Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My recipe for 'ugly latkes'

I know this blog has run its course, but Chanukah and Thanksgiving won't coincide again until about 25,000 years. By then, we'll all have four brains and gills like Kevin Costner in Waterworld. Maybe we won't even have tastebuds. Truly, it's now or never. Hope you like this recipe. And remember, cook the hell out of them!  Douse them in oil and fry them until they can take no more.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

My new book, and mothballed until further notice

I am temporarily mothballing the Cactuseaters blog as I gear up for my second book, which is now under contract with HarperCollins. The working title is Soaked to the Bone: 15,000 Years of American Camping, and should be in your hands by 2016 I hope. I will try to update this from time to time, but meanwhile, I have embedded my Twitter feed in the right hand corner of this blog so I can at least keep you up to date about new adventures, etc.

I am contemplating a new website built around the upcoming book project. And, if you are seeking information on The Cactus Eaters, here are reviews and related links, and here is the recently updated Frequently Asked Questions link.  Meanwhile, please take a look at forthcoming issues of Catamaran for my essays about -- and interviews with -- T.C. Boyle, Lawrence Weschler, Helene Wecker, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and others.

By the way, I appreciate all of your emails, and it was fun to answer some of them the other day while hanging out at Suppenkuche in SF and nursing an enormous, frosty beer. Thank you for staying in touch. It is so weird to have a book out there and have no idea what it's up to; the book never stays in contact with me, it never calls, it never writes, and I haven't done a very good job of keeping up with it, either. So thank you for letting me know its whereabouts and whether it is getting into trouble or needs a hand-out from me every once in a while. More news and updates soon.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Writers who won't quit: responses to "The Man in the Shoebox"

Hi everyone. I found a couple of lovely pieces inspired by my Poets & Writers piece from last fall. I loved reading these, and here they are, from The Heart of the Memoir and Pam Parker.

I would send you a link to my story, too, but I can't because it's behind a paywall, but perhaps at some point I'll figure out a way to put up a link here. Anyway, it was an honor to read these, and sorry to be tardy about linking to your stories on my blog. I almost never check up on online responses to anything I write (and if you have read my story in Poets & Writers, you'll know why I only look once or twice a year!!) Also, it was fun to see a mention of Annie Dillard in The Heart of the Memoir; she was one of my teachers a long time ago (though I didn't mention her in the Poets piece.) In other news, I am hard at work on a brand-new project, and I'm hoping to get that into your hands in a couple of years or so. All for now.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Now in bookstores nationwide (and in Canada)! Latest issue of Catamaran is hot off the presses

I'm hoping you're all getting your hands on the latest issue of Catamaran (which is analog-only, by the way, and you'll see why when you get your hands on the magazine. Reading it is a very tactile experience.**) And thank you to all the great feedback and messages about the new issue. Catherine Segurson did a beautiful job with the design and layout; you will not find a more beautiful-looking lit magazine anywhere. Here is a brief excerpt of my interview with Lawrence Weschler, “Convergences, Chance Discoveries, and Going Back to Kindergarten,” featured in our summer issue. Weschler has been a staff writer for the New Yorker, and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Of late he has directed the New York Institute for Humanities at NYU. Here he is describing an ongoing artistic disagreement between the artists Robert Irwin and David Hockney:

“Sometime later I happened to be writing a catalog essay for an upcoming Irwin show, which in turn was very consciously on Irwin’s part a refutation of Hockney. And the two of them have been going at it like that for thirty-five years. I write about one and the other calls me and tells me, “Not true.” I write about the other one, same thing. This goes on and on, and, yes, as you say, they have never met. The thing that’s fun about it is that it’s not a stupid argument they’re having. They’re having a very deep and interesting argument.”

Hope you are having a great summer. Chances are I'll see you out on some campground somewhere, as 'the camping project' continues in earnest.

