Monday, November 30, 2009

hey, Santa, are you taking notes?

(from today's SF Chronicle)

Mentors, Muses & Monsters

30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their Lives

Edited by Elizabeth Benedict

(Free Press; 278 pages; $24.99)

Rumors of literature's death have been greatly (OK, slightly) exaggerated. Ditto recent proclamations that the anthology is even more rigorously mortis than the endangered lone-authored book.

The heyday of the anthology (that literary umbrella under which a group of writers huddle, reflecting on the same subject at the same time) began with a big bang in 2002, when the post-feminist group-rant "The Bitch in the House" became a surprise runaway hit. The literary-industrial complex - formerly known as publishing houses, some of which were actually housed in houses, back when their purpose was actually publishing books, not pumping profits into insatiable multinationals' maws - did what every successful corporation does. They found the thing that was making money for someone else, and copied it. A slew of "Bitch" copycats followed. As often happens with books (as well as cola drinks), the imitators were less popular than the original. "R.I.P. Anthology," the Molochs of Moneymaking declared.

Luckily for us, the publisher of "Mentors, Muses & Monsters" didn't get the memo. This anthology is that rare gem, a collection whose whole is greater, even, than the sum of its parts. Where else could you read musings-about-muses, accompanied by juicy tales from deep inside the writing life, by 30 of the best minds of our generation, all between the covers of one book?

Novelist Elizabeth Benedict (the collection's collector) writes a moving paean to her mentor, Elizabeth Hardwick: "On my own with Miss Hardwick, as I called her, I handed over four or five pages every time we met. I'd watch her read them in her wooden swivel chair, her auburn curls brushing her cheeks, lipstick always freshly applied. She liked but did not love what I wrote."

Jonathan Safran Foer, author of "Everything Is Illuminated," writes, "I was sixteen when I first met the poet Yehuda Amichai. It was the summer after my junior year of high school. I was still the star of the film of my life ... If I'd met Amichai at another moment ... it's unlikely that I'd be writing about him now. Or writing at all."

Julia Glass shares a delicious behind-the-scenes confessional of her terrifyingly intimate relationship with the unidentified "Deb," who edited Glass' best-seller, "Three Junes." In a particularly poignant interchange, Glass worries to Deb that she'll lose control at a book reading and start crying. "If you cry," Deb reassures her, "you'll sell ten more books."

The socially engaged, poetic novelist Sigrid Nunez writes about living with Susan Sontag's son - and with Sontag. That famously lazy slouch Joyce Carol Oates, who apparently found time to knock out her essay in the 45 seconds between finishing her last book and starting the next, writes about the absence of mentors in her writing life. Even her husband, she says with a mysterious lack of rancor, declined to read her fiction before or after its publication.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Jane Smiley dishes the vaunted Iowa Writers' Workshop. "I lamented that I wasn't a genius, would never be a genius, the years of genius were long past (I was twenty-seven). Barbara (twenty-four) kept reading our workshop stories for the day. She knew I would get over it ... Because of the parties. We had parties for everything."

In "Mad Hope and Mavericks" local heroine ZZ Packer offers a painfully personal homage to her guru, James Alan McPherson. "Before reading McPherson's work," she writes, "I hadn't realized how much I tensed up at reading any depictions of blacks, whether by white or black authors."

Before books, anthologies and I die, I'd love to share a raucous, hilarious, uplifting last supper with all 30 of these incisive, funny, candid writers. Barring that eventuality, reading "Mentors, Muses & Monsters" satisfies the craving for candid, high-minded literary conversation - and with half the calories.

Meredith Maran is the Oakland author of "Class Dismissed." Her next book, "My Lie," will be published in 2010. E-mail her at

Sunday, November 29, 2009

warm, fuzzy, confused

Driving home last night I was amazed at the number of Christmas
trees and strings of lights I saw on homes and even the Firehouse
on Stanyan. It isn't even December. I expect the commercial holiday
bling, of course, but this was different. What was odd, however,
was that my reaction wasn't the usual "oh no, say it isn't so" ~ but
"hey, that's pretty!" I believe this attitude change has everything
to do with retail-light instead of the horror of the big box in years
past. Getting sentimental, Bunkie?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

a good friday in november

Even though the deYoung was packed and that tiresome Boy King
sold out, it was a pretty easy retail Black Friday for us. It's just
so wonderful when the customers are so easy to please and no
one is in the attack mode, as they used to be at the big box. God,
did I hate retail Black Friday in the past. Even closing wasn't a
big deal and we didn't have any call-outs, so I had lots of help
with all the details of counting and bringing down all the cash
register drawers (and cash). Again, how nice to have a host of
security guards who take care of the rare visitor who might be
out of line. And really, that is RARE.

