What I See (15), by Karen Joy Fowler

Sun 1 May 2011 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Author

What I See, part 15 by Karen Joy Fowler

May 1, 2011

Happy International Workers Day! We pause here for a moment to remember that May Day is also the international distress signal. There’s probably a story there.

Yesterday MJ and I saw a bobcat up at Natural Bridges, hanging about the visitor’s center. Two years ago, while biking, I saw a cat in this same area, but he was much smaller. Possibly this then is the same cat, but all grown up. He was comparable in size to Mojito, looked at us briefly, and then took the ruined butterfly-viewing walkway to destinations unknown. MJ never noticed as MJ rarely takes in the big picture. Too busy nosing about for crusts of bread or discarded French fries to scan the horizon for predators. I’m curious as to how she would have reacted, but it is probably for the best. MJ doesn’t know and doesn’t need to know that the world contains cats of this size. I think it might shake her to the core.

A few weeks ago a friend described Mojito to me as a really smart dog. In fact, among those of us who know her best, MJ’s intelligence is a subject much discussed. She rarely does anything she’s asked to do, but it’s never clear whether she doesn’t understand what you want or whether your desires just carry very little weight with her. This latter possibility is the one I hold. It’s annoying to me, because I never ask her to do something without a good reason.

I’m reminded of an incident many years back concerning my daughter and this same issue. I’d promised the children that we’d stop at Dairy Queen for a special treat. I parked and my daughter got out while I was working the belts on her little brother’s car seat. As I was doing this, a truck pulled up next to us and man emerged. He was carrying a rifle. I told my daughter to get back in the car. I did this firmly, but quietly—I didn’t want to draw the attention of the man with the gun.

Instant outrage. You SAID we’d get ice cream, my daughter told me and followed the man inside. I believe he held the door open for her.

And although nothing untoward happened, the man with the rifle merely bought himself whatever they were calling blizzards back then and went back out to his truck, it’s still a memory I call on when I wish to feel misused and ignored. I don’t order people about just to hear myself talk. Mojito is not a dog asked to do tricks or even to come unless she’s genuinely needed.  It would be nice if she factored this in.

It would be nice if people stopped carrying guns about.

We are in a period of extremely bright sunshine and extremely strong winds. Much hilarity this morning, trying to keep my hat on my head.

Previous posts

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Karen’s latest story is “Younger Women” available on Subterranean Online. She is also moderating the Tiptree Book Club .



What I See (14), by Karen Joy Fowler

Tue 26 Apr 2011 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Author

What I See, part 14 by Karen Joy Fowler

Some things happen fast here—the sun comes up and advances during my walk. The tide comes in or goes out. Spring arrives. This seemed to happen overnight. I got up one morning and the yard was filled with wrens, there were butterflies in the park, and the mustard is much taller than Mojito by now. It’s all in purple, white, and yellow bloom. On a warm day, I feel that I could sleep in it like Dorothy in the poppyfields. A man at the park recommended taking the greens home and cooking with them, but I’d have to know which ones no dog had pissed on first. MJ could tell me, but she can’t be bothered to.

Winter is still evident in the landscape. The park trees must be shallow-rooted because so many large ones were upended in the rains. There are vantage points in the park from which the trees all appear now to slant. Up at Natural Bridges, a fallen tree wrecked the butterfly-viewing suspension walkway. No dogs are allowed on it, so MJ and I have never been, but we can see the wreckage from the road.

Down in Lighthouse Field, some new paths have opened and some old ones closed. One trail I used to take is a pond now and other ponds also remain, attracting egrets and mallards, though most of the mud has dried out and tracks are passable again.

Yesterday was clean-up day. The Wallendas did a highwire act at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk that attracted crowds and helicopters; there were fireworks and it was all very tempting, but MJ and I went birding instead. Here is what we saw: pigeons, scoters, gulls, cormorants, blackbirds (red-winged and Brewers), a mallard duck pair, a few brown pelicans, a covey of California quail, two snowy egrets, one blue heron, one hummingbird, and many small brown sorts I can’t identify.

