Friday, March 30, 2007


Oh my aching knees! Who knew how much they could hurt?

Many years ago when I was a bit younger and decidedly more reckless, I used to crash. A lot. When I was nine I flipped over the handlebars on my bike and smashed my face into the newly graveled road. I pretty much ruined my front teeth. My mom gave me a Tupperware to catch the blood dripping from my mouth and raced me to the dentist, who shoved my teeth back into my gums.

Metal caps and root canals ensued. Weekly trips to the dentist. But I still have my teeth. For a long time they were chipped and grey, though eventually I stayed with a job long enough for the insurance to pay sixty per cent of the cost for porcelain caps.

Months went by while I waited for the caps to be ready. My dentist was a perfectionist when it came to color and shape.

"When I get done with you, you'll look like a movie star," he said as I gazed out over the Los Angeles skyline.

"You'll have to fix more than my teeth!" I replied.


In high school I was on my bike riding down the street next to ours – our street was way too steep to ride a bike down. Any way, I was going fast. The street dead-ended at the cross street at the bottom of the hill, and as I quickly approached it, I realized I was not going to make the turn. My front tire hit the curb, and I was launched. Luckily I had a soft landing on the gently sloping, lush lawn of some nice lady's front yard. She came running out to see if I was hurt, but I jumped up like you do when you are body surfing and you wipe out, but you're cool, and you don't want any one to know how bad it hurt. Only my ego was bruised. Oh yeah, and my legs were stained green from the grass.

I'm not even going to get into the body surfing wipe outs. Can we just say: dislocated shoulder?


When I was seventeen I decided to visit a friend who lived in Trabuco Canyon. She had mono and had been in quarantine for a bit. When I found out she could have visitors, I got up early the next morning and rode my bike out to the canyon. It was a warm day, in the high eighties when I left my apartment at 7 AM. The ride to Trabuco was twelve miles uphill and one mile downhill at the end. When I finally crested that hill I was so hot and sweaty – it felt so good to stop pedaling and let the breeze cool me as I coasted down into the canyon. Back then, Trabuco Canyon Road was a narrow, two lane affair; I'm sure now it's probably four lanes. Any way, I was coasting down and going fast and really enjoying it. Cars were being careful passing me, until one asshole sped by -- missing me by about a half an inch. The slipstream from his car pushed me off the road and I saw I had a choice to make: Hit the big rock in front of me, hit the stone wall, hit the tree.

I decided to hit the rock – even though it was big, it was smaller than the wall or the tree. Once again, my front tire made contact and the bike stopped, launching me about twenty feet, where I landed, hard, then skidded. I couldn't breathe. I remember rolling from side to side, trying to get some air and thinking that ribs must have punctured my lungs, and I was going to die. I wound up in the hospital. Diagnosis: ruptured spleen sac. They kept me under observation for three days, ready to cut me open and stitch me up. No need, it healed on it's own.

Later I told my mom, "The one thing that went through my mind as I hit the ground – KEEP YOUR HEAD UP!" I did not want to wreck my teeth again.

So, you see a pattern here; I liked speed. I also went backpacking and rock climbing, but never got injured with these sports – couldn't build up enough speed.

I called in sick to work at the end of one week in 1980 to go on a ski trip to Mammoth with my parents and little bro. On our last day there, I was coming down a run and I hit a steeper patch with moguls. I was doing alright, even though I never really liked moguls. About halfway down this patch I was at the left side just starting a right turn and I realized this was one crazy mogul – it looked like someone had taken a slice out of it. The tips of my skis slammed into the sheer wall of snow and stopped. The sudden loss of momentum sent me twisting hard to the left. My right binding released. The left binding did not.

The next day I was sitting on an exam table and the orthopedic surgeon asked me if I heard any thing unusual when I fell.

"I heard a distinct 'Pop, pop, pop'" I replied.

He winced.

After the X-rays he said, "I have good news and bad news. The good is there are no bone chips. The bad is that just about everything else is gone."

Followed up by, "I'll see if I can get a hospital room tonight and an O.R. for the morning."

I had cleanly snapped both the lateral and medial collateral ligament, and the anterior cruciate ligament, also known as the ACL. Oh yeah, a little tear of the meniscus, too.

So the years have gone by, and the knee holds up pretty well. There are certain things I can't do any more – like straighten the leg all the way or bend it all the way. Or run much more than 20 yards. Or roller skate or do anything that would put excessive lateral stress on the joint (unless I am wearing a brace) (which I never bought). When I lived in L.A the knee would let me know when it was going to rain. When I moved to Seattle, it lost it's ability to sense that change in the weather – because, well, now it wasn't really a change, more like a way of life.

There were times when I'd have some pain. Times when it was stiff. But nothing that really impacted me. My doctor had told me that eventually I'd have arthritis in the joint, but I wasn't really worried about it. My mom said that someday I'd probably need knee replacement, but I had always disagreed with that.

