Thursday, January 31, 2013

Life after homelessness in Santa Cruz: honoring the work of Stephen Nelson

Forgive the sudden change of tone, my four loyal readers, but I have a story with serious import to share. Here is a bit of inspiration for you this morning. It's about a man who thought he'd lost everything, only to wake up one day and realize that his life of misfortune contained a template for actual change -- not just his change but other people's, too. I interviewed him at some length on Monday and based my story on our talk, and my conversations with several other folks who know him well. Meanwhile,  mark your calendars for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Convocation. And in case you missed it, here is my interview with the 2012 keynote speaker Nikki Giovanni and my story about the upcoming ceremony, featuring activist and educational activist Robert Moses. And yes, it goes without saying that I will be there at the ceremony. (photo by the talented Carolyn Lagattuta) And by the way, if you are on hand to congratulate Stephen, keep in mind that the pronunciation for his first name is unusual. It is pronounced Steh-FONN, with strong emphasis on the second syllable. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Another update

I did, in fact, get completely lost on the way to the big Catamaran reception. I thought I could take a shortcut by going on Graham Hill Road, but I ended up behind a locked, residents-only security gate so I had to dogleg over Highway 17 and ask directions at the hotel near Pasatiempo. I finally figured it out, and it was a great evening. I had a nice talk with Belle Yang, a wonderful graphic novelist (her most recent book is Forget Sorrow) who designed a gorgeous cover for the upcoming Catamaran. Just wait until you see it. I also had a chance to talk with Robert Sward and his work in progress. He'll have a poem in an upcoming issue of the magazine -- not the next one but the one after that. There was a lot of excitement about our soon-to-be-published next issue, which focuses on the West Coast immigrant experience. We're getting lots of support from bookstores across America -- and, I'm glad to say, in Canada, where we sold very well (and we only had four measly returns). Meanwhile,  fundraising efforts are moving right along. The magazine is also a big part of the revitalization going on at the Salz Tannery. If you haven't seen it, you should stop by;  the once run-down Tannery now feels like an extension of downtown, complete with a restaurant, art space and art galleries, and a soon-to-open performance center. That's become part of my weekly ritual -- just running the length of the San Lorenzo River levee, stopping by the Tannery and seeing what exhibits, classes or talks are going on. All for now.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


My three readers (all of whom I know on a first name basis) should feel less self-conscious about writing in. Here is the latest update. I was very pleased with the turnout and reception to Amy's class. Very heartening to see. I finished up the Q and A that will appear in the next issue of Catamaran, featuring Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, and tonight I am going to a special reception for the magazine and its supporters. Slightly nervous that I will get lost on the way to the party. It will be up in Pasatiempo -- I hardly know that area at all. Still reading many books -- especially Katherine Boo's Behind The Beautiful Forevers, though I've been cheating on it with other things -- and juggling  projects, though I've made a New Year's Resolution to finish every long form and short form piece that I begin. This means that I'll need to put finishing touches on two profiles I am writing and finish the first short story I've written in decades, and maybe even send it out somewhere if I can work up the nerve. Hoping to teach or co-teach a workshop or writing class soon. All for now. Looking forward to seeing all three of you soon.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Amy Ettinger in praise of "slacker parenting" with update at the bottom

My talented wife, Amy Ettinger, has a thought-provoking story up in the Huffington Post in praise of "slacker parenting." (note the scare quotes. Our kid is the opposite of slacker!!) I loved this story, and so will you. By the way, Amy will be teaching a class on writing about parenthood at the Capitola Book Cafe from 1 to 4 p.m. on January 26. 
And here is that story in the Huffington Post for your reading pleasure. She is getting tons of positive feedback for this one. And this just in -- a new story about Amy, her writing and upcoming workshop in today's Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Reading these now ....

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston: Farewell To Manzanar. I am interviewing Jeanne Houston tomorrow in person in Santa Cruz. Among other things, we'll talk about the 40th anniversary of a memoir that  sold about a million copies, went through more than 60 printings, and forced generations of Americans (including countless thousands of young readers) to remember a shameful episode of World War II history.   I just read it for the first time a couple of weeks ago and was blown away by its combination of straight-up journalistic style and lyrical, fantastical flourishes. It is easy to see why the book has so much staying power. Hard to believe, but the mass relocation of an entire group of loyal Americans to Manzanar and other desert prison encampments took place a mere seven decades ago. Looking forward to our conversation, which you will be able to read in excerpted form in an upcoming issue of Catamaran Literary Reader.  Also reading: John Cowper Powys: Autobiography. Lately I've been reading a lot of these wise and crazy memoirs by authors who've steeped themselves in Old Testament imagery and Greek mythology; this is one of the wisest and craziest you'll find anywhere, but first, you have to get your hands on a copy. Easier said than done. Mine came all the way from New Zealand courtesy of ILL. Speaking of wise and crazy memoirs steeped in classic imagery and New Testament references, I've always meant to read Edward Dahlberg's Because I Was Flesh. Now I'm seizing the opportunity. Other recommended books:  Colette's Break Of Day (memoir with fictitious elements, pretending to be a straight-up novel) and Report to Greco by Nikos Kazantzakis, if you've got a small block of free time. Newer books: Also, I am captivated by Helene Wecker's The Golem and The Jinni, and will interview her very soon to talk about the origins of this book. I had a few nightmares over Kevin Powers's lovely and horrifying novel, The Yellow Birds. More soon.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Sandwich ruins "Argo"