Today we happened on the rangers talking amiably to a man who’d slept in the park last night in a hammock. He was apparently on a long bike ride and I was taken with his high and not so-high-tech gear. I suddenly wished to take a long bike ride myself, a trip of many weeks, with hammocks and portable stoves. But then I thought that eventually I’d have to bike uphill, which I don’t care for much. And where would MJ sleep? Many bugs to be worked out of this mad nomadic plan. Including actual bugs, I’m guessing.

Previous posts

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Karen’s latest story is “Younger Women” available on Subterranean Online. She is also moderating the Tiptree Book Club .



What I See (13), by Karen Joy Fowler

Wed 30 Mar 2011 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Author

What I See, part 13 by Karen Joy Fowler

The song in my head today is all about Japan. “Ue o muite, arukou, namida ga kobore naiyo-o-uni.” It’s the only Japanese I know.

This from my buddy, Tim Sandlin in an email:

I don’t know the proper response to all the end of the world stuff. Sometimes I’m petrified into emotional catatonia. I’ve always tried to picture what the average citizen felt in 1938 Germany, how they could have let what was happening happen? Now I sort of see it. You get up and have coffee and get dressed and try to figure out what else you can be doing, other than loving and protecting your family. Then it all gets out of hand.

Here’s what I’m doing while it all gets out of hand: walking the dog. We’ve had a whole week of heavy wind and rain here. Huge trees upended. Small birds flung against the windows. The waves have been enormous and the beaches, while not closed, have been posted with warnings to stay out of the water. The dog beach is covered in crashing, roiling foam. I don’t know if this could still be caused by the tsunami, or just the winter storms, or possibly the super moon that we never saw, stuffed as the whole city was into a sock of clouds.

Yesterday was flying nun weather and MJ and I fought for every step. There was a kayak competition at Steamer Lane and it was sadder than it was inspiring to see the kayaks working so hard against the wind and water for so little headway.

Today we started in the rain, but walked into clear weather and a blue sky above. Natural Bridges State Park was closed due to weather, but we ducked the gate and went in only to find the road blocked by trees the storm had felled. By the time we turned around, the gate had been seriously augmented with tape; getting out was much harder than getting in.

On the way back I could see the dark sky ahead and we hit the rain again. There was something magical about the act of walking out of one weather system and into another. Like I was slipping through a door into a different dimension. It reminded me of an afternoon when I was small girl in Indiana. I was playing with some kids across the street from my house, and we saw a rainstorm coming toward us down the Ballantine hill. I made for home and, like some superhero, outran the rain, which hit just as I ducked under the porch overhang. I don’t have a lot of superhero moments in my life so I tend to remember them.

MJ ate some grass that she immediately threw up. It’s a thing she does. But today was the day she, usually so reserved and diffident, decided to extend the paw of friendship. She bounded up to everyone we passed, demented strands of vomitous grass poking out from her mouth, streaks of green dribbled down her chin. She got a mixed response. I blame the moon.

Previous posts

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Karen is also moderating the Tiptree Book Club .



What I See (12), by Karen Joy Fowler

Wed 16 Mar 2011 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Author

What I See, part 12 by Karen Joy Fowler

I’ve been reading about the staggering numbers of people missing in Minami Sanriku. Apparently the tsunami was channeled and focused by the walls of bay on which it sat. This helped me understand why, halfway across the world, Santa Cruz was also considered to be at risk.

I wasn’t here on the 12th. I was in Idaho at the Rocky Mountain Writers’ Festival and away from the news so I learned quite late about the Japanese earthquake. When I saw the magnitude listed on the television chyron, I thought it must have been a misprint. Today even that unbelievable number has been raised. But my husband says that locally it was a non-event. There were big waves, he says, but we’ve seen bigger. The beaches were closed, but surfers turned out in large numbers and people lined the cliffs with binoculars and cameras. A young man died in Crescent City trying to see the waves, but I’d have done the same thing if I’d been here. I would have wanted to see.