Last year though. Last year was definitely a turning point. The arthritis seems to have kicked in with a vengeance. Every day the knee hurts. Some days it really hurts. Every step I take is felt. Sometimes when I sit at my desk I can't concentrate on any thing except the throb in my knee.

These days I find myself thinking a lot about knee replacement. I surf the web, looking at different artificial knee options. They say the artificial joint doesn't last for ever and that they can only replace a knee twice. Although maybe in 20 or 30 years that will change completely. I wonder how long my knee will last. Or, how long I'll be able to take the pain. Luckily I have a high tolerance for it, but constant pain does wear on one. And this is just the first year. It's only going to get worse.

I really have no regrets in my life, but sometimes I think, if I could have just one day to do over, maybe I would have skipped skiing on that that last day in Mammoth.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


I have always thought of re-writing as a chore. I am a writer who relies heavily upon inspiration. I'm not the sort who gets a little kernel of a idea, and methodically works it over and over until I have a little gem of a story. I get an idea, an inspiration for a story, and I write for hours on end. Sometimes I can't type fast enough – I have to get it on paper before it slips through my fingers. I sometimes write an entire story in one sitting. Then I go through it and fix the errors in spelling, the repeated word, the occasional awkward sentence. When I'm done, I'm spent. And I'm done. I don’t really want to work on the story anymore. I just want to send it out into the hard, cruel word of literary journals.

But I don't. I workshop it first.

I have two workshops and they are both invaluable to me. The first is a local group of writers. We meet twice a month, and each story is read by someone other than the writer. When you hear your story read out loud, awkward sentences and problems with rhythm become obvious. After the reading, comments and suggestions are made. Everyone in the group has a different style of writing and a genre that they favor, so there is some nice diversity.

The second group is an online workshop, Zoetrope. The website is generously hosted by F.F. Coppola's Zoetrope company. Here, for every story I post for review, I have to review five other stories. This has helped my writing in so many ways. I see examples of what I should do, and examples of what I should not do. It is a learning experience to put into kind words for the author, whether or not a story works, why, and what can be done to make it a better story.

Recently I have gone back to stories work-shopped in both groups. Because the third part of work-shopping is, of course, re-writing. You know, that thing that I don't like to do. Until recently, that is. For one story in particular, I read over everyone's comments several times. It became clear that there was a consensus about a few areas that needed work. There was also the occasional comment about one thing or another that I thought of as outliers. If only one person mentions it, I chalk it up to personal preference. Or, a if change is suggested that I don't agree with, I ignore it. Suggestions can be ignored. After all, it is my story. Maybe someone else would write it differently, but they didn't write it, did they?

Anyway, I started re-writing. From the top, down, each area that needed work. I thought it was going to be a chore. I thought it would be tedious. A small part of me was afraid I would ruin the story, so I made sure I had the original saved separately and intact.

To my surprise, it wasn't a chore. It wasn't tedious. I didn't ruin the story. In fact, what is emerging is a much, much better story. One that might even have a chance of getting published. I spent the most satisfying three hours of writing that I've had in a long while. I'm not done yet, but I am looking forward to completing the re-write this week, and bringing it back to my writing group next week. After that, I will go back and look at those other stories that are languishing in my hard drive, their flawed bodies just waiting for me to doctor them up. I love re-writing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


I am not a musician – I am a frustrated musician. Basically I have no talent or natural ability at all. I never took piano lessons, but oh how I wish I could play piano today. I once asked my father why he never made me take lessons (my brother and sister both took piano) and he said I had no interest and he didn't think he should force me. I disagreed – I told him he should have forced me, because I'd be able to play now. He made a sound of disgust "No matter what you do; you're damned if you do, damned if you don't."

He's right. My lack of talent certainly didn't come from him. He played piano beautifully. No, all the inherited musical ability rested in my brothers. The eldest especially. He started on piano, then someone gave him a ukulele, then he would go to his friend's house to drum. In high school, after begging for months, I got a guitar for my birthday. It was a cheap Tijuana guitar with poor action and mediocre tone, but it didn't matter to me. I took lessons and I practiced. Every day. I had so little coordination in my left hand, that at first, when I changed chords, I had to use my right hand to physically move the fingers of the left into the new position! Eventually my left hand got used to moving by itself and gained a great deal of dexterity. That's when I discovered an even greater problem with the right hand – no rhythm. None. Nada. Zilch. Zip. It only went up and down. Up, down, up, down. No change. Monotony, not music. Forget about picking.

Soon after the discovery of the bad, bad right hand, my brother came into my room, sat on my bed, and picked up the guitar. He'd never played one before, but he had the ukulele experience. Well, in that one sitting, he played ten times better than I had after six months of lessons and daily practice. It was so natural to him, and such a struggle for me.

