And the Nobel goes to…

Ill: N. Elmehed. © Nobel Media 2016
Ill: N. Elmehed. © Nobel Media 2016

When the Swedish Academy announced this morning that Bob Dylan was their choice for this year’s Literature Prize, people went crazy in exactly the ways you’d expect: his die-hard fans were jubilant; many writers and literature-lovers expressed open dismay; and others jumped into the fray to defend the award and call out the naysayers for snobbery and narrow-mindedness.

I think one can be nonplussed or even disappointed by this decision and remain innocent of elitism or parochialism or of suggesting Dylan is anything less than awesome. Sure, song lyrics are poetry, which makes it literature. Still, I don’t think the expectation that the award go to people who’ve spent their lives making, you know, books, as their principal occupation, is necessarily misplaced or snobby. Continue reading

Excess is the New Dreary: Restoration Hardware’s Fall 2012 “Source Book”

"Restoration Hardware catalog", "Restoration Hardware Fall 2012 Source Book"
Pretentious much?

Last Friday afternoon, I opened my front door to collect my mail and discovered that the postman had left one piece of mail on the ledge next to our mailbox. The piece was so large it did not fit in the mailbox.

“What the hell?” I said (I talk to myself a lot when I’m home alone), and stepped outside to collect it.

Of course. Only Restoration Hardware would have the arrogance to send a mailing so large it doesn’t fit inside a standard mailbox. Continue reading


Photo by Pryde Brown
August 15, 1987

My husband Dan and I were married 25 years ago today. In honor of this milestone, I share the following:

A few weeks ago, an alarm went off in our house in the middle of the night. Dan got up to investigate. He returned a minute later and crawled back into bed without a word.

“Was it the smoke alarm?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he mumbled, clearly ready to resume his slumber.

“What did you do?”

“I took out the batteries.”

“What?” I was now more awake. “But what if something’s burning?” Continue reading

Family Lore and the Great Kanto Earthquake

Great Kanto Earthquake
Tokyo after the Great Kanto Earthquake

A version of the short essay that follows was originally published at my friend Marc Brush’s wonderful but now defunct online lit mag Wandering Army.

I have some mixed feelings about reviving the piece barely a month after the devastating March 11 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. But I keep seeing references to the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, and only a few of these references make mention of the story that I’m going to tell here. Continue reading

Spring Rain

lime-green raincoat

It’s another stormy morning in northern California. A friend calls at 8:30. Weather is the only thing we’re ever at odds about. She loves the Central Valley’s hot, dry summers. I do not. I like the rainy season, the rainier the better.

“Reality check,” she says. “Do you still prefer this to a week of 100-degree weather?”

“Oh, yes,” I say. I tell her about our sunroom, which has been leaking for two years. “But other than that, I love it.”

“I just don’t get it,” she says, but she still loves me. That’s true friendship, right there.

Continue reading

Consuming Disaster

minato, "Sendai earthquake", tsunami
Aerial view of Minato after earthquake & tsunami. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ethan Johnson.

Since the Sendai earthquake struck northeastern Japan on March 11, many of us have been riveted to our televisions or computer screens, watching in horror as the death toll mounts, the nuclear threat refuses to subside, and more and more images and video of the tsunami and its aftermath are broadcast around the world. It’s horrible to see, but I find it impossible to look away.

I first learned about the earthquake minutes after it occurred, from a friend on Facebook, and stayed up half the night watching the live coverage on TV. Since then I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time online, checking for anything new — photos, video, updates about the power plant in Fukushima, stories about miraculous rescues (few) and heartbreak (many). I’m really having to force myself to pay attention to my “real” life. Continue reading


reorganized shelves

Two weekends ago, my spouse and I went to a dinner party in Berkeley. When we got there, I realized I hadn’t been out of Davis since the last time we’d been at the same friends’ house for their annual holiday party in mid-December. Two months I’d spent never leaving Davis, California. What was wrong with me?

I’ve lived in cities where one might spend months at a stretch without leaving its borders and never run out of interesting things to do. Tokyo. San Francisco. Davis is not one of these places, although for a town of its size, it does surprisingly well.

But I wasn’t sampling the delights of my current hometown. I spent nearly every minute of those two months at home. I spent nearly every minute of those two months indoors. This is northern California. The weather’s mild. One doesn’t have to be house-bound through January and February.

So what was I doing?

Continue reading