The media are breaking the news of nuclear meltdown in tiny increments—a slow drip of disaster. Like the aftermath of the gulf oil well, I suspect we will never completely comprehend the damage done here. It will be with us into another generation and beyond.

Meanwhile the waters in the bay here are calm. The mustard in the park has grown taller than my knees, which means Mojito can disappear into it. There is a crow building a nest in a leafless tree. Ponds have appeared where there were no ponds and many of the paths are muddy and impassible.

When we first moved here, the rock out past the lighthouse was covered in sea lions. Then they left it to the cormorants and pelicans, went to live noisily under the pier at the wharf. Last week I saw a single sea lion back on the rock, the first in nearly a year. I’m waiting to see if she’s a harbinger or an outlier. Sea lions are caniformia, or dog-shaped animals, but MJ admits to no fellow feeling.

Previous posts

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Karen is also moderating the Tiptree Book Club discussion of Maureen F. McHugh’s story “Useless Things.”



What I Hear, by Karen Joy Fowler

Tue 1 Mar 2011 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Author

What I Hear, by Karen Joy Fowler

I made a decision at the start of this blog to leave the iPod behind when I walked, but it doesn’t mean there’s no music. I spend most of my life with a song in my head. Not a song, really, so much as a bit of a song, a few lines that repeat. With great effort I can finish the song or substitute another in, but the original snatch returns as soon as the effort ceases. This is not usually unpleasant. It depends on the song. Sometimes I enjoy trying to track back how that particular song ended up in my head at that particular time. Sometimes I can’t. In any case, I’m used to it.

This morning’s was Acadian Driftwood.

Try’n’ to raise a family. End up the enemy
Over what went down on the Plains of Abraham

What did go down on the Plains of Abraham? You might be surprised to hear that Canadian history wasn’t covered much in school here. Read more



What I See, part 11, by Karen Joy Fowler

Mon 28 Feb 2011 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Author

What I See, part 11, by Karen Joy Fowler

The weather here has been erratic. MJ and I have taken our walks in rain and in wind so strong I was knocked off my feet. Snow was predicted here at sea level one morning, but never materialized. Other days have been like spring. I meant to report on all of them. But I’ve been distracted by travel, work, and family. And mesmerized by the events in the Middle-East and the midwest. I’ve been so discouraged by the drumbeat of men with money (fresh off the windfall of the Bush tax-cut extensions) soberly insisting on the need for a shared sacrifice in which they’ll have no share. Put the people who are actually sacrificing on my television please instead of these buffoons. Let me look at the incredibly bravery of the people in Libya and be awed. Let me look at the crowds in my beloved Madison, Wisconsin, and be hopeful.

Read more



What I See, part 10, by Karen Joy Fowler

Mon 14 Feb 2011 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | 1 Comment| Posted by: Author

What I See, part 10, by Karen Joy Fowler

Recently our walks have been curtailed by Mojito’s surgery. Not abandoned, but shorter and slower. She’s sporting some Frankenstein’s monster stitchery and is only just recovering the bounce in her step. The vet described her as a relatively young dog, which surprised me as she’s ten, but according to the chart in his office, ten for a dog is comparable to fifty-six for a person, which does make her the youngest creature in the house, a mere sprig, and explains her youthful attitudes and behaviors.

Odd sightings today.

A singing tree: Just west of the dog beach, along the clifftop is a Monterey pine. There are many Monterey pines along the cliff and one tries not to have favorites, but this is a very appealing tree. Today it was making a tremendous racket as I approached and I had to get quite close to understand that a congress of blackbirds was hidden among the needles, each of them shouting as loudly as possible. There were so many that if they’d all flapped their wings at once, the tree would have taken flight.

A leaping cat: MJ and I were coming home along the north edge of the park when I saw a flash of white. It appeared briefly above the blackberry vines and then disappeared again. This repeated until I was close enough to see that it was a cat, bouncing straight up and down in the bramble as if it were on a pogo stick. Of course, MJ’s appearance put an end to all such joyous behaviors and I never did figure out what the what was there.

