Sunday, October 29, 2006

Reading at Rickshaw Stop

Six authors from the
read from their works. The SF Writers Workshop is the oldest writers group in California. The reading is a benefit for the Meridian Gallery, host of the SFWW.
MICHAEL CHOROST, author of REBUILT, 2006 PEN award winner
Friday, November 3, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Location: The Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., San Francisco
(415) 861-2011. Admission $7 to $20 sliding scale.

Halloween 2006

One of the perks to not hosting Halloween and going to someone else's party is that you can win the costume contest! Which I did as Marie Antoinette, with boat in sail in my hair and blood at my neck. My friend Shelly won too, as an insanely-realistic Oompa Loompa (in fact, based on the reaction she got, we all thought she was going to win first prize, but that went to two girls dressed as Voodoo practicioners.)

We had a great time at a party in West Oakland with live bands and an indoor half-pipe for skaters, which provided amusing people-watching as women in high heels tried to get pulled up to the top by their guys.

Shelly and I got little trophies with ribbons attached. Mine said "Funniest costume" and hers said "scariest"... I think the awarder randomly pulled them out of his bag.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Shane, Brukty and Tsehai

Our friend Shane Etzenhouser moved to Ethiopia about four years ago with the idea of starting up a puppet show. He met a gorgeous woman there, Brukty, and they got married. They collaborated on the show, a mixture of sock puppets and computer animation, which is now being televised to great acclaim. It’s Ethiopia’s answer to Sesame Street.

Today there were articles in the SF Chronicle and the Washington Post about them. What they’re doing is pretty amazing because illiteracy is a problem in Ethiopia and this show provides a way for kids to learn their alphabet and other important things without going to school, which many children aren’t able to do.

The show’s theme song is in Amharic and says of Tsehai, the charming childish giraffe who is the star of the show, "She asks a lot of questions because she loves learning."

Most moving was the idea that the show might be shown on the big screen in a Times-Square-esque place in Ethiopia where hundreds of street children live. Who knows if seeing Tsehai could make the difference to one of those kids, beginning to arm them for success in a way that wouldn’t have been possible before.

Shane and Brukty, we are so, so, so, so, so proud of you. You are making the world better.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Creepier than a doctored photo

While continuing research on my witchcraft-accused ancestor, I found some discrepancy in different sources about various birth and death dates of her children. So I googled a bibliography source and found something chilling.

Apparently, the Church of Latter Day Saints has "baptized" my ancestors, at various dates in the early 1900s. I'm sure my Puritan ancestors would be delighted to think they'd be baptized in another faith 200 years after they died.

As if that wasn't wierd enough, it looks like babies that died as newborns were deliberately not baptized in the LDS church, while a child that died at six months was. What's their cutoff, I wonder?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Snuggle me

Someone I knew at Colby used to imitate the hideously-robotic fabric softener bear who would croon, "Snuggle me."
Unrelatedly, another Colby friend posted this video on his blog; I liked it so I'm posting it too. At first I was dubious because it seems a ripoff of that old commercial where the guy goes around hugging everyone, but the variety and surprise of the hugs won me over. It's great!

Wh... where'd that little girl come from???

My friend took me to Mills College, which she attended in the late ‘90s, to show me where some scary stuff had happened. She is convinced the place is haunted.

In one dormitory’s lounge, she showed me where she had discovered a hidden door in the wall – you can see it in this photograph. We pried it open once again. It’s boarded up inside but we surmise there used to be a staircase or other passageway here.

The ghost story for this dormitory is that people have heard a child in the hallway playing with her ball, but when you go and look there isn’t anyone.

I took a bunch of digital photos and didn’t download them immediately. No, I waited until I was sleepless at four a.m. when it suddenly occurred to me, hey, I could see how those photos turned out. I was convinced in the blue glow of my monitor, with no other lights on, that I was going to see spectral images within the photos.

I didn’t.