Down at the Legion we are gearing up for the Cartier Exhibit
which opens December 19. There are some previews beforehand
though, and I'll be working a couple of those. I will be in
sparkle mode, you can count on that.

Friday, November 27, 2009

thanksgiving joy

Gwen, Nicole, Sam and Ben ~ during a quiet moment yesterday.
Neti and Frank's table. The mamas sat at the end here so they
could jump up when one of the two monitors made a noise. We
had a lovely day and the turkey, stuffing, Rita's cauliflower,
creamed spinach, yams, cranberry sauce ~ all perfect. It was
so nice being with everyone again this year. Happy day indeed.

Tonight I close at the deYoung. The final Friday night event
until 2010. Loud music will be the only problem because it is
College Night and they don't do Beethoven.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

the turkey goes to twin peaks

Husbando and I are roasting and trotting (ahem) the turkey
up to Neti and Frank's today about 3pm. I can see a new twin
word play game here because the reason we are going to Twin
Peaks is because of the grandbaby twins, Ben and Sam. It is
their first real outing and yes, there will be some excitement
and, I hope, some good photos for tomorrow. Our middle
son and his wife will also be there, as will our friend Rita.
All in all, a very wonderful holiday and as always, I am one
grateful woman. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

blissful days off (2)

Last year I wrote that I sincerely hoped it would be my last
holiday season in downtown retail. Hooray! Husbando and
I ventured there on Monday and I echoed my '08 thoughts
as we dodged the people and packages. We probably won't
be back, except for the occasional play, until January.

Today and tomorrow I'm off. Oh joy. We were busy at the de
Young yesterday, but never crazy, even with the traditional
holiday call-outs. The customers are so pleasant and easy
to please, what a huge difference from the big box.

I need to write a dramatic scene for fiction class next week.
Amazingly, an actual plot has emerged, just like the
teacher said it would if I really got to know my two or
three main characters. Of course I know Ellen, but Keith
and Aaron need some filling out. Men. So difficult.

But now ~ off to yoga. Om shanti.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

our little world

There have been four unmarked white trucks here in our nabe the
past few days. Of course they block the garages and take up what
few parking places might exist. Yesterday I asked one of the taciturn
workers what they were doing and who they were working for.
"We're making a communication center here for T-Mobile." But
why did he have a PG&E sticker on his white hard hat and what
are they really up to? Conspiracy theory time here in Bernal Heights.

Monday, November 23, 2009

a very special day!

RR is six years old today! It doesn't seem possible. Blogmaid
and family hosted a few parties this past week or two and that's
how it should be for such a wonderful girl. Really, all she needs
now is a palomino pony ~ let's keep our fingers crossed. Happy
birthday, dear RR!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

big and little edie

Here we see Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore listening to JFK's
funeral from their Grey Gardens home. This is on HBO all week,
don't miss it! Grey Gardens is faithful to the 1975 documentary about
Jackie O's aunt and cousin and we both thought the acting was
terrific. The blogmaid loved it too ~ and not just because of the cats.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

a new book beckons

I finished An Experiment in Love last night and I'll be taking
this Val McDermid mystery, Beneath the Bleeding, with me
today. One day last week I was involved in my book out in Golden
Gate Park and another Sweet Young Thing passed by and
said, "are you ever NOT reading?" Hmmmmm, how to answer...

Last week in class KarenTeacher mentioned that in America,
almost all novels have happy endings. I've been thinking about
that a lot and I already know that mine certainly will, whatever
and wherever the plot might go, if it goes. When it goes.

