Panorama of San Bernardino

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Big John: A Father's Day Blog

My dad had a belt buckle that said Big John.  For most of his life, Dad was a big man.  He used to drive trucks but got a job at Mayflower when we were little so he could spend more time at home.  He moved furniture for a living and broke his back most days to provide for us.  I can picture Dad in his green Mayflower uniform.  He always looked tired and his legs were swollen from all the heavy lifting and time on his feet.  

I remember Dad bringing home the oddest treasures that people would give him: paintings, dolls under glass, books and used lamps and furniture.  Most of it was junk but Dad, who was a collector by nature, loved the stuff.

"Look what they gave me girls," Dad would say to my sisters and I.  "This is a collectible."  I would usually look at it and shake my head and Dad would say in his usual resigned way, "When I'm gone Jenny this is gonna be worth big money, big money."  When he died,  we put his collection of VHS tapes, beer steins, used horror paperbacks and Readers' Digest magazines on a table for the seniors to pick through.  The stuff was all gone within minutes.

My dad died more than six years ago from pancreatic cancer that ate him away in four short weeks after diagnosis.  Most days, I have to shake myself and remind myself Dad is not here because I still feel his presence so strongly.  In my writing, it is his character's voice that I hear the loudest. I often hear Dad saying my childhood nickname, "Jenny. Jenny. Jenny."  It is a refrain in my head.

Some days, it is like channelling Dad's spirit to write.  I want to get down all the good things.  The rummy tournaments Dad would have with my sisters and I when we were little.  The Friday night movie nights at the drive-in.  The trips to the Pizza Hut with the black and white little table TVs that Dad would plug with quarters while my sisters and I watched Different Strokes with pizza sauce dribbling down our chins.

I can't memorialize it all.  I wish I could.  That is what is so ironic about life.  While you are living it, life is hard to appreciate and it is difficult to remember to tell those who live life with you how much you care and how much you appreciate them.  It is easy to forget and later much harder and bittersweet, to look back and wish they knew how much you yearn for their presence.

And, how much you wish that voice saying your name was real.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Blinded By Lightness In Palm Springs

A mere hour's drive from where I live in Southern California is a city where the sun rarely sets.  Palm Springs and its adjoining cities (Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage etc.) are a figurative and literal oasis in the middle of the low desert area of San Bernardino County.  I say low desert because I live in the high desert area of Oak Hills near Hesperia.  The best way I describe where I live to LA types is that we are on the I-15 Freeway North on the way to Vegas about forty five minutes before you hit Barstow.

Palm Springs, on the other hand, is on the way to Indio.  You take the I-10 freeway east for about two hours (disclaimer: with no traffic) from LA.  While technically in the Inland Empire ("the IE"), the Palm Springs area is an anamoly in the IE.   It is a resort town filled with golfcourses and fancy hotels and its high season hosts loads of Hollywood stars (and wannabes).

I am sitting at the JW Marriott, a resort in Palm Springs, while writing this.  The JW, as the locals call it, is lovely.  They have a man made lake that you can take a gondola ride on.  The only thing is, the crowd at the JW is very white.  When I say white, I don't mean the word white as a slur.  I mean everyone at the hotel, aside from the staff of course, looks caucasian.  It is kinda freaking me out.  At the Starbucks I looked at the people in line and thought to myself, are those two women from The Real Housewives of Orange County?  Thank god I didn't say the words out loud (as my husband will attest, I am prone to speaking my thoughts aloud without thought.)

I am not a racist, I love white people.  I am staying here at the JW with my best friend who is a white girl.  That's a joke by the way if you can't tell.  Tracy is a white girl but I wouldn't say that to defend myself against a charge of racism (or maybe I just did).  And my dad was white.  I am thus a halfer.  But what people see is my brown-ness.  I look Mexican and I think that is a good thing because I can't imagine having to worry about a sunburn.  When I was little, my other best friend Melinda (who is Mexican-not that it matters but I just had to throw that in for some reason) and I used to douse ourselves with baby oil to cook ourselves in the hot Ontario sun.  We would have contests to see who could get the brownest which was judged by the swimsuit tan line.

Growing up, my mom would take me over her friend's house and I was fascinated by the woman's ginger haired sons whose bright red hair and freckles looked exotic to me.

A Latina woman just walked by and I was about to say hi when I saw she had parrots on her arms.  She is the woman who takes care of the famous JW parrots and she was too busy to stop and talk.

I am giving myself whiplash by turning my head right to left looking for some brown people.  I guess there are just none to be had here.  I am giving up and am off to the pool to tan.  Gotta get me some color somehow.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Writing Workshop to Come-VONA 2013

In a mere two weeks, I will be on a plane to Oakland for VONA at UC Berkeley.  VONA is a week long writing workshop for writers of color.  This will be my fourth VONA.  

My first VONA experience with writing guru Faith Adiele (who wrote the memoir "Meeting Faith: the Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun") changed my life.  Faith and my writing group at VONA encouraged me and motivated me to focus.  They gave me the push I needed.  After that first VONA, I gave my notice and left my corporate law firm job to become a public defender.  And, I started concentrating on memorializing my childhood memories, many of which were fragmented narrative poems but with persistence and patience these fragments became full stories.

My second VONA with Andrew Pham, who wrote the magnificent memoir Catfish and Mandala, solidified my quest to become to become a writer.  He is a Jedi master of writing and he helped me believe in myself and my writing.

Last year's workshop with Minal Hajratwala (of "Leaving India" memoir fame) made me positive that I was on the right writing track.  She gently challenged me to leave it all on the page.

At VONA, I had the chance to work with some of the finest nonfiction writers in the country and I found a community that accepted me and made friends for life.  In the writing classes, I never felt judged.  I felt supported.

This year, I am taking a writing residency with David Mura.  He appears to be a Rennaisance man/writer and writes poetry, performance pieces and memoir.  The residency is different from a workshop as it is more focused on finishing one's book.  Thus, there are no workshop classes, but instead you work one on one with the teacher.  I am reading Mura's memoir "Turning Japanese: Memories of a Sansei" and so many things in his book are resonating with me.  His quest for an identity mirrors my own and I am shaking with anticipation as I write this blog.  (Maybe it is the double expresso but I doubt it).

This year, I know I have it in me to finish the memoir I started more than six years ago.  There has to be an end date for this project because there are so many other projects I want to start.  And, I know I have it in me.

VONA 2013 here I come.