and my hotel and and the museums and the cafes and the bookstores and the chocolate and the fashion and the people. I love the grubby little backpackers at the train station and the beautiful Dutch women riding bicycles in high heeled boots.

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I also love my publicist and my editor and the folks at my publishing house (pictured with me above). I have half a mind to go home, kidnap my husband and child and bring them here to be cute and wear clogs and ride bicycles together forever.

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As it is, I’ll have to settle for one more day. Tomorrow is my day off, then it’s on to Bratislava and the next adventure. But for tonight I’ll just let myself have a crush on Amsterdam.

Antwerp: Fast and Furious

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Today was my European press montage in fast forward. I found myself having that odd experience of feeling nostalgia for what I was doing at the moment. As if I was living it and looking back on it at the same time. I often feel this way in train stations.

And no, I’m not stoned.

Took a train to Antwerp this morning. One of the reasons I love traveling is that sometimes you’ll round a corner and unexpectedly see something like Antwerp Central Station:

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I have a running theme in my life of travel miscommunication, so I regularly show up at airports or train stations erroneously expecting that someone will be there to meet me (midnight in Addis Ababa was my favorite). It’s at just these moments that I enjoy the evil Starbucks monster takeover of the world. When it happened today, I got a latte and marveled at the gorgeousness around me until it got sorted out.

When I finally did arrive at the offices of Lanno, my first interview was already there. I didn’t stop talking until I turned around five hours later and ran to catch a train back to Amsterdam. Along the way, I managed to shove three bites of egg sandwich into my mouth and to guzzle down twelve cups of coffee. One encouraging thing about the interviews was that a few of the journalists quoted lines and discussed some themes with me that led me to suspect the Dutch translation is excellent.

Back in the hotel now and I swear I’m going to make myself get off my ass and take a walk before I pass out. Any minute now. Here I go.

Becoming What I’d Like To Be

I thought I’d recycle this post from January 13, seeing as I’m in Amsterdam and the themes have been on my mind:

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Miep Gies died last week at the age of 100. I’ve known her name since The Diary of Anne Frank came crashing into my life as a little girl and left me forever changed. I’m not sure I can name a book that has had a greater influence on my life, and I’m sure I could walk out my door right now and find five people to say the same thing without leaving my block. In my upcoming memoir, I write briefly about the psychic imprint Anne left on me. If it hadn’t been for the heroism of Miep Gies, who rescued the papers off the floor of the annex where Anne and her family hid for two years, the world would be a different place.

A striking example of the far reaching influence of The Diary of Anne Frank can be found in Ted Conover’s book Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing. Newjack tells the story of Conover’s year as a maximum security corrections officer. In Sing Sing, he meets a prisoner convicted of armed robbery and keeplocked for extorting other inmates. The prisoner has tattooed down his back these lines of Anne Frank’s, translated into Spanish:

When everybody starts hovering over me, I get cross, then sad, and finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I’d like to be and what I could be if…if only there were no other people in the world.

Above is a page scanned from my scrapbook from days long gone, when I did things like backpack around Europe by myself. My friend Garrett and I flew from Rome to Amsterdam and with all the hell we raised there, my most memorable moment was my tour of the Anne Frank House. Winding through that tiny attic, I felt the full import of my own freedom.

My gratitude to Gies… there aren’t words.

A Boat Named Borneo

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Jorien, my publicist at Arena, picked me up at the Amsterdam airport this morning and took me to the Ambassad Hotel, which is apparently the hotel at which all of the publishers here put up their foreign writers. It has a library filled with signed books donated by its former guests. Cool, right?

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I tried to force myself to stay awake in order to adjust to the time difference, but I succumbed to an afternoon nap before hitting the town in search of toothpaste and dinner. Amsterdam is rainy and lovely and packed to the gills with bookstores. I spent a couple of hours being overwhelmed with gratitude as I window shopped and walked in circles before getting some noodle soup and calling it a night.

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On my way back, I noticed this boat moored out in front of my hotel. Is that serendipitous or what? For those who don’t know, much of my book is set in Borneo.

Hopping on a train to Antwerp first thing in the morning for a crazy day of press tomorrow. Of course, I forgot to get the toothpaste. And no, I’m not stoned. I’m just like this.

These Birks Are Made For Walking

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I’m old school. I believe that when you’re schlepping your tushie halfway across the European continent, you should do it in a pair of Birkenstocks. So I took this pair on their virgin voyage today in preparation for tomorrow’s journey. You fashionistas out there will be happy to know that I’m at least foregoing the backpack.

I leave tomorrow for a press tour that will take me to Amsterdam, Antwerp, Vienna, Bratislava and Hamburg and I’m having wildly mixed emotions about it. I’m a girl with a nomadic soul and I love a good adventure, but I’ve never had to leave my heart behind before now. I know that T-Bone will have an amazing time with daddy and I’m not worried about them. But every time I think about it, I have a feeling like I’ve been kicked in the gut.

I’ve had a fun couple of weeks leading up to this, though. I did my final L.A. area Some Girls readings and I definitely went out in style.

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In Laguna Beach, I had a reunion with Sierra Sky and Shawna Kenney, both of whom attended the writing workshop in which I first dipped my toes into autobiographical material. They’re soul sisters and it felt like coming full circle to be together again. Shawna and Cara Bruce were there with their anthology, Robot Hearts: True and Twisted Tales of Seeking Love in the Digital Age, and I shared the night with a number of talented contributors.

The 24 Hour Literary Marathon at The Writer’s Junction was an unusual and cool event in a really great building that acts as an affordable shared workspace for writers. The Writer’s Junction is described on their website as a place “where you can work in splendid isolation, within a supportive community.” If they open a Writer’s Junction on the East Side, I’ll be their first member.

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Erin Tavin and Steffie Nelson’s Little Birds #3 at Tavin Boutique in Echo Park was also a magical night. Just look at the place. It was truly a treat to meet the very talented and lovely Janelle Brown. Plus, I wound up buying some fantastic gypsy dresses. How many reading venues send you home with a new wardrobe?

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Last night was my swan song at Vermin on the Mount. I felt kind of sad and strange afterwards, maybe because of the way the way that endings never feel like endings. Probably because they usually aren’t.

So that’s all the latest memoir news. Don’t know how much time I’ll have to blog while I’m in Europe, but I’ll certainly see you on the other side with more pictures than you care to see.

I had better hop off now because Scott and I have about four minutes in between him returning from his tour and me leaving for mine. And not to be crude, but nothing says “I want some action” quite like a new pair of Birkenstocks. Men go crazy for ‘em.

A New Tattoo

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I’ve been a blog slacker lately. Scott has been on tour and things always get uber-hectic around here when daddy is gone. Plus I’ve had novel revisions due and an icepick through the eye headache.

Tariku’s new favorite thing is to give me tattoos. In this picture it’s just bath crayon but he’s given me a few with markers too, and I dig wearing them around. They’re like an honor badge or a baby love note.

One of the reasons I’ve been a blog slacker is that as the publicity for Some Girls quiets down, I’m moving back into a quieter and more creative space. Tariku gives me a new tattoo every day and I feel that it’s emblematic of my mindset. My mind is dipping into different project ideas; I’m playing with different work patterns. I’ve been in the same mode for years now and I’m ready to shake things up a bit.

So I think I’ll wash my current tattoo away before I head off to do press in Europe tomorrow, but it’ll still be there in spirit: the constantly shifting tattoo, the endless palette of possibilities.

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