Friday, November 20, 2009

not everyone follows baseball

I will practice my dialogue work. From yesterday at the Legion ~
I returned to the store after messing around in the storage area.

Sweet Young Thing: "Mary Ann, Dennis called about an author or
something, I wrote it down."
(The note said "Lincecum" and "Young".)
I called my boss: "Lincecum won the Cy Young again!"
Dennis: "yes, but I don't think SYT knows baseball, she asked if
it was spelled 'Jung' and I had to spell Lincecum very carefully."
Mary Ann: "and she thought Lincecum was a writer."

In any event, congratulations to Tim on his 2nd in a row Cy
Young award! Yeah....

Thursday, November 19, 2009

more about fiction writing

I can't say I really LIKE these fiction classes I'm taking. First, it
means work. Sitting down and writing kind of work. Then it
entails actually going to class for two plus hours every Monday
night, but thankfully I live close by The Writing Salon. I
finished the first half and now we have a new teacher (Karen)
and she expects us to be writing our novels NOW. What? I
didn't see that in the class description. The nerve.

So I have been getting up earlier and writing for just a little
while every morning. Here are some interesting thoughts about
the whole elusive plot business. From Karen's class notes:

There is one sure thing about writing a novel: there is
no sure way to do it. But there are things you can and
should do as you work. You should know your character
intimately. You should have some sense of his or her
conflict because that will drive the plot. You should create
for the reader an enticing and believable world. Most of all,
you should concentrate on getting that first draft done.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

yes, but do I really need it?

Faithful readers know that I love Verizon and have been a loyal
customers for years. I keep hoping that they'll wrench away the
iPhone from AT&T, but I don't think that will happen. So now we
have the Droid and it could be all mine for $200 or so. Two things
are worrying me:
1) will my inexpensive monthly rate go way up?
2) could I become one of those people who puts my phone on
the table in front of me when we go out for lunch or dinner?
Yes, I could go into the Verizon store and do some research,
but we all know that I'd be walking out with my new Droid.
So I will do some technological stewing for awhile.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

back to last year

Always in my work life I have been blessed with friends, usually women,
but a few men too. Here we have my delightful co-workers: Frances,
Patrice, Tanya and the blonde Lucy(belle). They keep me sane and
smiling as they help me on this journey at the museums. Just think,
a year ago I didn't even know them. Now we all know a LOT about
each other, and all of it good, of course. Lucky, lucky me!

Monday, November 16, 2009

a little more magic, please

Last night we thoroughly enjoyed Mrs. Whitney at the Magic Theatre
down at Fort Mason. It's the sad/funny story of people reconnecting
after a few decades. Great acting with Rod Gnapp as the Mister and
Patricia Hodges as the delightful Mrs. Whitney. You will recognize
Patrick Alparone up there in the right hand corner, he was Billy
in SF Playhouse's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

from Mary in Bisbee!

Today while I was out running my errands, I stopped off at B&D Lumber to pick up some wild bird seed and one of the folks there happened to mention that the Capitol Christmas tree is in Bisbee today. It's touring Arizona on its way to the White House, stopping here and there for an hour or so. It was supposed to be parked just down the road from my house outside of Warren Ball park at Farmer's Market. So I drove over there and, sure enough, there it was, blocking the road on my way home, with a large motley crowd of desert mountain people gathered around. So, now being an official inhabitant of this outpost where any diversion is a big deal, I got out and walked over to see what was going on. The truck is draped with a huge banner so that all us Arizonans can sign it and send it on its way with Christmas greetings. This is the first time Arizona has been chosen to provide the Capitol Christmas tree, so there was a lot of excitement about this historic event. It seemed like everybody in Cochise county was there, chatting, clapping, laughing, cheering - eating the bad cookies and drinking the bad coffee that was provided - and just having a good time. Speeches were made. The highschool band played 'Arizona' and 'Oh, Christmas Tree'. A big ugly Christmas tree ornament (I couldn't tell what it was supposed to be) made out of copper was 'presented' to the tree. Then they opened the side of the truck so that we common folk could all line up and peer inside at it, giving our good wishes, I suppose. Why they included Bisbee on the grand tour is anybody's guess. But it was a very celebratory event for this little place down by the border.
I enjoyed it very much! (I think I am becoming a simple soul.)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

a touch of nostalgia

I hardly ever read old posts, even though I have them printed
out for Husbando every year, but I couldn't resist checking
out last November when I left the big box, for all intents and
purposes. It was a tough time for me, but I'm so pleased that
I took that major step. Life at the museums is a lot easier and
the pay is better, the benefits fantastic. I have made some
wonderful new friends and I can even identify a precious or
semi-precious stone from time to time. But not always...

