Category Archives: Notes


Two Thanksgivings this year, one pulled off astonishingly with friends and a nine a.m. call asking how to cook a turkey, and one with Daniel’s family, with his ninety-one-year-old grandfather. On Veteran’s Day this year a neighbor came by his house with an apple pie to thank him for his service and we didn’t do a thing. He said that I believe in myself, not telling me to but said it like a fact. As we left he patted both my cheeks and told me I was beautiful, and I was so glad to have been there.

I don’t remember a lot of Thanksgivings somehow. This Thursday, we cooked all day and brought everything to the table at the same time and danced and danced and I said at some point I’d never had a better Thanksgiving. My brother said he remembered good ones and I maybe did just say it because I was proud of us, and happy to have ended up here, and glad to be happy. Maybe it wasn’t really true; there are a lot of Novembers. I had grandparents too.

I had a grandfather and a grandmother and I know we sat around tables and my grandfather told stories, had the best stories, but I lost that all somewhere. I do remember the time we flooded the bathroom in the basement and my grandmother said we knew better, and being in the backyard on a playground set with someone I was told was also my grandfather, who had a small baby boy. I remember weird things and not-so-good things, but not because it wasn’t good– I know about deep wells of love– but somehow my head just lost it. And how sad and strange it is to not know enough.

It’s lucky and scary to get to choose our families now, a little bit. I know, reasonably, that it’s not making substitutions, and that this is not how memory works, but: what if I’ve just layered and layered so many of my own fine choices all this way to where I just chose to stop remembering, like there wasn’t enough room. I came from people who lived long miraculous lives and we knew each other anciently but I just let it go. What can I know about choosing or making a family if there’s a whole flooded basement I forgot.

It’s a joke in my family, how little I remember, and I always think of it like a joke. Today I feel a little bit unmoored.

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Current state

Ah ha! Do you want to hear my election story? No, probably not. Me neither. We walked out of the restaurant in downtown Oakland and heard two pops, which, I love Oakland with my whole heart and know that I have always felt safer here than really anywhere, but still, what do two loud pops mean, so we walked quickly, but the girl on the corner told us that Obama had won and so it was probably just fireworks and we high-fived. The ticker on the radio station where my friend works (one note, quickly, my friend ends her text messages with an “x” often, which I love, which I think is an answer to all my problems, stop using smiley faces or exclamation marks, just “x”), anyway, the ticker around the building says OBAMA RE-ELECTED.  Then we went to a bar where a man dressed like Abe Lincoln said he had been dressed like Abe Lincoln for 10 days, and we both marveled at how we were here in Oakland on this night. Then we went to see Cat Power at the Fox who was beautiful and perfect and lovely and I don’t know what happens next, I drank too much, and usually when I drink too much I feel horrible the next day, not just physically but really, emotionally, like I am a terribly bad person and I should never speak to anyone in the world again because I will only do bad things, this is how I usually feel when I drink too much, I don’t know why, but today I feel maybe a little bit of that somewhere, but mostly I feel good about the world and my future and that maybe I have made good choices.

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Two things on hypothetical technologies

1. How a Videogame God Inspired a Twitter Doppelgänger — and Resurrected His Career

3D adventure game where you have amnesia and wake up in a gigantic museum where every room is devoted to a year of your life.

I also love the idea of playing a character who is PRETENDING to be blind, so you have to keep bumping into things to not arouse suspicion.

“Maybe it’s just friendship inside the cube,” Lucas offers. “Just the word friendship.”

2. Notes Toward Apps To Reconnect Me (And/Or Other People) with (My) Childhood

App that uses Google Maps API to require user, at a certain point in the middle of the afternoon, regardless of what “important” thing user is doing, to go outside for an hour. GPS functionality enables app to verify that user has gone outside; if user has not gone outside within five minutes of being asked or if user comes back inside more than five minutes before the hour time limit is up, app “takes away your toys” (randomly deletes entertainment apps from the user’s mobile device) and/or blocks access to user’s email and messaging apps (“time out” mode).