But that didn’t stop me from figuring out how to Photoshop in a little girl and emailing it off to my friend. Hope it makes her catch her breath!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ancestral depression

Ah, the residents of Springfield, Massachusetts in the year 1640… how well I know your names!

I spent all day yesterday at the Sutro Library researching the early Parsons family history, part of my project to learn more about my ancestor accused of witchcraft. And my god, it is like skipping stones, to watch the ripples that fold out and out and out. It’s exhausting. Because my ancestor was not the only one accused of witchcraft, and in fact there’s a complex network of neighbors v. neighbors, and trials affecting other trials, and bitterness pervading through the decades until more accusations are raised…

When I left yesterday, I felt like all afternoon I had been in a dim Colonial cottage, subject to the whispers and suspicion myself. It gets into your blood, gives you a distasteful feeling.

The other day I found a website that listed all the inhabitants of Springfield in a particular year… there were only about 40 of them, and yet I recognized their names, some of them, as testifiers in my ancestor’s case. As I continue to research, those names come up again and again until I almost feel I know them.

Oh, yes, here’s Elizur Holyoke, the guy who wrote down all the testimony, and here’s his son born in 1641… well, and six months later Union Moxon is born; Moxon being a surname I recognize as that of the minister’s children who had fits and caused a woman to be accused of witchcraft, which trial in turn caused my ancestor to have fits… it’s all so insular and incestuous.

I pulled out my huge family tree chart (it’s three feet by two feet) and scanned names again. Sure enough, some of the people who testified in my ancestor’s case were also my relatives. What else could you expect in such a small town?

And most chillingly, but I have to better confirm this, it looks like the father of my ancestor’s accuser shows up on my family tree, by way of what would have been a sister of the accuser. How horrible.

The picture above is Mary Bliss Parsons, the woman accused of witchcraft that I'm related to. I found the image at

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Litquake 2006

I think I ... uh... spent five hours at Litquake today. Is that possible? Am I that much of a lover of literature (and a complete slug) that I spent that many hours in an auditorium watching writers read their work? That's like the equivalent of watching two movies or even three...

I did get up and perambulate, visited the gyro place across the street and later the coffeeshop since I was getting dozy... but yup, I think I was there all day.

I had to be there at 12:30 to watch my friends Melodie Bowsher and Kemble Scott read (alas, missed Melodie since she read first and I was a little late), then I knew Tamim Ansary was reading at 3. Doesn't that just seem manageable somehow? But the portion Tamim read in was actually 3-4:30 and then we sat around talking a bit. Actually, I just did the math and it's more like four hours. OK, I feel a lot better.

What Tamim read was incredible and made me resolve to buy his book, Story of My Life: An Afghan Girl on the Other Side of the Sky. (Tamim is male: he co-authored this book with Farah Ahmedi).

I read at Litquake yesterday and think it went fine. Litquake only allows you to read for six minutes (with six writers in a given hour, and then intros and etc.) so how much damage can you do? I was honored to be asked.

I love this week-long literary festival and think it's an incredible feat to pull off each year. Congrats to Jack Boulware and Jane Ganahl for coming up with this, as well as other incredibly hard-working volunteers like Deborah Krantz and Tara Weaver.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Melancholia (delicious!)

The air is so cold I put my coat on today. Scarlet leaves on the sidewalk. Cars using their headlights in the middle of the day. I LOVE IT!!!

Something brisk and wonderful... and solemnly sad about this time of year. In my car I was listening to Luka Bloom (Christy Moore's brother), an Irishman who sings lovely ballads. He did a cover of Joni Mitchell's "Urge for Going," which has the most exquisitely autumnal lyrics. I really love this song. Although: I've never heard the original! Just Luka's version.

