In Seattle a few summers ago, we took an underground tour, a decidedly dank and touristy meandering through the history of Seattle and its boom as a result of the gold rush in Alaska.

The tour guide explained how as would-be gold miners set sail from Seattle, many others profited off their dreams. Some businesses sold necessary tools and provisions. Others played on hope and gullibility; my particular favorite was the story of people selling “gold-sniffing gophers.”

Now, I’m a writer, specifically a yet-unpublished novelist. And while I believe I possess balanced amounts of optimism and skepticism, I am trying to navigate through a landscape not unlike the one faced by dreaming gold miners. Sure, there are professionals who make a living truly helping writers; there are also “agents” who charge reading fees and vanity presses that do little more than part a writer from her money.

Writers’ conferences are another staple of this landscape. I’ve been to a few. When my confidence wanes and cynicism takes over, I see so many deluded dreamers (self included) paying to hear the expertise of agents and publishers, hoping to make that one connection that will push them out of oblivion and onto bookshelves. I texted home during a break, “It’s so many gold-sniffing gophers.”

But then I informally pitched to one of the agents. As I described my book, she smiled. “I want to read that when you’re done.” Those words were enough to get me excited again, to erase the thought that my concept is stupid and nobody would want to read it. She may not end up my agent, but her encouragement was the prod I needed to keep going. My enthusiasm is renewed for this book, the one I feel I am uniquely qualified to write, the one that continues to ferment within my imagination even when I’m not actively writing it.

All hail the gophers!

"Really. He's a gopher. He got that big from all the gold fumes."

“Really. He’s a gopher. He got that big from all the gold fumes.”

I’m sorry. Really sorry.

I’m not starting a feral cat fighting ring, nor a halfway house for drug-addled Muppets.

It’s a saxophone. And you can blame my mother-in-law.*

One night at dinner, I mentioned that I’d always wanted to learn the saxophone. It was one tiny piece of conversation over a long dinner with six people, many topics, plus wine and dessert. I’d forgotten we’d even talked about it, until she sent a card that said “The saxophone is on its way.”

And then this happened:

There’s a saxophone in there — from another state and another era.

Which lead to this:

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Me, pretending to know what I’m doing. I did make noise. Keyword, “noise.”

Anne sent me the saxophone both she and Derek used when learning music, which led a friend to dub it “the ancestral saxophone.” When I took it to get checked out and cleaned up, the repair guy said it had keys he’d never seen before. He looked up the serial number in his sax bible and chuckled. “I knew it was old, but I didn’t think it was 99 years old! Made in 1916.” Ancestral, indeed.

“Learn the saxophone” has been on my life list since high school, but in the “someday” column, butting up against such barriers as being unable to read music, not owning a saxophone, and living in a small apartment with shared walls.

I am officially out of excuses. I no longer share a wall, and soon we won’t have neighbors near enough to bother. But in the meantime, dear neighbors, I apologize. On the bright side, you’ll be happy to see us leave.

* Don’t really blame her. She’s great, and she’s helping to make a dream come true.

I’ve written before about how tastes change as we get older. It’s true not just for toothpaste and foods and books. It’s true for style, too, including architectural styles. I was in San Francisco today, and as I was heading back toward the Golden Gate Bridge, I decided to drive by a house I used to love. When I lived in the city, if I was anywhere in the neighborhood of this house, I’d drive by and sigh wistfully. I thought it was so cool, with its grand entryway and curved staircases. I would dream that it was my Italian villa and imagine fantastic parties I’d have there when I was rich and famous novelist like Danielle Steele (another mansion I’d drive by — that one was on the route to a friend’s house).

Villa

Villa? Maybe in Tuscany. Not here.

Villa-Detail

Guard lions. Every villa needs ‘em.

Now, I think this house is a tiny bit pretentious and out of place, not to mention that in a city with breathtaking views, this house is not oriented to maximize them. In fact, it looks like it’s shrouded by trees — combustible, non-native eucalyptus at that — and is likely dark inside.

While some things change, others remain constant. I still love walking the city’s hilly streets, even if I’m not as fast as I’d like. I especially love when walks lead to stairways. Bonus points when the streets are so steep that they have stairways instead of sidewalks, like this.

Stairs

Steeps. I mean steps.

The views still make me happy, especially on sunny days like today when you can actually see them. I still look at Alcatraz and think, “Someday, I want to swim from there to shore.”

Vista

View. That house to the right has a rooftop garden.

And I still like to take photographs. I tried to get an artistic shot going down the steps, but it very nearly ended up with me tumbling down the steps. I know, what goes up must go down, but she doesn’t have to go down head first.