*** however, an e-reader version is in the works. Not sure when that's coming out. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Images from the Pacific Crest Trail

in light of my recent return to the PCT, I thought I'd post some shots (new and vintage) and some illustrations and cartoons from various locations on and around the trail. Here goes. And by the way, I am so impressed by this new generation of clean, well-scrubbed trail hikers. As you can see, when I hiked the PCT, I did not place much of a premium on cleanliness at all. I've scrambled the sequence to test the memories of all you trail obsessives. (Do you think you can identify the various forests and mountains where these pictures were taken?)  If you're a true PCT old timer, you surely remember the kind-hearted, porkpie-hat-wearing fellow who appears in two of these pictures ...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My return to the Pacific Crest Trail (and I just saw a big fat bear!!!)

Happy to report that I returned to the PCT for the first time in a very long time, and I had the chance to meet five through hikers and talk to them for a little while. Four were polite but slightly grumpy and tired looking -- probably because they are lugging 50 pounds of pack weight across the mountains! Oh man. My back ached just looking at all that pack weight.

I met another through-hiker near the San Joaquin River. He was carrying very little, his pack looked really light -- and he was smiling like he was having the time of his life!

Anyways, it sure was great to meet all those hikers. I told them all that I was a PCT walker, class of '93 and '94.

By the way, I found it really strange that none of the hikers had seen a bear at all when I met them. Not one bear between Mexico and Reds Meadow, CA? The weird thing is, I saw a bear that very same day! After finishing my miniature PCT hike, I took a drive at dusk on Old Mammoth Road in the Eastern Sierra (a good 15 miles or so from the actual PCT). I stopped at a beautiful overlook, next to a truly wild looking, burly patch of land with yellow wildflowers growing on it, and at that very moment a big fat brown bear (fully grown male, by the look of him) came tumbling out of the woods, shaking his ears and staring right at me!

We looked at each other for a good long time, and then, without making any noise at all, he waddled through the meadow and into a copse of trees.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A chomp-induced hiatus from blogging, and a message to all Pacific Crest Trail hikers

Hi everyone. I'm a little out of sorts after being chomped by an exotic, long-necked Gruiform and getting a tetanus shot, which has made me rather sleepy over the past 24 hours, so I'll check in with you all a bit later on. On top of this, I am annoyed about the fact that this blog (from what I hear) keeps getting traffic from online porn sites (!!!) If you are scanning through this blog in search of online pornographic stuff, you have come to the wrong place, my friend. Nothing all that racy here, unless you're turned on by pictures of cookies, wildflowers, scenery, etc.

Also, if you are out there just setting off on the Pacific Crest Trail, heading northward down in Southern California, here is some second-hand advice, pulled straight from the pages of my first book. (when I say 'second hand,' I mean to say that I didn't come up with this advice myself. It was told to me before I started out on the trail, and I thought about it every day.)

-- Don't quit the trail when you've got bad blisters. Only consider quitting when they heal completely.

--Don't even think about quitting the trail during a rainy, muddy, blecchy, two-week stretch of bad weather. Only consider quitting on a sunny day when the weather is mild and everything is going just the way it should.

-- Never quit during an ugly, dried-out, scorched-earth day on the trail.

--Obviously, there are very legitimate reasons to stop doing the trail (getting injured, for example, or an unavoidable life conflict, or getting timed out or running out of money completely, or realizing it would make sense to just do it section-by-section, or maybe the trail just isn't for you. But don't just  up and quit because you're a little achey or impatient or not going as quickly as you wanted to go, or other people are bagging more miles than you can, or the trail doesn't conform to each and every one of your expectations. As they say, it gets better. 

- Don't make a mad rush to Canada (unless, of course, you're coming up against snowfall or some other practical consideration). There's nothing in Manning Park!

-- So long for at least a couple of weeks or so, and if you're so inclined, I'm still occasionally beeping out updates on Twitter. And if you are out on the trail and feel like sending an update into this blog, feel free to do so. Happy walking. Oh, and one more thing -- as limitless as the trail might seen, in the scheme of things it is very short indeed, so try to enjoy yourselves!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

At long last, a new Cactuseaters format for the 21st century (?)