It is just my luck that the woman sitting me during the 1:10 p.m. Sunday showing of "Argo" at Century Cinemas 16 (in Mountain View) was eating an extremely loud, crunchy,  drippy, soggy, pickle-filled, oniony sandwich throughout the duration of Ben Affleck's latest directorial effort. Every so often, the smell would die down, and I could concentrate on the enjoyable movie, a mixture of comedy, skullduggery, and old-fashioned suspense.

But just when I was getting into it, really losing myself in the film, another wave of oily stench would rise up above the crowded theater.

My row-mate noisily unwrapped and masticated her foot-long grinder, sending showers of sauerkraut,  secret sauce and ham all over the people sitting near her.   One man sitting close to me was so thoroughly festooned with lettuce and onions that I could not make out his facial features.  "Argo" was a fine movie,  based on what I saw of it. Too bad I could not hear the dialogue through the crunch of her toasted sandwich. Did the hostages get away? I passed out before the second half.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Writing about parenthood with Amy Ettinger at the Capitola Book Cafe

"Have you cracked the parenting code for how to turn your kids into little angels who share toys and play on their own for hours? Have you battled the Tiger Mom who lives next door and won? Do you have some special insight about raising well-adjusted kids, but need an audience to share it with? Then don't miss the writer Amy Ettinger's upcoming class on this thorny topic, entitled "Diapers, Sleep Deprivation and Dating Daughters." 

The class is starting to fill up -- and right now, Amy is getting heaps of publicity and great feedback for her recent, button-pushing story in the Huffington Post, explaining why she is raising our daughter to be a 'slacker' (note the strategically placed square quotation marks).

Expect to hear some no-holds-barred juicy insider tidbits about parent-lit and the writing life, and get great feedback about your own writings in this intensive course.

Here is what Amy has to say about her upcoming course:

"This three-hour workshop, open to writers of all levels, will explore these questions in detail. We’ll talk about how to write essays and articles for national publications and add your voice to the growing genre of parenting lit. The class will discuss essays by Anne Lamott and Lorrie Moore. We'll also have on-the-spot sketches and exercises. Come with a topic in mind, some issue you would like to write about in detail, and think about what you might be able to teach other parents through your writing. As a bonus, this class will end with stories of triumph and horror from The Writing Life. Bring your questions about how to pitch and get published, how to work with editors and get your byline read by millions."
Her bio:

Amy Ettinger writes for the New York Times, the Huffington Post, New York Magazine, Sierra, and the San Francisco Chronicle. She is a regular contributor to the website, where she writes about parenting topics ranging from mommy wars to helping kids stay social media safe. You can read some of her work at

Those who sign up will receive, via email, an assortment of essays as well as a brief writing assignment in advance of the class. These materials will be emailed to you two weeks before the class. Please read these selections and write the assignment before we meet.

***** Amy happens to be my wife, which means I am going to miss the whole thing because ... I will be taking care of the kid! (artwork by me. All rights reserved. All apologies to Mr. Munch)

Friday, January 04, 2013

Insidious Gomphitis and more: Santa Cruz Fungus Festival 2013

My God. Has the time come around so quickly? Is it time for me to gear up, for the thousandth time, and head out to the Santa Cruz Fungus Fair?

My eyes bugged out when I realized that the fair is now in its 39th year! That means 19 years have passed since I first set foot in this festival dedicated entirely to fungus. That year I went to an event called "Fungal Favorites: A Taste Test" and watched bearded, Guatemalan-sweater-wearing locals manhandle, squeeze and even sniff such fungi as the "big laughing mushroom," the "insidious gomphidius," the "sheep's head floccularia," the "cute conic waxy cap" along with the "poison pie" and the "cloudy clitocybe." As I recall, some of the edible mushrooms had less-than-edible-sounding descriptions. Take, for instance, the 'delicious milk cap," which is "thought to be more delicious by Europeans than Americans. This sturdy orange mushroom becomes slimy when wet, turns green when bruised or aged, and exudes an orange milky substance when broken." Not the sort of thing you want to slice into your omelette!

Anyhow, you'd better believe I'm going be be there again when the event rolls around in about a week's time. See you all there!(and thank you very much to my friend  James Shiffer, who sent me the original account of that age-old fungus festival from 1994. He helped jar my memories.)

Coming soon (I have not forgotten about you)

Thanks for checking this every day, even though I haven't put an update on here for a while. Check back for my New Year's resolution, and news of my recent trip to a remote desert in Southern Calfornia, where I stumbled, unexpectedly, on various scenes from The Cactus Eaters (and stumbled into the book itself! Crazy. I wasn't even thinking about the book in any way, shape or form during this trip and yet I kept colliding with it. It was like being caught up in a wormhole through time.) I hope you are doing well and resting up after your long, crazy holiday celebrations.