Vertiginous

Artistic? Nah, just weird and dizzying. Yay for handrails.

18. January 2015 · 1 comment · Categories: Books

Pending

 As I pulled books off my shelf, Derek tried to guess what I was doing. He guessed wrong. I’m not going to read a chapter of each in a round-robin. (My head would explode, more than it already is from the lingering shingles pain.) Nor am I going to read them all and throw all but one away. Well, I might do that, but that’s not my intention.

This is my in progress and pending list. I’m currently reading and loving Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, even though as I read it I think, “Wait, that’s in my unpublished book!”

The Golem and the Jinni and Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up were lent to me by the same friend who lent me The Night Circus, which was one of my favorite books of 2014. I’ll at least try anything she recommends.

Motherless Daughters was given to me by another friend who’s a fellow member of the Suckiest Club on Earth. And because she has many caring, concerned friends, she ended up with multiple copies. It may make me cry, but I hope it will also give me insight into what my goddaughter is facing and how I can help, since she joined the Suckiest Club far, far too young.

Derek lent me The Circle, though he didn’t particularly recommend it. I’ve heard mixed reviews, but I’m curious.

Beyond Boundaries is an anthology from The Redwood Writers’ Group, the group I recently joined to meet fellow writers closer to home.

I gave The Irregulars to my dad several Christmases ago. It languished in his to-read collection until I borrowed it, only to let it languish in mine. It tells the true tale of Roald Dahl’s work as a British spy in Washington during World War II. Last year, I decided I needed to expand my reading from pure fiction to include some historical fiction and biographies. I read Unbroken and loved it. I hope this is as good.

So there they are, the first of my books for 2015.

PS – It’s late and dark here. I balanced a light on my head as I took that picture. Trust me, it’s better than it would have been using flash.

I’m all for safety warnings. People should be informed if they’re in an avalanche or tsunami zone. In national parks, you’ll see warning signs complete with pictograms indicating that you’ll drown and get crushed by rocks if you try to swim in the idyllic-looking watering hole near the top of the falls.

This, however? Just not necessary.

ick

Don’t do it.

2014 is gone, and I was relieved to see it go. While I may have said “good riddance,” I managed not to shout “get the F&!* out of here,” and I’m pretty proud of that self-restraint.

I don’t want to curse the new year already, but it’s got to be better. That said, I have to be part of making it better. I’ve done resolutions in the past — with positive results, even. But this year, I want something different, more action-oriented. Progress I can track, because even though I’m a word nerd, I love being able to calculate my progress as a percentage (and maybe even a fancy spreadsheet with graphs and pie charts).

My 2015-by-the-numbers plan is as follows:

  • 52 photos
  • 52 blog posts with said photos
  • 12 stories or articles
  • One novel

Of note, the numbers above are weekly or monthly  — not for procrastinating so that I have to write and photograph like a madwoman in December. They’re also minimum goals.

I also want to knit 6 chemo caps and read 30 books. This past year, I aimed for 12 caps and reached 6 and 36 books and reached 27. Maybe I should try books on tape again, so I can multitask knitting and reading.

What are your 2015 numbers?

20141217-Shingles-001

2014 low-light: Rhymes with Pringles, but shingles ain’t fun. Trust me. Not what I wanted for Christmas.

20141109-Catalina-134

2014 highlight: Catalina. This is one of my favorite photos, possibly ever. Ironic that it’s kind of moody and gloomy.

 

 

In preparation for taking more photos in the new year, I’ve been organizing and culling the old photos.

In addition to a lot of animal photos, I found a series of photos in a theme. It made me wonder about myself…or more appropriately about the company I keep. Why do I hang around people who treat me thusly?

Allison shirks from hug

Derek cringes from kiss

Et tu, Cindy?

Oh, right, because they’re my people and we laugh a lot together.

Well, I can’t say that there were throngs of adoring fans lining up to buy my book, but at least I can say that I didn’t puke at Lit Crawl. I survived my first public reading of my fiction, and even had some fun doing it.

The night before the event, I finished watching the movie Finding Vivian Maier. Then Derek talked me into watching Beware of Mr. Baker, a rockumentary on Ginger Baker, the drummer for Cream. The first, full of beautiful candid photographs by a woman who worked as a nanny and never had any of her photographs shown. The second, full of a man who’s had huge commercial success but nonetheless is a financial disaster, not unrelated to the fact that he’s “quit” heroin dozens of times. In other words, I movie-binged on depressing stories of artists right before my debut. Not the most auspicious timing.

