On commitment

I've been to a lot of weddings recently. And I've also seen a lot of dogs.

We live by a dog park and every day when I bike home from work I see them, big and small, black, brown, and white, terriers and mutts and pit bulls and collies and purebred poodles, French bulldogs and scruffy chihuahuas with legs like sticks.

I imagine Mitt Romney driving with his dog on the roof of his truck. I wonder if that dog sees the world the way I do: leery of what could happen with his owner at the wheel.

I remember the dogs I saw in Chile; emaciated, scrappy things wandering the streets.

I think of the dog my father broke out of the pound when he was younger than I am now, and how, years later, he stayed up all night on our lawn, cradling Tommy when there was nothing else he could do.

I think of what our dog, this hypothetical, imaginary thing we call aimlessly around the house, would do to fill long afternoon hours. I measure the height of things in our apartment to see if tails would knock them over. I worry about how long it would take to train her. There's a narrative for her forming in my mind. I plan for her the way others plan weddings. It seems like these are parallel choices: here you are, making a decision that will dictate who you spend your time with, and where, and how, and just what all that means, and there you are, welcoming a living, breathing, beautiful thing into your life, making space for it where maybe there wasn't before, learning its tricks, eccentricities, preferences, vocabulary. It seems like the kind of decision you labor over until it is made, and once you are sure, that yes, this is person you want and need by your side, and yes, this animal belongs nowhere else as much as it does right here, maybe then you learn to accept the things you can't predict will happen. Because they will happen, with or without him, with or without her, and who knows how much richer your life could or would be.

The metaphor stops there. People aren't dogs, though I like to imagine that they are. Dogs can't talk; they can't rub your back or buy you blood glucose monitors when you lose them (again). They can't make the kind of babies you might someday want.

But they sure are awesome. Dogs, that is.

On graduation

I have this theory that words are cyclical, that all periods of serious production are followed by their necessary blank slates, that white noise that fills the gap between projects. I can't help thinking of all the unnecessary words in the world - the slogans, the cliches, the maxims, the polite repartee, the conversational habits of the universe - and wondering if as writers our job is to sieve it all down, sort it all out, until the only words that are left are the ones that matter most. The ones we've really got to earn.

I defended my master's thesis last week. I ended up turning in five stories that follow the same characters on the southern coast of Spain, four other stories (linked in theme but not in character/setting), and a working draft of the 100 word story project. It totals about 140 pages and feels like a promising but unwieldy baby, this beautiful yet messy monster that hasn't yet discovered the true source of its power. All of this, and still I feel the need to winnow, to pare it down, to find its roots. It is an exciting feeling. One I hope to fuel as the years go by and the characters grow with me.

My goal now is to produce another four or five stories set in Spain, to improve the narrative voice, diction and cultural cues to the point where I could structure a novel in linked stories. I hope to work on this manuscript for the next year (or more, whatever it needs, honestly) and then to apply to fellowships and work residencies abroad, where I could more fully delve into the voices of expats abroad - the voices I still remember but can't fully imitate.

Beyond that, the future is as endless and bizarre as this wide net of words. My defense was early; I still have four more weeks of grading, homework, planning, filing. I will soon be moving back to the Bay Area, where, for the first time in more than three years, I will be living in the same zip code as my boyfriend. I have been applying for jobs like crazy - teaching jobs, writing jobs, school jobs, anything that involves writing and people and environments where I can really throw myself into creative projects. This week sparked the first of several graduations - the air is ripe with the angst and excitement of programs ending, chapters closing. Sometimes I hate nostalgia, though I give into it with such ease. I have started contributing to Fictionade, a new subscription-based e-magazine, which shows great promise.

This weekend we drove down to Santa Barbara (my alma mater) for a friend's wedding. I still remember the fog of that final spring - how anticlimactic it all was, the moisture in the air until mid-May, when the beach was suddenly overtaken by the hot breath of the Santa Ana winds. It was the hottest I'd ever known Santa Barbara to be; in those final weeks of college I remember going to bed with a wet wash cloth across my forehead, watching the shadows on my yellow co-op wall as the heat trapped us indoors. The climate was telling us something. Move along now, it said. You've done what you came here to do. Go find other things to do, other places to be.

I can only imagine what heat Davis promises me, in these last few weeks. The messages are louder this year, but maybe that's because this time I'm really listening.

On music and memory

I have a sonic memory. All the important days in my life are shelved as visual and auditory archives in my brain, little PowerPoint slideshows with accompanying soundtracks that change color slightly over time. My dreams often include a single song, played from start to finish on repeat until I wake up. Last summer's road trip to New York is best characterized by the Presidents of the United States of America's classic "Tiki God." My nine month stay in Fuengirola, Spain is equal parts Julieta Venegas' "Me Voy," Ojo de Brujo's "El Confort no Reconforta," and (weirdly) the Black Eyed Peas' "The Boogie That Be." Without question, my diagnosis of type 1 diabetes is paired with the Dave Matthews Band's "The Space Between." Incidentally, I no longer like that band.

This summer is marked by two songs, the first being MGMT's "Kids." I'd never heard their music until the dance party that marked the last night of the Tin House workshop. We were crowded into the student center on the Reed campus, and Ryan had just flown in after a week away. I was high on all the right things--new friends, travel plans, that superspecial excitement that means it is time to write, and time to read. The minute the song came on, I swore I'd heard it before, though not out loud. It was the pulse of something I couldn't quite put my finger on.

One month later, I requested this song at my brother's wedding. And then Dana the deejay put on LCD Soundsystem's Great Release, my second song for the summer. We were swirled deep within the belly of our neighborhood community center, a pulsing mass of bridesmaids and groomsmen, friends, family. The circle grew tight, with Josh and Shelby at its center, foreheads touching. The intensity of the music built just as the group edged in closer and closer, shoulder to shoulder, shuffling and jumping and clapping and shouting their names. And the sheer joy of it all defied sentimentality; this is no ordinary couple. What's happened there was something that is rare and refined, something we'd all be lucky to have ourselves someday. The song said all that, but the people said it too, looking back over the moonlit lawn, our eyes falling on all the trees we grew up climbing and all the people we grew up loving. There's that sense that men and women fall in love all the time, that sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't, and the ones that do find themselves wound up in tight circles, cushioned by a living, breathing community.

One of my professors believes that all weddings are trite affairs, that in the end we cry for all the same reasons, and none of them original. But maybe that's okay. Maybe all it takes is one song to bring us back to that space, that night, those people, that moon. Maybe what makes it original is what we as listeners, as friends, as family, bring to the music. Maybe that's why, days later, the song still remains in my brain late at night, a reminder that all the important days have multiple dimensions.

one hundred word story #21: This one's true

This is the story of a smiley man and a surfer woman. He has a coconut that needs opening; she has a recipe for Hawaiian haupia. He goes Indonesia to chase waves but soon chases her back to California, back to Hawaii, then forward to Nicaragua, Spain, Italy, China, Tibet, Nepal. He becomes a teacher. She puts herself through graduate school. They both watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He becomes a brown belt in Hawaiian jujitsu; she a black belt in Los Angeles yoga. When they decide to marry, the smiles grow wider, the waves gnarlier, the coconuts sweeter. Ohana.

with love for my one and only brother, and his lovely wife-to-be