A drunken surfer: Or maybe not. He was headed back from the beach, still wet, still in his wet-suit, surfboard under one arm and carrying an enormous, almost empty bottle of Jack Daniels in the other hand. Though it’s entirely possible that he hadn’t been drinking—drinking while surfing certainly seems inadvisable in the extreme. It’s entirely possible that he was merely picking up someone else’s litter.

There was a monthly community clean-up underway. When I first walked through the park this morning, it looked fine, but later I had no trouble filling a pail with trash. I found many cigarette butts, wrappers from straws, beer bottles, and napkins. Empty bean cans and bits of tin foil. Condoms, which I’d rather not find, but at least suggest responsible sex. There are many things I’ve done in my life that it shames me to remember, but littering is not among them. Put it on my tombstone. She Didn’t Litter.

Previous posts:

What I See
What I See, part 2
Interrupting our regular schedule . . .
What I See, part 3

What I See, part 4

What I See, part 5
What I See, part 6
What I See, part 7
What I See, part 8
What I See, part 9



What I See, part 9, by Karen Joy Fowler

Thu 27 Jan 2011 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Author

What I See, part 9, by Karen Joy Fowler

According to today’s paper, sea otter deaths are increasing. The probable cause is various diseases carried in the water run-off. Kitty litter is particularly suspect. So that feeling I had that all was well in the bay has been short-lived.

This week Mojito is scheduled for some major surgery. She has to have a large, (benign!) fatty growth removed from her chest. What this surgery will cost us would, in the 1800s, have bought a comfortable house in San Diego or four sea otter pelts. I just wish we were spending it on something she’d enjoy.

So I’m thankful that today’s walk was so perfect. The big surprise was to find the dog beach completely free of seaweed. The beach has been adopted by both a hydroponics firm and a construction company, but I can’t imagine they would, or could, have managed such a clean-up. It must have been the tide and I noticed that while usually the curl of the waves are black with seaweed, today they were an empty, glassy green. We have apparently arrived at the dog beach’s no-seaweed season.  I never noticed before that there was one.

We had that clean sand all to ourselves, which is the way MJ likes it. And she found a tennis ball. I don’t take tennis balls to the beach because they result in certain obsessive behaviors that spoil the rest of the walk. But finding a ball on the beach works for everyone. MJ chased it in the waves. She dug holes and buried it. She played a game of solitary catch, tossing it up and catching it again. She was one happy dog.

Afterward, she carried it carefully up the stairs and for another block or so before it got to be too much of a responsibility and she abandoned it in the ice plant.

Previous posts:

What I See
What I See, part 2
Interrupting our regular schedule . . .
What I See, part 3

What I See, part 4

What I See, part 5
What I See, part 6
What I See, part 7
What I See, part 8



What I See, part 8, by Karen Joy Fowler

Tue 25 Jan 2011 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Author

What I See, part 8, by Karen Joy Fowler

I was up and on my walk early this morning, which is the way I like it, though I don’t set the alarm because what’s the point of being a writer if you get up with an alarm? The sun was rising; the sky was pink and the water was silver. And there was a wild tangle of contrails in the sky as if some jet had been buzzing about like a bee. I walked with my back to the sun and my face toward the full moon, which was still falling into the mountains. Incredibly beautiful, even the contrails.

I’ve been seeing the bay as an imperiled system, as it clearly is. But it’s also a system recovered and today I’m happily focused on that. Last night I went to the Capitola Book Café and heard Stephen R. Palumbi talk about his co-authored book, The Death and Life of Monterey Bay. As a result, I now know that the bay was nearly destroyed by pollution and over-fishing, but is currently in its best shape in some 200 years. I can’t tell you how much knowing this improves my walk.

I haven’t been mentioning the sea otters much, though I do usually see some. It turns out my silence concerning them is a local tradition. In the 1800’s the otters were hunted, people thought, to extinction. For many years, the few that survived were protected by residents around Monterey Bay by an informal agreement of secrecy.

