Friday, July 16, 2010


I have certain fantasies about... everything. Part and parcel of being a writer, I think-- an overactive imagination that contrives a world wholly different than the one I'm living in.

One of the biggest questions I deal with on both a personal and an artistic level concerns the True Self: Is the real me the one I am right now, or the one I desperately want to be?

I often think that this Aspirational Self has her work cut out for her, though. She's going to join the gym (and actually go) and manage her savings better and get that fabulous job that will help pave the way to future creative and literary successes. She's together, drinks her coffee black, and she buys locally grown and organic foods, and she has really good posture, and she has an IRA, and she's effortless and lovely and charming and she dresses really well and clothes fit her really well (because she's been going to the gym, see) and she's probably about six inches taller.

I'm willing to admit that there are certain qualities to the Aspirational Self that will have to remain Aspirational. I've seen that Grey's Anatomy episode where the guy got steel bone implants to be taller, and it was not a pretty picture or something that I'm interested in pursuing.

But I'm sure that some of the other stuff I can be really good at. I'm confident! I'm already taking steps-- I use the reusable grocery bags, and I have a subscription to National Geographic.

Actual Self is kind of lame, sometimes, I think. She gets angry at word documents a lot, and likes to slack off in her writing (like, uh, right now). Lean Pockets are a dietary staple, and she doesn't always do the dishes before going to bed, and she tends to slouch, no matter how much her mother raps her between the shoulders.

Maybe part of this is just being a girl. I'm well aware of the many messages in the world that tell me what I Am Supposed To Be As A Woman. I'm supposed to look a certain way without looking like I'm trying to look that way. I'm supposed to be independent, and yet completely concerned with weddings and babies. I'm supposed to keep a clean house, but again, not have to look like I'm trying.

I'm not supposed to be hungry.

Here's where the blog is going to take a slight detour, because I've been thinking about this a lot, and I take issue with the idea of Female Hunger in the world.

I have this thing called a stomach. It's an organ, and a fairly important one. It's where food goes. And, please correct me if I'm wrong, I have a feeling that not all women have one of these.

Hunger seems to be one of the great Female Weaknesses in the world. Boys are allowed to be hungry-- we expect that and build whole marketing strategies around the idea that Boys Eat. But women aren't allowed to be hungry. I can personally attest to feelings of guilt and shame when thinking or saying aloud, "I need food."

What a fatty, my brain says. My gut says. Don't you have any discipline? Don't you have a small and tiny and prettily feminine enough body that a cup of coffee and a bowl of Airy Woman Flakes for breakfast is enough to last you until you sneak that chocolate chip cookie at 8 in the evening?

One of my characters, Never, rebels against this idea. She hides food in her pockets.

"It's not hard to spot you sneaking in the halls, Never," said Casca. "Especially by the kitchens."
"Why's that?" she asked.
"You're the one with the handful of olives or a pot of jam, naturally," said Gideon. 
"You can't eat just a pot full of jam, thank you," Never said, and then she put a grape into her mouth. "You need something to put it on." 

Somehow this all stemmed from the Actual vs. Aspirational Self discussion. Right, because I can't tell if the Aspirational Self is something that I created, that I truly want, or if it's something that I've been told I should be.

Though I do think that there are only three things that I would change about myself if I could: I would eat more fresh and local things, I would sit up straighter, and I would become a personal financial maven. And then I would be perfect and my life would be entirely enviable and I would rule the world.

Okay. The last part will only happen if I can grow six more inches.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I'm a big fan of stories. All kinds. Written or spoken, fiction or non, epic or flash. Biology is my favorite science because it's so damn NARRATIVE (also, just plain cool).

I'm very lucky to have grown up in a family that valued stories. My mother taught me to read when I was three or four, writing me little stories about me and Rosie the cat, which I then illustrated. At the same age, I would spend Saturday and Sunday mornings in my father's lap, reading the funny papers with him.

As I grew up, I learned more stories, both about the larger world and the world that my own family had created. There's very little more fun, or better, or more surreal than learning what happened to make you who you are, the circumstances that set the world spinning in such a way that I should be here, right now, me, and no one else.

In January of 1955, a girl named Vivi arrived in Idlewild airport. She had just turned twenty two weeks ago, on Christmas Eve. She had been taking English lessons her whole life, but as anyone who has ever gone to a foreign country knows, you never know as much as you like to think you do.

From New York, she traveled to San Francisco, California, where an uncle lived. She lived in a boarding house full of other girls, which I'm sure had it's fun moments, but I know couldn't have been easy. On Sundays, she'd have dinner at her uncle's house-- a sure way to get at least one home-cooked meal.

She had always wanted to go to America, ever since she was a young girl. The youngest of seven, growing up during the Nazi occupation in Copenhagen, it's not easy to see the lure. Her older sister, Lis, had made her memorize a poem about the beauty and greatness of this country-- the streets were paved with gold, and when you arrived in New York, you'd be given a giant ranch house, and a stack of money and land.

Lis always did blame herself for her sister going away.

Once, when Vivi was going back to Denmark for a visit, she had to take a bus from California to New York, where she would then get on a boat to sail back. She was traveling with a friend, but the bus was so crowded that they had to sit in separate places, and Vivi got stuck next to a not very nice man. The driver intervened, though, and put an end to that.

They drove out into the desert, and the bus stopped for a reststop. Vivi and her friend went into the bathroom, and when they came out, the bus had driven away.

"What are we going to do?" cried Vivi.

"Don't worry," said her friend, "They'll be back."

And sure enough, a few minutes later, the bus pulled around the corner. What a good driver.

They boarded a steamer in New York and sailed back to Europe, though the boat had to make a stop in Sweden first. The girls got off there, and went to have a good time. Apparently, they had horrible time management skills, because by the time they got back, the gangplank had already been lifted and the ship was set to sail away again.

So the girls got hauled up over the side of the ship by a rope.

A year and a half after Vivi arrived in New York, in June of 1956, a young man named Poul arrived in New York, too, except he had sailed over on a boat. He was a member of the Danish navy, traveling with a group of sailors to San Francisco, where they would pick up a minesweeper to take back to Denmark.

Poul and Vivi met at a dance in San Francisco. They found out that they had grown up not ten minutes from one another in Copenhagen. He denies it, and she says its true, but when he saw her, he turned to his friend, pointed at her, and said, "That's the girl I'm going to marry."

And he did.

They had four children. And seven grandchildren (and one of them was me!). And two great-grandchildren.

Aren't stories great?