I gave him the guitar that day. Years later, when he purchased a very amazing classical guitar, he tried to give me his older one – which was not a cheap guitar by any means either. I understood his sentiment, but I told him he should give it to someone who could really play it, and who would get years of enjoyment from it.

So, in addition to piano, drums, ukulele, and guitar, my brother also plays mandolin, banjo, pipe organ and some kind of Fijian string instrument, whose name escapes me. He is also much better at sports. I however, can beat him in golf, because he has the nastiest hook I have ever laid eyes on. It makes me very happy. I am also a much better artist.

Okay, that was a long preface to this: Even though I am not a musician, I am a great lover of music and I'd like to recommend 2 musicians and 1 band.

1) Jake Shimabukuro – Ukulele
Extraordinary musician. He does things with a ukulele that I could never imagine. I first heard about him a few months ago on NPR. Then last month I went with some girlfriends to see him at the Triple Door in Seattle. He was amazing, as well as young, cute, charming, funny and overall entertaining. Pick up one of his CD's, check out his website. Go see him live if you get the chance – you will not be disappointed. You'll never think about the Ukulele in the same way again.
2) Marcus Eaton – Singer/Songwriter, extremely fast on the guitar.
I saw Marcus Eaton at the Triple Door – he opened for Jake Shimabukuro. This was a case where the first act was as good as the headliner. His songs were beautiful, the lyrics complex. He plays guitar in the double picking style of Earl Klugh, only not jazz, more rock. And fast? Clapton may have to give up his "Slowhand" nickname. Check out his website – you can pick up his solo CD there.
3) Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
This band sometimes reminds me of Bob Dylan, sometimes of Talking Heads. A strange combination, I know, but it's true. They have two CD's now. I just got the 2nd one and I am not disappointed. The first one has been the soundtrack in my head for months now. With the exception of the first very short cut – more of a sound mix than a song, every song is compelling. I haven't felt this way about a band since G Love and Special Sauce. Check it out.

*links to above mentioned websites are to your right.

P.S. The guitar lessons were not a complete waste - the acquired dexterity in my left hand has made me a better typist, which really helps my writing.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


What would I do without books? I can't begin to imagine a world without literature or art. I have been reading constantly from the time I learned and my taste jumps all over the place, as long it is well written. I have gone through phases - one year I read nothing but science fiction, one month I read nothing but Raymond Chandler. Sometimes I get stuck in memoirs and biographies, sometimes it's historical novels. Some books were amazing when I first read them, but didn't stand the test of time. Others I have read several times and will probably read again. The books below are favorites. I can recommend them unconditionally - but beware, I have recommended all of them at one time or another, but they haven't always been loved the way I love them!

In no particular order, some of my favorite books:

The Brothers K - David James Duncan
The Glass Palace - Amitav Ghosh
In an Antique Land - Amitav Ghosh
Things Kept, Things Left Behind - Jim Tomlinson
The Sheltering Sky - Paul Bowles
A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
A House for Mr. Biswas - V.S. Naipul
A Pugilist at Rest - Thom Jones
The Bone People - Keri Hulme
The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd
Out of Africa - Isak Dineson
Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert A. Heinlein
Dune - Frank Herbert
A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller, Jr.

In addition, here are some books I've read lately (or am currently reading). I can recommend these also. Only time will tell if they go on my favorite list.

Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant - Daniel Tammet
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier - Ishmael Beah
Lost Girls and Love Hotels - Catherine Hanrahan
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
Eleanor Rigby - Douglas Coupland
Maus I & Maus II - Art Spiegelman
The Samurai Garden - Gail Tsukiyama
It Don't Mean Nothing - Sue O'Neill
True History of the Kelly Gang - Peter Carey

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Sometimes I wonder how I would handle a life threatening illness. Would I be the drama queen, demanding that everyone pay attention to me? Would I be stoic and brave, carrying on with my life as usual? Or, would I chuck everything and go live in Spain with whatever time I had left? Regardless of health, the idea of chucking everything and living in Spain has appealed to me for more than twenty years now. The only thing stopping me is: A) I know I’d miss my friends and family, B) Lack of money, C) Perceived lack of work opportunity, D) Missing friends, missing friends, missing friends.

A couple of weeks ago I found a lump in my breast.

And. I. Freaked. Out.

My freak out was quiet and internal. I didn’t want to mention it to anyone until I had it checked out, because, heaven forbid, I did not want to be an alarmist. Or a drama queen for that matter. So, while I appeared fairly normal on the outside, ('fairly' being the operative word here…I did snap at a coworker for no reason), on the inside I was a wreck. I did not sleep through the night for days, and I awoke every morning and ate Tums for breakfast to combat the stress-induced nausea. Then I worried that the nausea wasn’t really stress induced, but the result of the cancer; undetected for so long that it had metastasized and, concurrent with the lump discovery, was rearing its ugly head in some perverse Twilight Zone aligning of the cancer symptoms.