Around 1937, the otter population began to rebound. As a direct result, the kelp forests returned. The canneries were idle. The bay began to recover from the period when they weren’t. I learned last night that this happened largely through activism. I learned that I have a great many people to thank for the beautiful bay I walk along and, it’s not important, but pleases me, that so many of them were writers. I’d already known some of their names: Ed Ricketts, John Steinbeck, Joseph Campbell. But I hadn’t heard of Julia Platt, arguably among the earliest and most effective of the activists, and she died without seeing the impact she’d eventually have, which saddens me.

I’ve been losing faith in activism—the money and power and greed of the opposition has just seemed so overwhelming—and our elected officials so unreliable. But today as I sit listening to the sea lions and the sea gulls, I’m thinking that really, we only have to be as good, we only have to try as hard and for as long, as the people who came before us. And not mind dying before anything is fixed.

A desalination plant has been proposed and is being tested in Santa Cruz. Meetings have been held regarding its potential impact on marine life. I guess I’m ready to go to some meetings.

PS – my daughter tells me that the bits of brain I saw on the beach earlier this week were probably parts of a sponge from the Monterey Bay canyon.

Previous posts:

What I See
What I See, part 2
Interrupting our regular schedule . . .
What I See, part 3
What I See, part 4
What I See, part 5
What I See, part 6
What I See, part 7



What I See, part 7, by Karen Joy Fowler

Mon 17 Jan 2011 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Author

What I See, part 7, by Karen Joy Fowler

Yesterday I resumed my cliff walk after a holiday pause. Christmas came to town much like the circus, complete with parties, guests, dreadful influenzas, and deadlines. It was either the circus or else the four horseman of the apocalypse. Those are hard to tell apart.

Mostly I enjoyed it, because my family is good, witty company and there was drinking and even, god help us, charades. But it was an indoor sort of fun, dampened by the fact that just about everyone but me got sick at some point. I gained some pounds, lost some fitness, and when I got back to my walk, I felt those things. The ocean, I’m happy to report, is still there.

My walk was a bit later in the day than usual, which yesterday meant sunshine and bluer water. But across the way, where Monterey should have been, I saw only fog, piled like snowdrift along the horizon. The dog beach was small, but there was beach so MJ and I went on down. The steps have become a mermaid stair, the railings along the bottom flight all garlanded in seaweed from time spent underwater.

And remember the four-foot wall I mentioned a few posts back? More like six feet yesterday. It occurs to me that I have yet to find the bottom of that wall, which when fully exposed may turn out to be something you could see from space.

It was a beautiful morning on which to resume my usual life. By the time the walk was over the fog had crossed the water and wrapped us up, but while we were on the dogbeach, the sun still shone. A dozen sandpipers dashed about on the wet sand like little wind-up toys. I find the leg action of sandpipers very pleasing. I can’t be the only one. Glassy blue water. The silhouettes of the sandpipers. MJ rolling in the rotted seaweed. And something washed up on the sand that my marine biologist daughter could no doubt easily identify but I could not. It appeared to be part of someone’s brain.

I touched it with the toe of my shoe and it seemed too solid to be sea-life and too soft to be shell. MJ came to see what I was looking at, took one sniff, and then backed quickly away. Twenty paces on I found a second piece of it, which MJ also gave wide berth to. MJ is good at not seeing what she doesn’t wish to see and yesterday she did not wish to see brain bits in the sand.

Previous posts:

What I See
What I See, part 2
Interrupting our regular schedule . . .
What I See, part 3
What I See, part 4
What I See, part 5
What I See, part 6



What I See, part 6, by Karen Joy Fowler

Fri 24 Dec 2010 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Author

What I See, part 6, by Karen Joy Fowler

It’s the day before Christmas and time and quiet are in short supply. So just a quick post here, to keep my hand in. On yesterday’s walk, the tide was higher than I’d ever seen it and the waves still stormy. The bottom step at the dog beach was completely underwater, but Mojito and I went down anyway, just for the excitement of standing so close, looking down on those crashing waves. One of us found it exciting anyway. One of us was quite unnerved.