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A sponge or a fist

Sometimes I used to think Why did people ever start new blogs? Why not just keep using the same one. And then at some point I was very embarrassed about everything written here, and thought that’s maybe why. Or that I am different than I used to be and don’t need to be reminded. But I have written at least one post here every year since this place was created (which is not that many years and in 2010 I wrote one thing); it would be sad if I didn’t write something this year I guess.

This has been a year of wanting to write again. I kept a journal sometimes. I wrote some short things elsewhere. I tried this book, but I tried it when I was depressed and I just stayed depressed and then I stopped and then I stopped being depressed. But I was not giving it my everything.

Have you read Mr. Bridge?

1. Love

Often he thought: My life did not begin until I knew her.

She would like to hear this, he was sure, but he did not know how to tell her. In the extremity of passion he cried out in a frantic voice: “I love you!” yet even these words were unsatisfactory. He wished for something else to say. He needed to let her know how deeply he felt her presence while they were lying together during the night, as well as each morning when they awoke and in the evening when he came home. However, he could think of nothing appropriate.

So the years passed, they had three children and accustomed themselves to a life together, and eventually Mr. Bridge decided that his wife should expect nothing more of him. After all, he was an attorney rather than a poet; he could never pretend to be what he was not.

That is the whole first chapter. It is a great first chapter; I love it very much. Somewhere here is the story of Mrs. Bridge, what a sad sad book and was so good for me to read young (here). I don’t have much more to say about Mr. Bridge; it’s just the latest thing I read and loved. It isn’t the best thing I’ve read this year. The best, actually, I know, which is sometimes rare. But the best thing I read was There but for the by Ali Smith. In 2009 I wrote a post called There but for the. Here is a screen shot if you don’t believe me

Screen shot 2012-10-04 at 5.01.40 PM

I think I published it and then moved it back to drafts at some point because I was embarrassed of it. There but for the is very, very good. I don’t know why it was the best, it just was, I felt that I was better after reading it.

The best sentence I read though, or the one I remember the most:

When he saw me fall behind, my grandfather would stop, wipe his brow, and say: “What’s this, what’s this? I’m just an old
Obreht, Tea (2011-03-08). The Tiger’s Wife: A Novel (Kindle Locations 493-494). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

When he saw me fall behind, my grandfather would stop, wipe his brow, and say: “What’s this, what’s this? I’m just an old man—come on, is your heart a sponge or a fist?

It’s from The Tiger’s Wife, which I also liked on the whole, but that sentence is what has been scratched into everything. Which is it? Is my heart a sponge or a fist?

I don’t know, truly. This is not a promise. But here, right now: I want to try to be lighter, to not make it so heavy, to be more sponge-like and less like a fist.

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Radio check

Sometimes I think how strange it is that after you stop being a baby there isn’t anyone who sees you everyday. There is one day your mother doesn’t look at you once and then there are a thousand more days to keep track of yourself.

So here, for me, is a small inventory of the things that have changed:

  1. My hair is three or more inches longer, the longest it’s been in years and years and I have seen many new states
  2. I have lived alone for the only time
  3. I have a set of new knives
  4. I worry in new ways, with less narcissism, wider and more like an anxiety about everyone and how they could be hurt or how I could hurt them. I don’t know if it is the way the claws and cranes come in, stretching you out and teaching you about the biggest ways you can feel or if it is just a small sliver of getting older and pushing down those old strategies for putting yourself in the center of all that is good or bad or the best and the worst
  5. I don’t write anymore


In August we flew to Seattle with a friend working on his commercial pilot certificate, making our way over the Oregon trees we were lost in on foot a few weeks before. I’d just finished Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, now knowing that the word “lost” comes from the Old Norse los, meaning the disbanding of an army. On the plane there were so many ways to prevent you from disbanding, GPS and maps and the constant checking-in over the frequencies, relaying locations along the way with an alphabet stretched to more audible words.