Friday, November 13, 2009

a quilting party!

Thank God, a new exhibit opens today at the de Young. Amish
Abstractions on the second floor features 48 quilts dating from
the 1880s to the 1940s. Our merchandise is new and exciting
too, and we are all ready for this change. (Through June 6, 2010.)
I haven't seen these quilts yet, but for sure I will today. Come visit!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

sing, damn it!

Seems like the after-table gets worse every time...
Frank wears the birthday hat well, doesn't he?
This was funny ~ cake arrived. Guests kept talking.
Hostess and aged birthday woman (above) had to remind
everyone that they just might want to sing. Someone
said that they remembered they were supposed to sing
but had forgotten the words. A wonderful evening,
laughter clears the sinuses and warms the heart.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

pink and blue and olive oil ice cream

Oooops, now I see that the tablecloth is longer on the right side. Too
late. I'm always heartened when I remember that the Navajos (or some
Indian tribe) would purposefully weave a mistake into every basket or
gourd that was created. In any event, November is birthday month for
a few of us and Husbando spent all day cooking yesterday. I like the
table setting part, but you know that. And I'll remember to photograph
the after-party table too, as per usual.

Special ice cream from Humphry Slocumbe on Harrison Street. (The
name comes from the Are You Being Served? British comedy series.)
We tested it last Monday and decided it will be a welcome addition
to the party tonight: olive oil, pumpkin and Vietnamese coffee ice cream.

And I have two days off in a row!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

setting the scene

Here is some homework from the fiction class, for all of you
Ellen (and Keith and Aaron) fans:

Msmac beckoned. Her computer had the best view in the house,
the back room with the skyline of San Francisco. When
she first installed the 8 ft. dark mahogany table back here,
Ellen was reluctant to clutter the surface, but now

all her favorite items were within easy reach.

The three cobalt blue bowls from Community Thrift on
Valencia ~ smallest for paper clips, medium size for her
BART and Muni passes and the big 9" bowl held notes
and postcards from her friends near and far. On top

was the scene of Switzerland, her ex-lover James had sent
it about a month ago. His message was, as usual, a complete
mystery, and she found herself reading it again and again,
before turning it over. "I WAS
he had written in black, bold letters.

Salmon, in all his orangeness, was curled around the matching
blue vase filled with while and yellow daisies. No matter where
Ellen put the vase, the big furball liked to be right next to it and
yes,he had knocked it over a number of times. "Not today,
please, SalmonBoy, I'm not in the mood."
Gently she scratched
behind his left ear and he purred loudly, everso content.

Somewhere in the four stacked sturdy cardboard boxes Ellen
had the perfect birthday card for her friend Alicia. First she
tried the one with the
dark blue floral print, then the striped
light blue topped box and she finally found it in the largest
box, the one with the solid royal blue cover. She selected her
favorite pen with the deYoung logo from the blue glass coffee
mug and started to write a loving message to her best friend.

Monday, November 09, 2009

where has she been?

I read all the time, worked in bookstores for almost 20 years and
I never knew about Hilary Mantel before. As you remember, she
won the Man Booker this year for Wolf Hall. So I'm starting
with her An Experiment in Love. Quite wonderful, here we go:

Once you have begun remembering - isn't this so? - one image springs another; they run through your head in all directions, scampering animals flushed from coverts. Memory's not a reel, not a film you can run backwards and forwards at will: it's that flash of startled fur, the slither of silk between the fingers, the duplicated texture of hair or bone. It's an image blurring, caught on the move: as if in one of my family snapshots, taken before cameras got so foolproof that any fool could capture the moment.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

masks and paws

Ken sent me this photo taken up at MY Legion of Honor and I
accused the blogmaid of driving a muni at night. I bet there are
hundreds of these guys up at 34th and golf course.
(Credit for this photo:
Then the blogmaid sent me this photo of her back deck taken that very
night. She asked me to send it to Ken the person (not the car) and I
felt that it would be a good post for a Sunday. Even though it's a
controversial topic, the blogmaid feeds feral creatures and always has.