If you're so inclined, here is my Twitter feed. I'm a latecomer to this thing because my blog posts are so short anyway that it felt kind of redundant. Some of you have complained that you can't figure out how to get onto my Twitter feed. Will try to figure out a way to make it scroll across the top of the blog like a news alert. Far from having figured that out just yet.

Here it is.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Coming soon from Catamaran Literary Reader: a conversation with Lawrence Weschler

The other day I had an hourlong phone conversation with one of my favorite creative nonfiction authors, Lawrence Weschler. We talked about everything from the "uncanny valley" of digital animation to the grisly fate of the legendary Cameroonian stink ant (see above) and the creative interplay between the artists Robert Irwin and David Hockney. It felt more like a real conversation than an interview, and that's what I liked about it. Anyhow, you'll  get to read all about it in the upcoming issue of Catamaran. As a matter of fact, I just might publish a few outtakes from the talk (the original transcription came in at more than 6,000 words (!!) at some future date.  There were some gems that wound up in the cast-off box.  I don't want to suppress them for too long.

In other news, I am taking a wilderness survival course this weekend at UCSC in preparation for a camping experiment. I am a bit nervous about it but the experiment must proceed.

Think twice before renting a Victorian in San Francisco (especially if you have little kids)

In honor of Mother's Day this Sunday, Amy Ettinger agreed to be a guest on Lead Free SF's web forum, speaking to San Francisco parents on a "mom to mom" level about the dangers of lead paint. (Don't expect SF landlords to come clean about their lead situations. Our chatterbox of a landlord could not stop crowing about the apartment's history and every element of its construction, but he somehow 'forgot' to mention there was no lead abatement whatsoever...) The second we realized there was a problem, we hired up a moving truck and cleared out of SF. Fortunately, Santa Cruz was waiting for us! Here is that link.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My secondary career in baking

Some people know me only from my articles, essays, and book, but I'm still enjoying small crumbs of notoriety for  the official Banana Slug cookie I developed for UC Santa Cruz, pictured below.

When I say "developed," I am speaking only of the cookie's shape and design, not the ingredients, the frosting or anything else. I had no say in the butter content, amount of sugar, etc. I developed the Banana Slug cookie cutter by buying a very cheap cat-shaped cookie cutter and hitting it with a hammer until it looked more or less like the Slug mascot of UCSC. Then I sent specifications and the cookie cutter to The Buttery bake shop, telling them where to place the eyes, the smiley mouth, and so on.



You are probably wondering why I am flogging this same old news on my blog once more. Well, here is the reason: Recently, Chancellor George Blumenthal mentioned these cookies (prominently) in his list of Top 10 happy moments during his years on campus. He read the list out loud during the recent Alumni Weekend festivities. To mark the occasion, the Buttery baked up a brand-new batch of these cookies (photographs below.)

Here is the chancellor's list, verbatim. The cookie is mentioned in item number six.

UCSC has been my happy place for 41 years. Here's a Top Ten list that captures just ten favorite memories:

#10: My very first visit to campus, as a UC San Diego grad student attending an all-UC conference. It was amazing. I'd never seen a campus like this.

#9: Cold dark matter. This campus allowed me, as a researcher, to make a significant contribution, for which I will always be grateful.

#8: The moment the elevator I was stuck in opened on October 17, 1989--45 minutes after the Loma Prieta earthquake struck.

#7: The East Field is one of my favorite places. The view is spectacular; it's where my investiture as chancellor took place, and this is where commencement takes place each spring. It's a very happy place.

#6: The day in 1986 when students made the Banana Slug our official campus mascot. The slug prevailed, besting the sea lion in a campuswide vote. On the 25th anniversary in 2011, the Buttery made special-edition banana slug cookies, and the City Council proclaimed September 27th the "Day of the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slug Mascot." How far we've come!

#5: The first time I biked up to campus. I made it to the top, but it wasn't easy!

#4: I have had the pleasure of knowing all four of UCSC's alumni regents: Paul Hall, Alan Goodman, Gary Novack, and Ken Feingold.They've all done great work for the campus and the university, and they make me proud.