It was as if we’d stepped into the beautiful Erica Harris cover on my own most recent book. There is something magical about a staircase ascending out of the water like that. The ocean was the right color. The pelicans obliged. No submarine, no gorilla, and we felt their absence, but we were on the back cover only.

Farther along the walk, the sunlight struck a stop sign behind me, lighting it up in a large ball of dazzle. This isn’t an image from my own work, but there is a moment in The Once and Future King when God arrives in the dazzle on Sir Bors’ shield, which stops his brother Lionel from killing him. It was just Exactly like that.

Yesterday’s walk was a literary one.

° ° °

A shout-out here to the man who juggles while he jogs.  I have never seen him miss a step or drop a ball and even if I had I would still think he was awesome.

To the person who picks up breakfast every day at Taco Bell, eats it in the car while watching the sunrise, and then drops the bags, napkins, and leftover condiments out the car window and drives away, I also have a message. Lump of coal coming your way tomorrow, buster. No one likes you.

Previous posts:

What I See
What I See, part 2
Interrupting our regular schedule . . .
What I See, part 3
What I See, part 4
What I See, part 5



What I See, part 5, by Karen Joy Fowler

Thu 16 Dec 2010 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Author

What I See, part 5, by Karen Joy Fowler

We have had a week of rain and stormy seas. The waves have been coming in huge sets, as if someone picked up the globe and shook it. Yesterday Mojito and I turned left instead of right and went to watch the surfers. There were about ten of them, performing feats of breathtaking balance and athleticism, with a sea lion in the water behind them, neither watching nor swimming, but bobbing quietly out past the breakers.

The ocean changes color when the sky changes color—green and gray and brown and red and blue, only so filled with or empty of light that they aren’t really green and gray and brown and red and blue after all. I like the fact that most of the colors I see I have no name for.

My father was a bit of an amateur naturalist. When I was a girl he seemed to know the names for everything. And more—he knew why the tides were sometimes high and sometimes low, how photosynthesis worked, the role top predators played in the food chain, how birds navigated their great migrations, why the sky was blue, etc. etc. He saw the wild world the way a scientist sees it.

This same wild world used to be a source of great comfort to me in times of need. I thought it was eternal, that my place in it (and therefore my troubles) was small and inconsequential. Now I walk along the ocean and I know that I’m looking at a system in peril. This, as much as my age and my growing sense of a finite amount of time left here, is why I’m trying to pay attention. I’m saying good-bye and I’m not sure which of us is leaving faster.

We live in a social order created by and for rich men. Nothing matters in it but money. Many on the right, and no few on the left, are, whenever it’s convenient, exorcised over the financial debt we’re passing on to our grandchildren. So unfair! Such a burden! Something must be done (by someone else)! Poisoned skies, waters, and food, mass extinctions, rising seas, and global droughts; these are things our grandchildren are just going to have to tough out.

While I was in the UK for Thanksgiving, the House Republicans disbanded the committee tasked with battling global climate change, saying it was a waste of money.

According to a NYTimes/CBSNews poll, the tea party, those media-crowned activists du jour, do not see climate change as a credible problem.

John Shimkus, who will probably chair the House energy committee come 2011 is not worried, because God told Noah He wouldn’t destroy the earth again.

All of which made Bill Maher say in an interview last week that people outside the US must be laughing at us ridiculous yokels. But I talked to a number of people in London (some of them Tories). There is no other world to go live in while this one is trashed. No one I talked to was laughing.

Previous posts:

What I See
What I See, part 2
Interrupting our regular schedule . . .
What I See, part 3
What I See, part 4



What I See part 4 by Karen Joy Fowler

Mon 13 Dec 2010 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Author

What I See, part 4, by Karen Joy Fowler

Brief observations from this morning as I resumed my coastal walk:

Red-winged blackbirds thick on a small patch of pampas grass. I wonder why birds, which after all combine the best parts of dinosaurs and of fairies, tend to have such utilitarian names.