As we were getting ready for the Lit Crawl, I said, “I am in no way suggesting I am going to do this, or even thinking about it. But feeling the way I do right now, and imagining having to go on stage in front of thousands of people, I can understand how they take drugs to get through.” That said, I didn’t take any drugs other than a latte beforehand.

DSC_3703

Caught in the act of “air quotes”

When I got off the stage, I noticed my friend all teary-eyed in the front row. That made me giggle. But I couldn’t stop smiling when a few different strangers told me “That was really good.” The clincher, though, was when one guy personally connected to my story, and told me how the father in my story reminded him of his own dad. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, to know that what I write speaks to someone. And at Lit Crawl, it did.

Who needs drugs?

In my daydreams, I’m a wildly successful author on a book tour. As I read to scores of fans, they laugh and cry at the same time. The audience is friendly, smart, and fun, and I chat with them as I sign their books.

Then I wake up. I’m back at my desk, writing in solitude, or at the coffee shop, writing in solitude while surrounded by people.  Since I haven’t sold my book yet, a book tour is unlikely. But tomorrow, I will partake in Lit Crawl, the world’s largest roving literary event. The goal of Lit Crawl and its parent Litquake is to “whet a broad range of literary appetites, present the literary fare in a variety of traditional and unlikely venues, and make it vivid, real, and entertaining.”

Let’s see. We’ll be reading at City Art, a cooperative gallery, and we’ll feed a range of appetites including (but not limited to) non-fiction, children’s literature, mystery, and suspense. I’m reading from my second novel, The Reluctant Bartender. I’m  excited, nervous, and pukey all at the same time, which makes it vivid and real for me, and possibly entertaining for our audience. I’ve heard my fellow writers read, and can say they’re practiced and eloquent.

Leaping back into life isn’t limited to cliff-jumping into snow-fed lakes. It’s about doing scary things that push me further into the writer’s life. Today, I’ll practice some more. Tomorrow, I’ll meet people who love literature enough to fight crowds in San Francisco’s Mission District as they wander from gallery to bar to police station to wherever. C’mon, join the book-loving throngs and meet us there!

Two weekends ago, I saw my cousins for the first time in ages. They were visiting Dad in Daly City on a rare hot weekend, so drinking and conversation turned to beer. I told them Petaluma’s vying to become the epicenter of Northern California microbrewing and every little restaurant in town has several local beers on tap. Mostly, I was trying to ensure that their next trip is longer and includes a stay up here.

The day after they left, I texted this picture to Tony.

PetalumaHills

He texted back, “You’re making me jealous!”
Success!

I’d told him Porterluma is my favorite local beer and how we’d been eagerly awaiting the opening of the Petaluma Hills Tap Room ever since we’d first tasted Porterluma in a beer-tasting class. Now that we’ve finally made it to the tap room, I can also recommend the red tag ale and the ESB (we did tastes instead of pints to maximize variety). The shiny new bar overlooks the brewing area, so we watched the beer making instead of the TV. The owner is friendly and answered my geeky questions about harvesting yeast.

I can remember when my only question about beer was “Why do you drink that?” I also remember the first time I thought beer was good. I was about 18 and on a whitewater-rafting trip with my friend’s dad, acting as his adopted daughter for the weekend. It was sweltering hot, and I was parched.  The sodas were in a cooler on another boat. I asked for a diet coke, and someone sent one flying through the air. I caught it, but it slipped through my wet hands and sunk to the bottom of the American River. Of course, that was the last soda available.

It was 100+ degrees, and the beer was cold, wet and therefore delicious. My friend’s dad floated by in the other boat and gave me a sideways glance as I drank my beer, and I shrugged and told him there was nothing else to drink. (Bottled water hadn’t been invented yet.) For a long time after that, I thought beer was only good if it’s really hot outside. What I didn’t realize is I wasn’t drinking good beer. As I got older, I discovered beers I like even when I’m not dying of thirst. I’ve enjoyed beer while traveling and found “What’s a good local beer?” a fun question to ask.

That was only the beginning of my questions. I wanted to learn more: the difference between ales and lagers; how various styles are made; etc. Basically, I wanted to go into a pub with multiple taps and be able to choose confidently. I’d wanted to take Beer 101 for years, but didn’t find an extended ed class until we moved to Petaluma. Once a week for several weeks, we sat in a community college chem lab drinking beers of different styles, learning about brewing processes, taking notes, and enjoying beer. Best chem lab experience ever! It taught me that I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I don’t have to travel far from home to continue my education.