#3: I'm pleased to have played a behind-the-scenes role in securing a staff advisor to the Regents. The story includes a hushed conversation with a UCLA staffer that took place behind a potted palm—I felt a little like James Bond!

#2: This one goes back to 1983 or so: The day I gave my professor's inaugural lecture at Oakes College was a very happy moment. Making full professor and being introduced by Herman Blake was a winning combination!

My #1 happy memory from this happy place is pretty recent: On February 1, I had the honor of accompanying astronomy professor Sandy Faber to the White House where President Obama presented her with the National Medal of Science. What a moment. It's one we can all share and in which we can take great pride."

Anyhow, thank you, Buttery Bakery, for keeping my cookies alive. As graduation draws near for UCSC, look for more of my cookies at the bakery. They should have them as a seasonal offering for at least a couple of weeks. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Golem in Manhattan

Congratulations to my friend Helene Wecker on the publication (today!) of her first novel, The Golem and the Jinni. I just recorded a detailed Q and A with Helene, who told me all about the development, writing process and research that led to this marvelous new book. Look for that this summer (I will share the venue as soon as I have the specifics.)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Coming soon: intensive memoir workshop with author Micah Perks at UC Santa Cruz

Methods and Materials: Memoir is an intensive, advanced creative writing course in memoir writing. For students in the creative writing concentration or by permission of instructor.

June 24-July 5, no class July 4, 1-5 each day, five credits. Sign up begins April 15 through UCSC summer session office. Email Micah Perks, meperks@ucsc.edu for more info. Micah Perks is the author of a novel, short stories, and the memoir, Pagan Time, which is available in paperback, ebook and audio from audible.com. Her personal essays have appeared and are forthcoming on The Rumpus, an online arts and culture magazine.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mollusk melt: introducing the world's first Banana Slug/Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Get a load of this! Kirstin Guinn, my co-worker here at UCSC, has designed what must be the first Banana Slug/Grilled Cheese Sandwich. No actual slugs were harmed in the making of this gooey concoction, but I'm proud to say that Kirstin used my home-made banana slug cookie cutter to stamp out these two slug sandwiches, which are lying right beside each other on the orange plate. You'll notice that the slug in the foreground has capers for eyes, a bread body, and pepper-jack cheese dripping out of his midsection.

Anyways, I asked Kirstin just now: what possessed you to make this particular sandwich? "One of the things I do as a social media manager is find weird holidays and then figure out how to celebrate them online, usually with photos as that makes everything more compelling," she explained. "When I found out from a fellow social media manager that today is National Grilled Cheese Day, I immediately knew this was one to celebrate (as all college students love grilled cheese almost as much as they love Ramen). I started thinking about making grilled cheese so I could photo the sandos and post them and then I walked past your office and saw the outline you made with your banana slug cookie cutter that hangs in your window. I love it when a plan comes together . . . . "

Sharp-eyed blog readers will notice that the slugs are resting their sleepy heads on a bed of freshly plucked cilantro. Yum.  Stay tuned for boll weevil quiche and broccoli-cricket ice cream!

Food photography by: Kirstin Guinn

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

UC Santa Cruz's boogie-woogie sea lion dances to Earth, Wind & Fire, and the Backstreet Boys

Normally I don't upload videos but I made an exception for this one.      

  Next week: see what happens when they cue up a Slayer CD!

Just kidding. Speaking of 'just kidding," this video was released on April Fool's Day, but I can assure you that it's real. 


Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine: I double-dare you to read this book and not think of Justin Bieber

Remember that stupid game in middle school when one of the older, snarkier kids defied you to go back home that day and not think of monkeys?

Naturally enough, you went home, and you couldn't get those monkeys out of your head for the whole day. You went to sleep dreaming of those monkeys.  It was like Jedi Mind Tricks for 12 year olds.