About the last point: it’s true, or very rarely. I never think I am a writer, I think I like to have things accomplished, and to remember, and I like reading and used to be sad a lot. In the air, though, I thought how nice it was that with all the maps and GPS there was still someone from the ground to call to, someone there to tell your plans. All the time above us this is happening: here is who I am, where I am, here is where I am going. I used to do that.


In A Field Guide Solnit talks about the artist Yves Klein, who one day with his friends decided to divide the world among themselves: the earth, the air, the sky. Klein signs his name to the sky:

In 1946, while still an adolescent, I was to sign my name on the other side of the sky during a fantastic “realistico-imaginary” journey. That day, as I lay stretched upon the beach of Nice, I began to feel hatred for birds which flew back and forth across my blue sky, cloudless sky, because they tried to bore holes in my greatest and most beautiful work.

We saw a fireworks show from the plane, taking place somewhere right outside of Portland. Everything is well documented, small and still from that high, but this was still miraculous: those fireworks that take up the whole sky from the ground, the whole huge sky, and they don’t take up any of it at all, not even close.

I think about Klein claiming his sky, hating the birds that flew through his masterpiece that he couldn’t fathom the size of, that no one can, not from that one place on the earth where you only are. And I think about all the claims I make everyday- who I was and what was mine- and what a tiny little piece I see. There are days I miss making claims like this, though, sometimes.

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All of these things are right

Most of the last 10,000 words I wrote somewhere between Portland and the Bay while Lex drove. Lex is from Croatia and from craigslist and as a European or human being was excited about America and free refills and the state line. This is probably a good thing to spend some hours with sometime. It doesn’t mean we are best friends or will fall in love and get married but means that for a few hours he asked me to read his text messages to him out loud and that we ate at a Pizza Hut with the nicest waitress that exists in the world.

Portland is the most livable city I’ve ever been to. Troubling a little, but all of the things you could need seem within such short distances there it felt easier to keep your priorities straight. Lex moved to the states from Germany where he’s in school and didn’t understand what suburbs were, ending up in the suburban neighborhoods outside of Palo Alto and bored to death. (His mother didn’t understand because she’d seen Desperate Housewives and that’s what American suburbia is.) Portland somehow takes the parts about the suburbs I miss (houses, yards, trees) and puts them in a context that doesn’t mean staying inside would be preferable.

So I didn’t write much while I was there, because I was busy and happy and fairly sure I could catch up. Whatever kind of asceticism I thought the whole thing would’ve taken was completely mistaken; it served mainly as a reminder that I am a regular person with a normal job and no children and a lot of free time, and most days I could live normally and still write 1,500 words by the end of the night. Sometimes I said no to things. Mostly I didn’t.

But I’m glad to have done it, mostly to know that I’m not lazy, and have some semblance of discipline. It’s good to do one thing for some time. It’s also good to know that a sense of story is possible without outlines or any real idea of a plot, that years of story consumption will make something emerge however mightily it may rely on clichés to get there. Better, though, was being a part of the amount of work that went on to make the event run, and watching others do it and hearing stories much more interesting than mine, and knowing how much was happening that would not have otherwise been happening.

Picture 9

This is maybe the one thing I feel as excited for as Lex was about the California state checkpoint.


Tomorrow I start moving to San Francisco. Three days after I wrote this post everything changed again to prove there’s no point in planning for anything. I’m going to miss living in Oakland a lot.

Picture 5

This is a picture of my home in The New York Times

Before I left for Portland– when I told my mother I was getting in the car with a stranger for ten hours– all she said was that I only have good people in my life, and she doesn’t expect that to change. It is a weird thing to have someone else tell you: when it is true completely but you’ve somehow failed to realize, and how then I felt I owed something to someone or everyone for whatever luck or circumstance means that my whole life is made up of people who are fundamentally good, and fundamentally good to me.

