March 31, 2010

Red Light

March 25, 2010

"Oh, you can't follow the signs like everyone else, can you?" The man yells at me across the three lanes of Union Avenue, a one-way city street that works its way through downtown Pasadena.

The light has just turned red and I am on my hybrid bicycle, methodically rolling in circles in the far right lane, just in front of a few cars. Unfortunately, I'm not one of those masterful urban riders that can stay upright on their bike, remaining perfectly balanced while waiting for the light to change colors. But since I'm determined to remain in my toe clips between lights, I roll in tight circles instead of taking a foot off the pedal.

Surprised by the yelling, I turn to see an older gentlemen, a fellow rider, sitting on his bike and glaring disdainfully in my direction. He is dressed in half biker outfit, half mountain man outfit, an anomaly that I can't help but notice with fascination. His shirt is a tight fitting jersey material with bright colors, so the vehicles coming up behind will take notice. His pants are of the heavy cargo nature, with bulging pockets and cuffs so wide you can barely see his sneakers. He wears an old helmet, one that I might have seen my Father don when I was a kid. His thick beard and wire-rimmed glasses make him look older than he probably is. I'd still peg his age at sixty-four.

"Huh? What?" I say confused, half wondering if he's actually talking to me.

"Oh, you're too good for the law, are you?" He shakes his head back and forth in a look of disgust. His eyes mock me. They seem to reveal something deeper, like a universal anger with young people.

I look into the cars idling between him and myself and peer into several drivers seats, begging someone to give me a look that says, "I know, right, that guy is an idiot." But it seems it's just him and me out here on the street, a different fraternity altogether from the car people.

"Huh? What?" I ask with my eyes narrowing together, my face scrunching up in complete state of bewilderment.

He laughs back, deriding my inability to assess the situation.

This is the longest light ever.

I have no idea why he is scolding me, why his demeanor is so harsh. Did he mistake my silly riding circle as a precursor to cycling through the red light? Did he notice my no-hand-signal lane change a few blocks ago?

"I'm stopped, waiting for the light." I say almost apologetically and immediately I wish I could say something much bolder and more spirited.

"Oh, so you're one of those guys who knows it all!" Maybe all you need to know about this man is that he starts every sarcastic rant with a drawn out "Ohhhh." The kind of "oh" that requires you to wave your palms back and forth.

The opposite crosswalk is finally counting down. I watch it tick from ten, nine, eight and as it winds down, my anger ramps up. I want to yell back something fierce, something that will shut this guy up. I want to rebuke his public display of contemptuous madness. I want to ask him if he's the bicycle police, and start that question with an "oh." I want to zing this guy so bad that he won't mess with another rider again. I want to do it just as the light turns, so I can ride off victoriously.

"Huh? What?" THIS is my anticipated zinger.

As the light turns go, I can hear my sixty year-old foe giggling as he pulls away.

We ride together, on opposite sides of the one-way, for one more block until I make a right turn towards the library.


Prompt 1 of the workshop...

March 30, 2010

March 26, 2010

Attempting to share parenting responsibility has not always been smooth, especially when Stella's routine during the first year fluctuated by the fortnight. When you factor in the amount of naps, the amount of feedings, when the naps take place, how long the naps last and her movement capabilities, it was almost impossible to come up with a plan for us to share the daily load. The number of schedules and scenarios we drew up and attempted to follow were staggering, like trying to find the combination of a three number lock.

I'll take her before nap 1 and after short nap 3. You have her in between naps and before dinner. I bathe her, you put her to bed. If she takes two naps, we'll switch at lunch and again before dinner. A month later it was flipped again. Etc, etc, etc.

It would have been helpful if those damn baby books summed up life in the first year more clearly. "If you're looking for a neat little schedule, GIVE UP IMMEDIATELY."

But now, suddenly, she seems to be following a pattern. Up at 8:30, down for a nap at 1, bath at 7, bed at 8. It occurred to us recently that she's followed this pattern for nearly a month and doesn't seem to be giving it up.

Our desperate scheduling schemes have morphed into Kari taking her until naptime and me taking her until dinner, which means Kari is done at 1pm and I can get extra time to work while Stella naps. We also started alternating nights of giving her a bath and putting her bed, which means one of us is DONE at 7pm every night. Bliss.

We know this new routine may not last very long, so we're enjoying every minute of it.

March 24, 2010

I won the Young Author's award in elementary school. My little masterpiece was titled "Baseball Fever" and centered around a young boy who lived and breathed baseball only to have a Mother who despised the game. The idea for this story came from a book I had read only a few months earlier. That book was titled "Baseball Fever" and centered around a young boy who lived and breathed baseball only to have a Father who despised the game.

Despite my innocent plagiarizing and complete unoriginality, the process of writing and editing and imagining acted as a catalyst for me. I was hooked, having found something that drew my zeal as much as trading cards or the uncharted forest behind our house did.

As the story goes, the depth and consistency of my writing always seems to coincide with the depth and consistency of my reading. During boyhood and high school, my stories involved adventure and sports because that's what I was reading. In College, studying religion, my reading took a textbook and non-fiction turn, which meant term papers and essays on matters of theology. Following College, I wrote sermons. Mixing scripture with historical context, culture and other ancient texts is one thing. Making it applicable and accessible is another. While I no longer preach today, I am indebted to what it taught me about perseverance, deadlines, rough drafts and how to push through the blinking cursor.