The middle-school don't-think-of-monkeys trick came to mind when I was reading the beautifully written, funny and highly entertaining new book, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne. Wayne, with mischief on his mind, even uses a quote attributed to Justin Bieber at the very beginning of the book. This book is remarkable because it reads as a satire but it also comes across as a convincing insider look at the celebrity culture that it (gently and not so gently) sends up. Anyhow, this book was a very welcome distraction during an arduous week. I believe that all three of my readers would enjoy this very much but I could be wrong. One thing that keeps popping up in my head: if they ever made a movie out of this book, would there be any chance that Jonny Valentine would be played by .... Don't think of monkeys!

Forgot to mention that Teddy Wayne shot an intentionally cheesy and nerdy promo video for the book featuring Teddy Wayne bobbleheads and a once-in-a-lifetime T-shirt offer.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Catamaran Literary Reader makes waves (with new podcast link)

Here is the latest news story about our mighty magazine. I'm happy to say that a  third one is already in the works (we had our editor's meeting out here just the other day, and it looks like we'll have great visuals and stories for the next one, too. Little by little, I'm getting my own contribution together. Looks like I'll interview one of my  favorite nonfiction authors but it's not official so I'll keep mum for now. Let's just say he's written a staggering number of books and I'm attempting (early in the mornings, and late in the evenings) to read 'em all. I will admit to feeling intimidated as I look at the leaning pile of fat, thoroughly researched and beautifully illustrated books on my night stand ... By the way, if you happen to be in town on April 4th, the magazine is holding a reading at Bookshop Santa Cruz, featuring a few contributors. Oh, and one more thing: on the Catamaran website, you will find a brand-new and slightly different edit of my TC Boyle podcast interview, which uses his story "The Extinction Tales" as a jumping off point to explore his engagement with the natural world. The image and link to the podcast can be found about halfway down the page, which also includes detailed info about the first issue.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Things you should NEVER do in the backcountry

The season for recreation is almost upon us so it's time for me to republish this very important, comprehensive list of backcountry don'ts. 

You will find my list, in its entirety, right here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Thanks to everyone who traveled far and wide for our rager of a birthday party here in Santa Cruz

It was a wild time.

People slid on slides.

They screamed.

They yelled.

They climbed a tree and swung on swings. They threw tantrums. They laughed. They drank from sippy cups.

I am proud to say that the cake I thought would be terrible turned out to be pretty good. In fact, the kids chomped it down in about two minutes. Not kidding.  By the time I was able to reach in there and grab a piece for myself, nothing remained but a shriveled, dried-out, semi-frosted, charred elbow of crust.

I ate it anyhow.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Stop by and say hello to Catamaran Literary Reader at AWP in Boston

Catamaran Literary Reader is out in force at this year's AWP conference in Boston. The conference starts today, so make sure to stop by and say hello to editor in chief Catherine Segurson and managing editor (and highly talented fiction author) Elizabeth McKenzie.

As you can see, there is a very impressive line-up of speakers this year at the conference. I will always have a place in my heart for AWP because I went to the one in New York some years back and had a very good time, in spite of the fact that we were supposed to have handed out advanced review copies of The Cactus Eaters and, in true classic Cactus Eaters/Murphy's Law fashion, the printer broke down, so I ended up handing out -- and signing -- dozens of little postcards with my picture on it and a photo of the ARC. Anyhow, I won't actually be there for this one -- I will be throwing the ultimate birthday party out here in Santa Cruz, baking the chocolate sheet cake myself, and trying to figure out the kind of party favors that a pre-school demographic might enjoy  -- but I hope you stop by and talk to the Catamaran contingent out in Boston. They should be out there right about now ...

And I almost forgot to thank you for the large and enthusiastic crowd we had for our second Catamaran release party -- and thank you for your kind response to my presentation. When I step up to a live microphone, I am never sure how it is going to go so thank you for your encouragement.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The spring issue of Catamaran is here. If you happen to be in Santa Cruz this Friday, I'm going to read something so new, I haven't written it yet.