But so for whatever reason I still place a lot of weight in location, being in a place for a time and the right one, when everything I know says that it is mostly beside the point. In one of the best things I read this year the author asks to imagine if there were a boat upon which you could put only four people, and then everyone else would cease to exist:

Who would you put on that boat? It would be painful, but how quickly you would decide: You and you and you and you, get in. The rest of you, goodbye.

and it is horrible, but how quickly. And this is the point, if it is four people or ten there is no boat but they are here. Here, as a life; not here as a place. Everyday we expect to live out the door and to the end of the block and up the elevator and back home again, and expect that somewhere those people we love to do the same, without thinking or checking while the world keeps moving. They’re there. Someday this isn’t true, and it is its own special kind of narcissism the way I worry that I’ve not said enough to those four people. To anyone.

Someday I would like to build a house and fill it with nothing. There would be rooms and closets but each of them would be empty. In winter I would keep it warm and in summer I would keep the windows open. For months I would search out everyone I’ve every known and invite them to the empty house and many wouldn’t come, but those that could would fill up every wall and corner until it makes sense to own nothing else but everyone in those rooms.


This year when so many things stopped working the conversation seemed to turn– more than I ever remember being the case– to seclusion and labor and building a life that exists tangibly in the way you spent your time and the food you put on the table. When being too far divorced from the effects of our actions finally made a lot of rich people poorer and a lot poor people even poorer it seemed maybe nicer to live a little more immediately. But to do it immediately? I’m still making the money I can, buying the things I can. There’s been so little change.

Leah came with us too on the drive to Oregon. She was going home to Eugene for a month before she left for Japan to join a monastery.

Picture 10

So this was how I saw it: I’d sign a lease and go to my job each morning and take all of these good people in all of the time in what ways I could, and somewhere Leah would take a vow of silence, and we could maybe build a balance back in. But it only works if I find a better way to balance growing up and learning how little I matter with mattering more to those people I don’t deserve. In Oakland or here or Portland or on a farm or in Japan or Croatia.

Picture 11

The point of the novel I wrote was meant to be that we don’t own anything, except if we’re lucky someone else or others, and after fifty thousand words I should’ve found a way to mean it.

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Picture 2

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So then I had to tell a stranger what I was trying to do and it was easier than I thought but mostly he just wanted to talk and within two minutes I’d learned he’d been four years sober and then the lady across from me asked him to please stop talking

Last night I passed 3000 words making this the longest fiction thing I’ve ever written and there are still 16 times that to go. It is vastly more painfully obvious how quick I am to delete things. It also feels like it is trying too hard but that’s because it is trying too hard.

So far it’s not that difficult to get words on the page but I am also not delusional; two days is not many.

* * *

A note

For the last month I’ve been helping out the remarkable people at the Office of Letters and Light in preparation for National Novel Writing Month, and have decided to also participate, and am now breaking some arbitrary rules to not write about writing and to not write about not writing: things are about to get real boring and even more intermittent as I just consume enough things to turn me into an enormous repository of ideas that will come pouring forth November 1st, which is merely a nice idea and not at all the case. Avast, however: I am try-er. I will try. And so, lower your already low expectations, readers– for October I am a tumblelog. (this is a joke please don’t be sad)

And: do it, buy stuff, donate. It’s a beautiful thing. Doing and making, world.

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No Correlation:

Criminal Justice Babe: Your new office sucks.

The Temp: Thank you.

Criminal Justice Babe: Why’d you move in here?

The Temp: Some are born with shitty offices, some achieve shitty offices and some have shitty offices thrust upon ’em.

Criminal Justice Babe: It’s really small.

The Temp: It has one redeeming feature.

Criminal Justice Babe: And that is?

The Temp: (Points at self with both thumbs) THIS GUY.

Criminal Justice Babe: … Who are you pointing at?

The Temp: Myself.

Criminal Justice Babe: I thought you were pointing at the wall.

The Temp: I have to get out of here. I wish I was in love with you or anybody or anything external to myself. I desperately want to find something external to myself to be fascinated with but I have found nothing that can sustain my interest. Or more accurately, I cannot sustain my interest in anything and it is killing me.

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