It wasn't until moving to Los Angeles five years ago that I really discovered fiction and creative non-fiction. Suddenly I was introduced to riveting memoirs and breathtaking novels and memorable travel essays - writing more beautiful than I had ever experienced. I devoured as much as I could, from Hemmingway and Steinbeck to Krakauer and Klosterman.

This, of course, has shaped my own writing immensely. The creative and technical bar has been raised considerably and I have found myself struggling to keep developing my craft ever since. This is one of the reasons I'm so excited about this workshop. I long to be in closer proximity to other writers and to polish my skills.

I'm currently working on an essay about living in Downtown Los Angeles and several ongoing pieces about being a new father.

Also, I no longer write books based on other books.


I'm officially part of my first writing workshop...this is the intro we all had to write that answered questions about our writing history. I put it on the blog more for my own archives than anything.

March 19, 2010

She spoke so suddenly, as if this was the day she had always planned to speak, but forgot to inform us about it. I have told her since early on that she was to warn us about these momentous first days - first smile, giggle, crawl, step, word - so that we could both be present and cheer her on. I told her to signal us in whatever way she could muster, maybe a slight wink that says, "hey parents, I have something planned for tomorrow morning that is going to be special."

I think she would live outside if she could. I'm not sure if this is because her first year was spent confined to a 640 square foot loft, high above the surface of the streets, or because I have continuously whispered hypnotically into her ear, "you love the outdoors. you love the outdoors. you love the outdoors." Either way, she seems to enjoy the earth as much as she can at one year of age. She plays in the dirt like it's her job - throwing it around in fits of blissful rage, eating small amounts when we're not looking and always seems to be in a race to get as dirty as possible. She crawls through the grass like a snake and has become close with several pine cones that dot our yard. The only time she has ever fallen asleep on me other than a few times in the first month was on her first hike while strapped to my back. I'd like to think she enjoyed the peace and serenity and views so much that she decided it was a good place to take a nap.

In the morning, just after finishing her bottle of whole milk, she immediately points to the door of her bedroom, signaling her readiness to face the light of the living room. At this point, she used to be satisfied just sitting on the couch with me, cuddling while we watched a few minutes of Sesame Street. But lately, after pointing to the door and walking into the living room, she points to the entrance door. While pointing, she makes a concentrated sound, like "huh," her noise sounding like a question.

And then one recent morning, she came out with her first real, that-was-definitely-a-word word. We both happened to be present, even though there was no wink or other gesture given to us. Her first word came as no surprise. She confidently pointed at the front door, and her in usual way of making each noise sound like a question, she said, "go?"

March 12, 2010

We took a little family trip to Eaton Canyon today, just 3.6 miles from our residence in North Pasadena. The 1.4 mile hike meanders its way up through Eaton Canyon and passes over seven stream crossings until you reach the falls. Stella seemed to love every minute of it, with her shrieks and pointing and laughing. I've dreamed of this day for a long time...hiking with my kid, spending time together in the woods. I can't wait for PCT hikes with her, camping on the beach, roughing it on the road...

These pictures scream TODDLER.

March 6, 2010

While we didn't get to see ALL the Oscar nominated films for 2009, we still managed to see most of them thanks to babysitters and piratebay. Overall, it seems 2009 was more on par with 2007, with one great picture and lots of good ones. Even still, I loved going to the movies this year. I love previewing the movies before they come out, reading the reviews...the popcorn and soda, the crowds, and the conversations with Kari on the walk home.

My favorite film this year was Inglourious Basterds and it will certainly go down as one of the best made films I've ever seen. The first twenty minutes of that film simply took my breath away and the performances of Melanie Laurent and Christoph Waltz were some of the best of the year.

And what can be said of Avatar...oh Mr. Cameron, you can certainly make a damn fun movie to watch. The sci-fi picture may just be the only movie I've ever wanted to see twice in the same day. I elbowed Kari and friends at least every few minutes - I just couldn't believe the spectacle before my eyes. Beautiful.

My favorites of the year, even if some of them weren't nominated:

**I didn't see The Messenger, which I have a sneaking suspicion might have cracked into a category or two.**

     Best Picture:

The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
District 9
The Road
Fantastic Mr Fox

     Best Actor (lead/support):

Sharlto Copley, District 9
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Tobey Maguire, Brothers
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Viggo Mortensen, The Road
Nicolas Cage, Bad Lieutenant
Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man

     Best Actress (lead/support):

Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Mo'Nique, Precious
Vera Farmiga, Up In The Air
Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds
Diane Krueger, Inglourious Basterds
Zoe Saldana, Avatar

     Best Director:

Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels, Precious
Neil Blomkamp, District 9

     Best Writing (original/adapted):

Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious
Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach, Fantastic Mr. Fox
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
David Benioff, Brothers
Joel & Ethan Coen, A Serious Man


March 4, 2010

Serge gave me the let's-play-ball stare. "Look, Julien, you're twenty-two and your frontal lobe is incomplete. And part of having a frontal lobe still in development is the sense that you have right to scorn everything around you, but all you really are is a biological cliche. Your brain has a few more years to go, so for the time being, you're this judgement robot and everything you think and feel is the product of incomplete cortical hookups and hormone-driven whims. So don't try to pull any sort of superiority trip on me, because at the moment, what you consider to be your personality is, to me, an unwanted and boring obstacle in the way of finding out what we need to know."

-- Douglas Coupland, Generation A, 45