My favorite lines are about the bully winds burying their faces in the snow, and the seasonal empire falling. Matter of fact, here's all the lyrics, courtesy of some website I googled to:

I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky, then it gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold
And shivering trees are standing in a naked row
I get the urge for going but I never seem to go

I get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in

I had me a man in summertime
He had summer-colored skin
And not another girl in town
My darling's heart could win
But when the leaves fell trembling down
Bully winds did rub their faces in the snow
He got the urge for going And I had to let him go

He got the urge for going
When the meadow grass was turning brown
Summertime was falling down and winter was closing in

The warriors of winter they gave a cold triumphant shout
And all that stays is dying and all that lives is getting out
See the geese in chevron flight flapping and racing on before the snow
They've got the urge for going, they've got the wings to go

They get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in

I'll ply the fire with kindling and pull the blankets to my chin
And I'll lock the vagrant winter out and bolt my wandering in
I'd like to call back summertime and have her stay jut another month or so
She's got the urge for going and I guess she'll have to go

And she get the urge for going when meadow grass is turning brown
All her empires are falling down
Winter's closing in

Monday, October 02, 2006

Oak to Ninth: for Oakland voters

When preparing for my radio interview today, I spent some time looking again at the chapter on the waterfront in my Oakland's Neighborhoods book. Our city lost control of our waterfront for its first 60 years, thanks to the scurrilous maneuverings of Horace Carpentier. Then, not long after we finally got it back, Borax Smith (who I otherwise admire) asked for permission in 1916 to take a 99-year lease on the waterfront. Mayor Davies' response was wonderfully fierce and passionate, and I read it on the air:
I will fight to the last ditch, if necessary, to prevent the voters of this city from entering into a lease which will take out of their control property for which I have fought a lifetime and lost a fortune to secure for them... Any man who would turn over municipal lands for this damnable purpose ought to be taken out and hanged.
The irony, of course, is that had Borax Smith won his 99-year term, we'd still be in it! We'd be in it until 2015. And Borax is long dead and his estate dismantled and all we've got are some mules in the backyard of the F.M. Smith Recreation Center...

So, 99 years have NOT passed, and poor Mayor Davies must be a'whirlin' in his grave... because our City Council AND our city attorney are doing exactly what he abhored: handing out public lands to private developers. Horace Carpentier is somewhere smirking! His legacy of keeping Oaklanders from their waterfront continues.

So what the heck am I talking about? The infamous Oak to Ninth project. The project stretching along the waterfront for which City Council voted to hand over municipal lands to private developers, forever ruining our chance to have waterfront access.

Back in early September, city attorney John Russo declared that the signatures collected by the Oak to Ninth Coalition were invalid. The signatures say that the Oak to Ninth project should be sent to referendum--that Oakland voters themselves should decide.

In a mere 30 days, the coalition gathered over 25,000 signatures (when they only needed 18,000). A monumental achievement --and one that clearly demonstrates that people are concerned and unhappy about this dirty deal.

John Russo said that attached to the petition was an outdated version of the city ordinance--although coalition members tried to get the ordinance from city staff and were directed to the city's website. There, a current version was posted, which was later changed as Russo continued to negotiate with developers after City Council approved a version.

The latest news is that a week ago the coalition filed suit against the city. This makes the third lawsuit against the city on this particular issue. Hmmm, maybe that's because the whole deal is illegal? And crooked and sordid?


I was interviewed today by Denny Smithson on his program at KPFA. I was nervous but he was a great interviewer with a lot of interesting questions. KPFA is a Berkeley radio station devoted to the ideas of pacifism (the P in KPFA stands for Pacific, I think).

Here's a mark of how cool the station is: the soap dispenser in the bathroom was stocked with Dr. Bronner's, either peppermint or unscented aloe vera. Yeow! Brought me back to my Colby days, when I did laundry with Dr. B's, washed my hair with Dr. B's...

Do a little dance, make a little love

Alan gleefully forced me to watch this video of the Sony robots dancing, knowing full well how creeped out I am by robots.

He read somewhere that by 2012 people would be having sex with robots... and on a regular basis. That's six years away.

My new husband then pointed out that that would "not technically be considered cheating."