Congrats to Nancy Pelosi and the democrats for passing their health
care reform bill. Now to the Senate. It was nail biting to watch that
vote. Some of the GOP were acting up, speaking of feral creatures.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

we packed 'em in!

This photo from Books Inc. needs cropping and straightening, but I
wanted to let you know that we had a GREAT time last night. Thanks
to Linda and Tom, Bruce and Nancy, old Borders friends and new
museum pals for attending. It was a long day on my feet, but with
a little chemical help I did sleep last night and am raring to go today.
(Well, not really raring.) Oh and thanks to Ken for hosting and I'm
pleased that we sold some books. And thanks again to Loren for all
her hard work making this whole Morbid thing happen.

It rained yesterday, shortly after I pronounced it a glorious day.
But now today will be sunny. Honest.

Friday, November 06, 2009

nerves of steel

Today is the Members' Sale at our museums. 20% off and it will
remind me of those busy retail days at the big box. The day
will fly by, and that's a good thing.

Then tonight at 7:30, Loren and three other Morbid writers
will be at Books, Inc. in the Castro. Oh, I'll be there too. It will
be a long day, but a rewarding one, I'm sure.

For my out-of-town commano friends ~ it's another golden
day here. Too beautiful. This time of year the pink and orange
sunrises compete with the sunsets to make me stop and be
thankful once again that I live here. Truly, the light and
colors and the air calls out to painters, photographers and
to this half-assed writer, too.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Ms. LaPlante, I presume?

Oooooooh, more BBC Mystery. We started with Part I of Trial
& Retribution last night, after we were sure that the Yankees
would end the World Series triumphantly. (When is Spring
Training?) This is excellent drama and there are four seasons
waiting for us. Heaven. Written by Lynda LaPlante, but you
already guessed that...

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

thinking about writing

That counts, doesn't it? In our Monday night class we learned
about dialogue and how important this tool is to move the
plot along and to let the reader know more about our characters.
Basics too, such as tag lines ("she said") and that it's not necessary
to use adverbs with tag lines ("she said angrily"). At this stage
in my life, all this I'm learning is NEW because in college I
concentrated on history, psychology and how to party. Then
the decades flew by and I found The Writing Salon about 8
years ago, and here I am.

I've decided that I'm going to type up all my handwritten class
notes. Next week we learn about PLOT. I told the blogmaid
that I just felt like bundling up all my Ellen and Keith vignettes
and mailing them to the Plot Department at Random House.
Actually, I bet there is some sort of software available.

Oh, I am sooooooo glad that I'm taking this class, by the way.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

in a New York minute

Whatever Works didn't get very good reviews, except from the
Linda Blog, but we enjoyed it because it was just plain Woody
Allen and Larry David in NYC. Patricia Clarkson always adds
a special touch to any film and she certainly does here. It's way
short too, under the usual two hours. Go ahead, rent it.

Monday, November 02, 2009

she can do no wrong

Dear Dancing Jen ~ I'm eager to hear your review of November. We
went last night and although I chuckled a few times, I thought the
play was a little "canned" with too many predictable laughs. The
acting was terrific, however, especially René Augesen who just gets
better and better, in my opinion. Here she is as the lesbian speech
writer with a bad cold. The President (Andrew Polk) was terrific too,
as was his adviser played by Anthony Fusco. I guess what's bothering
me is that I expected more from David Mamet ~ more depth, fewer
throw-away lines, something to really chew over today. Instead I'm
wondering if I would really recommend this to my friends. Probably no.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

halloween at the deYoung

The Giants fan, a gentleman boss and the fallen angel.
The cap took some work to make it look really ugly.
And it was...
Sigi was a newspaper boy.
Crissy the gypsy and Chris is Carlos Santana.
Sigi and Michelle the Cat.
Jane was a blond fallen angel.