Fewer sightings of feral cats in the park. The weather is cold and rainy, presumably they are all gone to ground and piled in a heap somewhere. Fewer sightings of people, too—same presumptions.

Along my route, between the water and the multi-million dollar homes, is a bench the perfect height for various stretchings. I stop walking and exercise there. This used to concern Mojito and I’d have to do my down-face dogs down-face over an actual dog. Now she sits quietly to the side and contemplates the sea. I suspect that the owners of these houses, when they bought their ocean view, did not imagine me and my sun salutations. Value added!

The dog beach was entirely covered with water. I had to take MJ down both flights of stairs to the water’s edge before she’d believe me. She suffered through the rest of her walk. I noticed today that more people say hello to MJ as we pass than say hello to me. No matter how sulky she is.

Previous posts:

What I See
What I See, part 2
Interrupting our regular schedule . . .
What I See, part 3



What I See, part 3, by Karen Joy Fowler

Mon 6 Dec 2010 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Author

What I See, part 3, by Karen Joy Fowler

Just I suspected, the world without Chalmers Johnson is a much colder place. I’m now home from two weeks in icy London where it snowed on our final day—big soft flakes that made me remember my childhood winters in Indiana, how silently the snow would come and how complete the transformation would be. I had a bit of adventure on my way out of town, slipping over the sidewalks in my laughably inappropriate California shoes, but then a reasonably easy ride to Heathrow, speeding along through underground tunnels. Public transportation! I miss it already.

I did not on this trip see foxes in the streets nor parakeets in the commons, two highlights from my last visit. In the absence of real wildlife, my husband and I went to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit at the Natural History Museum. It was awesomely fabulous. Hugh liked the underwater photographs best, but I was all about the birds. Not that I don’t like fish. But flying is the super-power on my Christmas list this year.

I was forced by circumstances off the internet for about a week, which was bracing and medicinal. Still I spent much of the trip reading Bill Bryson’s book Notes from a Small Island. This means that I spent much of my time too engrossed in reading about vacationing in Britain to notice that I was actually there, doing that. Which is exactly the thing I meant to work on in this blog—the actually being places part.

But the people I met in restaurants and subways were not so colorful as the ones Bryson was meeting, and I missed his witty company whenever I was forced to do without. John Crowley, on a trip to read at UC Santa Cruz, mentioned this exact thing to me—the syndrome of being more moved and engaged by the representation of the thing than by the thing itself.

As conditions go, this one sounds pretty harmless. And then I read recently, (somewhere on the internet so it must be true) that people prefer the reality of reality tv to actual reality, which I think must be partly a preference for plot, for a clear narrative. And also explains why so many prefer Fox news to actual news. Look what I just did—from harmless to poisonous in one quick paragraph.

I hear that it’s still snowing in London. I hear the winter wonderland enchantment is already wearing thin.

Previous posts:

What I See
What I See, pt 2
Interrupting our regular schedule . . .



Interrupting our regular schedule by Karen Joy Fowler

Mon 22 Nov 2010 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Author

Interrupting our regular schedule . . .
Karen Joy Fowler

I am traveling in a different time zone and unable to sleep. So I logged on just now and got the very unwelcome news that Chalmers Johnson has died. Though Johnson had a long career and thousands of students, I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been among that great number. In 1969 or 70, or maybe 72, I took a class on Chinese history and politics from him at Berkeley. (I loved history. Not so good with dates.)

A while back, I emailed him, because it seemed to me, when a professor remains so vivid in your mind for almost forty years, you should tell him. We then had several wonderful email exchanges. I’m trying to remember you, he said, which was kind, but futile. There were more than a hundred students in my class alone. I sat in the back and didn’t say a word. I’d have been astonished if he remembered me the next quarter, much less decades later.