Oh the places my mind will go. One of the reasons I can barely stand to watch suspense movies is that as the suspense builds up, my mind is wandering to horrific places the likes of which the director has never dreamt. I want to shout at the screen, “Don’t do it!” “You fool! You’re going to regret this!” And, “No! No! No!” By the time the movie is over I am emotionally spent. I am also relieved that the fate of the characters is not the one I had imagined for them. I still have never been able to sit through an entire screening of Play Misty for Me. I have seen the move perhaps six or seven times, but always, when Clint is driving the winding Highway 1 through Big Sur, knowing the psycho bitch was in his house with his long lost girlfriend... I have to get up a walk away. The first time I did this was in the theater with my big brother and my dad. I was so terrified that I went into the lobby and paced for what seemed like ten minutes, finally returning to the theater thinking that surely the worst was over...

Oh the places my mind went last week. The first thing I thought was how I needed to organize my life to make things easier for those who had to sort it out after I was gone. But how was I going to do this while suffering the ravages of the disease and the ravages of the treatment? I saw myself awaking in the morning and spending the first couple of hours hugging the toilet trying to get through the nausea without creating a mess to clean up. Then spending a half hour going through some pile of stuff, throwing out most of it and wondering why I accumulated it at all. Of course, this would be exhausting, so I would need to sleep for a couple of hours. Then there would be the doctor appointments and the treatments. These would definitely cut into my organizing time. But, with diligence born of knowing not the hour, but perhaps the month, and for sure the year of my demise, I would be able to complete the task. I would need a will. I would need a list of the people to whom I would give treasured possessions. This would be done before I die, because though I don’t really know what the laws are, I know there are some tax issues around inheriting something, and I wouldn’t want to burden anyone with unwanted tax issues, especially when they were trying to get over the loss of, well, me.

Then I worried about how I would tell my parents. Would I wait until the very end? Should I tell them right away? I don’t want them to worry. And, I don’t want them to come to Seattle and camp out, waiting for my eventual death. While I would like to see them, I don’t think my need for solitude would lessen with illness. Then I wondered with all the organizing I had to do, how was I going to finish the stories and book I was working on? Would I have the strength to write? Would an eternal deadline make it easier?

The places our minds will takes us… imagination has been my friend for these many years, but now it felt like my enemy.

One problem I needed to solve immediately was the lack of a doctor. My insurance had changed and the new policy didn’t cover the doctor I’d been seeing for the past few years. I sent an e-mail to all my girlfriends to find out if they had a doctor they liked and if so, was the doctor near my home, or my work?

I did find a great doctor and though I was a new patient, when I explained what was going on they scheduled me for the next day. When I told my boss that I needed the next morning off, I also told him about the lump and burst into tears. He said I could have any time I needed then asked, “Have you told your girlfriends?” I admitted that I had told no one until now and he insisted that I call my girlfriends. He is a wise and compassionate man. I called, and they reassured and I was able to sleep that night. Lesson learned: We must always call our girlfriends.

Well, it turns out that the lump was nothing really. In fact, by the time I got to the doctor we couldn’t find it. She suspects that I’m having some hormonal fluctuations, because even though I feel 22, I am really at that age when women have those changes. She suspects that as I have these fluctuations, I have a duct or cyst that fills with fluid, becoming lump-like and causing some pain and discomfort, and that it then drains. Lesson learned: Pain + lump = almost 100% guarantees that the lump is not malignant. The really scary thing about breast cancer – aside from the places your mind will take you – is that there is no pain associated with it. Just a lump, no other indication that something is very wrong. Scary.

So, the lump was nothing, but my doctor sent me straight to dermatology to have “that mole on your stomach” looked at. She didn’t “like the look of it”. Neither did the dermatologist. He showed me a picture of melanoma and it looked like the mole on my stomach. The good news for me was that this mole has been there forever and it has always been weird looking. If it was melanoma we might not have been sitting there having the conversation. So, biopsy time. It reminded me of a few years back when I found myself in the ER for a broken leg, but was hooked up to an EKG and surrounded by a bunch of cardiologists. Seems my blood pressure was so high that they were afraid I was going to have a heart attack right there on the table. That broken leg saved my life. My phantom lump has saved me from skin cancer. The biopsy was “slightly abnormal”, which on a scale from 1 to 5, 1 being normal, my mole was a 2. I had it removed Thursday and I’m back to life as usual. I am still awaiting the results of the final biopsy, but I am not concerned. I have gone to the dark place quite enough for now, thank you very much.

Maybe I'll go to Spain instead.