The second issue of Catamaran Literary Reader is coming your way. Any moment now it should start showing up in indie bookstores across the nation and in several other countries, and start working its way into your mailbox. Even the erratic mailman who serves two of our most loyal readers in a certain suburban community in Los Angeles County should, eventually, deliver the magazine. Our magazines arrived today, on John Steinbeck's birthday, no less. To celebrate, we're throwing a big party at the Tannery Arts Center with some great surprises. The festivities start at 6 p.m. Friday, with live music until 7 p.m., readings from 7 to 8 (and, I would guess, perhaps a wee bit later than 8) and dance music until 9 p.m. This is your chance to meet the contributors to our second issue, and view original art from the magazine.

Here is how to get there.

If you go, you will hear from the following authors:

Jack Shoemaker, essay. (This is a rare opportunity to hear one of the most influential voices out there today. Read more about him right here.)

John Moir, essay. ( John Moir has written an excellent essay about an extremely famous author, mountaineer, and the first-ever president of the Sierra Club, whose name is almost identical to "John Moir." And no, the right answer is NOT David Brower.)

Patricia Smith, fiction

Dane Cervine, poetry

Peggy Townsend, fiction

Karen Joy Fowler, fiction

I'm reading a piece that I plan to start writing late Thursday evening (tonight) about the 40th anniversary of the publication of Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and Jim Houston's influential book, Farewell to Manzanar. I'll share a few thoughts about the book and my recent talk with Jeanne in Santa Cruz.

See you then, I hope.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A tragic day (week, month, year) in Santa Cruz, California -

Yesterday felt like a bad dream -- helicopters circling my neighborhood for hours, streets blocked off, and reports later on that two veteran police officers had been shot to death during a sexual assault investigation on the street that I run and drive on almost every day of the week. For hours we were getting reports that a shooter was still in the neighborhood -- and though the report turned out to be wrong, our household got quite a jolt when a door-to-door marketer, with an only-in-Santa-Cruz sense of timing, pounded on the door, hoping to sell stuff. (She was told to please go away and perhaps come back when there was not an active manhunt in progress.)  It was nerve-wracking to see constant updates and national news stories coming over the wire and have no idea if the situation was ongoing.  Later on, I was stunned to hear that one of the fallen officers was Sgt. Loran "Butch" Baker, a true professional, and  my go-to guy every time I wrote about social issues downtown while working at the Santa Cruz Sentinel. He was one of the most visible members of the force -- an almost constant presence downtown. At one point I wrote  stories about panhandling and street musicians, and a set of downtown ordinances restricting where people could "spare change" (a verb out here in Santa Cruz.)  Sgt. Baker was always very informal and friendly, and more than willing to go about his rounds with a pesky reporter trailing after him, recording his every move. Those were the days when people seemed on edge in this town -- so much anxiety when the stakes were so much lower. I got a  small and slightly scary taste of what Sgt. Baker had to go through every single day when I "patrolled" downtown myself as part of my newspaper beat.  These days I can't help but feel a little nostalgic when panhandling ordinances seemed like our biggest concern in the city. Now it's 2013, and in the same few weeks we've had to deal with the shooting (not fatal) of a student at the bus stop I use almost every day, a fatal drive by shooting of someone right in front of an extremely popular college hangout called The Red Room, an alleged sexual assault on campus that heightened anxieties but turned out to be a false report, a robbery of the same organic food store where a disoriented guy tried half-heartedly to mug me while I was shopping some weeks back. And let's not forget the fatal stabbing of the owner of Camouflage less than a year ago in broad daylight.

Obviously there is no "upside" to all of this tragedy, but we can all take heart in the people who work hard to keep bystanders out of harms way, the grocery stores that closed early to make sure their employees got home safely, and the generosity and work ethic of so many people in this town. I'm talking about the same sense of responsibility that led Sgt. Baker and Detective Elizabeth Butler out to that house on North Branciforte Avenue yesterday.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Cactus Eaters: reviews, stories, podcasts and links

Just in case you are new to this blog (and I seem to be getting new readers checking in every month), I've updated the page with the reviews, stories, podcasts, links and other info. Thank you for your continued support. Yes, I am working on new things, but I am am not a fast writer.  It took me all month just to write this blog post.