Back in the 60’s, Dr. Johnson had little sympathy for the student activists, of which I was one. This was troubling as he was so much smarter than I. In those later emails, he said that because the activists had so much wrong about Vietnam, he was distracted from how much they had right about the US. Maybe six years ago, I turned on Air America and heard his familiar cadences on the Al Franken show. He was in full and glorious lecture mode and obviously too far to the left to quite suit Franken. I had an odd sense of enormous pride as I listened.

I trust there will be many now to speak to his brilliance, his scholarship, and his cogently pessimistic assessment of US democracy. So I will say something else as my own memorial: man, could he tell a story! He was as entertaining a teacher as he was inspiring. My time with him was brief, but the impact deep. I can’t help thinking that his was not a voice we could afford just now to lose.

Rest in peace.

Previous posts:

What I See
What I See, pt 2



What I See, part 2 by Karen Joy Fowler

Tue 16 Nov 2010 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Author

What I See, part 2 by Karen Joy Fowler

There is one cove along the cliffs of my morning walk where all the loose seaweed washes up. On one side of the street are million+ dollar homes, homes with an ocean view. On the other and down a flight of stone stairs, a great heap of bugs and rotting seaweed. In the summer you can smell this for blocks. Homes with an ocean smell.

Of course, this is the one beach in town that allows dogs off-leash. My dog (Mojito, commonly known as MJ) and I go there lots. MJ has just turned ten. We used to think that she was a good dog, but when she grew up, settled just a little, she’d be a really great dog. Maybe this is the year that happens. Fingers crossed.

At the top of the stairs, when I unclip the leash we both feel a great leap of spirits. Freedom! She can wander at will. No more being dragged along so fast you can’t stop and smell the piss. Me, too! No more stopping at every tree and fencepost. I can swing my arms.

It’s all spoiled at the bottom of the stairs. I have long ago resigned myself to the fact that we will have to pick our way through mounds of rot to get to the sand. (There is a metaphor there for writing books. The physical world is full of such metaphors. You can’t avoid them. One reason of many why scene is so affective in literature.) Yet I am continually disappointed when MJ decides to drop and roll. Somewhere there is a freedom that does not require an immediate and sullen bath. Someday we’ll find it together, MJ and I.

Another notable feature of the dog beach is a long cement wall. Not a retaining wall, or at least I don’t think so, since it runs perpendicular to the waves. I really can’t guess what it’s there for. But this wall is high enough, maybe four feet, that I sometimes have difficulty scrambling over it.

Here’s the amazing part, though. Sometimes it isn’t there at all. Sometimes the sands have shifted so much you would never know there was wall beneath you. (And see? We’ve hit another metaphor. Pay no attention; just go about your business. It’s more frightened of you than you are of it.)

Previously



What I See by Karen Joy Fowler

Mon 15 Nov 2010 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | 1 Comment| Posted by: Author

What I See by Karen Joy Fowler

Over the vast expanse of my life so far, I’ve made many attempts to keep a diary. None of them have lasted long. Neither will this one.

But I had a big birthday this year, sixty years on this earth and counting, which prompted a number of sober reflections. Prominent among them was a concern that I have stopped paying attention to the physical world around me. I won’t be here forever. So I should be here.

I used to leave the camera at home when I traveled. I felt it got in the way of the actual experience. Now when I travel, I’m on the web as often as not. When I have to stand in line somewhere, I read a book. Most mornings I take a long walk on a cliff-top path with the ocean below. I’m dimly aware that I’m walking through a place of great beauty. Also activity!  There are surfers and pelicans, sea otters and dolphins, joggers and street people. There are dogs. (I myself am on a leash.) But I am walking briskly, for the exercise, and my ipod is setting the pace so I don’t hear the water or the birds or the cars or the bicyclist who’s desperately honking to get past.

Often I don’t even hear the music. I use the time to think. Which, don’t get me wrong, is a very good use of time. I just don’t want thinking to be the only thing I do.

I want to establish the habit of paying attention and I figure if I’ve promised to post what I see, then I’ll have to manage to see something. Just one thing! Starting tomorrow. How hard can it be?