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Susan Ito trying to do it all: reading writing mothering spousing daughtering working living

Friday, July 28, 2006

I Love Fog

Jon Carroll took the words right out of my mouth.

I will never say a bad word about the fog again. I will never again whine about the summer afternoon cookouts with gray skies and a stiff wind off the ocean. I will never mourn the lack of crickets on a summer evening or suggest that the longer days of July do not matter much when the light is always the color of dark pewter.

I love the fog. I embrace the fog. When I woke up this morning and looked out the window and saw the flat grayness of the sky, I dropped to my knees and thanked the deity of my choice. The heat wave seemed endless....
More here....

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Rites of Passage

I took my daughter down to Telegraph Avenue to get her nose pierced yesterday. All week I was having nightmares that she was going to end up looking like this, but she looks more like this. It's actually quite cute, and she's very happy. And they even gave me a free bumper sticker. This afternoon, we go to the DMV so she can take the test for her driving permit. Time is flying.

Addendum: She passed the test and now has her provisional permit! She's thrilled and a little scared too, which I think is appropriate.

Monday, July 24, 2006


I am buried in work this week, preparing for camp which is next week. I don't think I will be able to blog, or breathe, or go to the bathroom, or much of anything else, until August 5th. Wish me luck. I really think it's going to be fabulous, it's going to be wonderful and special, but there are ten million tiny little disasters waiting to happen, and a few already happened this morning. It will all work out, it will all work out, it will all work out....

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Heat Wave

It's too hot. I hate hot weather. I hate, hate, hate, hate it, unless there is readily accessible air conditioning. I grew up in hot, humid New Jersey summers, but we had central air conditioning which I think literally saved my life. We have no air conditioning here because this is the Bay Area and we have, allegedly, "natural air conditioning," but not often enough now, thanks to global warming or climate changes or whatever. I can't bear it.

I am now on the third lowest, and coolest floor of my house and it is still unbearably hot. (of course, I do have a very warm laptop on my lap) I am considering sleeping in the floorless "dirt room" under the house; my daughter just said it felt cool in there. It's either that or in the car with the AC running all night.

An hour ago, I was emerging from the oasis of the air-conditioned movie theater (Devil Wears Prada; I enjoyed it) and was going to head toward the bliss of an air-conditioned hotel. I could not take the idea of coming back here but they assured me it was "not so bad." I watched in dread as the temperature gauge on my car kept climbing up and up as I got closer to home. If it's 84 degrees outside at nearly 11pm in my neighborhood, it means it's closer to 90 inside the house. Like I said, I can't take it. A friend of mine says "heat is my Kryptonite" and I feel the same way. I'm melllllllting. I'm dyyyying. I cannot bear the feel of sweat on my skin unless I have deliberately put it there by working out and working out HARD. Nothing makes me angrier and more desperate feeling than sweating by just, um, sitting around and breathing. I don't know if it's perimenopause or I'm just a heat wimp, but I. Cannot. Stand. It.

I might just have to go back into the car and sleep there all night. If I sleep in the driveway with the motor running, I can't get carbon monoxide poisoning, can I? No, I'll probably just run out of gas.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Capote and Me

This week we finally rented and viewed Capote, since both girls were out of the house and we didn't think it was something they would particularly enjoy. We've been on a real movie-watching binge around here. The night before we watched Transamerica, which I thought was fantastic. And the girls rented Aquamarine, which I thought was going to be totally stupid and I didn't want to watch, but they talked me into it anyway, and I laughed my head off. It was cute.

Anyway, back to Capote. I was completely and totally engrossed, as I usually am when I'm watching movies about writers. I hadn't ever read In Cold Blood, and didn't really know much about him at all, although I love To Kill A Mockingbird and I was intrigued and impressed by the Harper Lee character.

The Capote figure was both endearing and repulsive, which I guess is supposed to be the point. I stared at the screen while he was typing away, and I thought, I really need to get a typewriter, or at least a computer that does not have Internet access. Would he really have been able to write that book on a Powerbook with links to New York gossip and restaurant reviews and discussion boards and blogs and god knows what else pulls me away from Microsoft Word every five seconds? It takes a strong person. But I was seduced by the image of him and that manual typewriter and the two piles of typing paper; the overturned finished pages, and the clean, blank ones that he slid into the roller. It all looked so neat, and so straightforward: writing.

One of the final shots, with the epigraph from his last, unpublished and unfinished book, brought tears to my eyes.

More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered prayers.

And after the movie scrolled into darkness, J turned to me and said, "I saw a lot of you in him." I hated to admit that I felt a lot of him in me, too, and I've been trying to sort that out all week. Am I really that neurotic? Vulnerable? Messed up? Are all writers? I don't know. I just feel like I've been walking around with the shadow of Truman Capote trailing me all week.

Friday, July 14, 2006

I've Been Tagged

Christine tagged me to do this "Actor's Studio Meme." I have no idea what Actor's Studio is, but I found this meme challenging. Anyway, here goes.

Actor's Studio Question Meme

What is your favorite word? (I am picking randomly)

What is your least favorite word?

What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
Examples of people being honest, generous and brave.

What turns you off?
Racism, and ungenerous people.

What is your favorite curse word?

What sound or noise do you love?
A crackling fire.

What sound or noise do you hate?
The sound of teeth being flossed.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

What profession would you not like to do?

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
Your birthfather is here, and I'm going to introduce you right now.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Three New Stories

I feel like a proud mama. The first three stories that I had a hand in selecting were just published on Literary Mama. They look so wonderful! I remember them when they were just little emails in my Inbox. And now they're published, polished, beautiful stories for all the world to see.

"Sluggers," by the wonderful Dr. Sue (a writer and therapist who responds with great wisdom and sensitivity to writers' angsty questions every Friday on MJ Rose's blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype) is a fantastic, summery baseball story.

Annie Kassof's "Plumbing Problems: A Love Story" is wry, poignant, and bittersweet, about a mom who's wrestling with two kinds of pain - her own body's discomfort as well as that of her teenaged son.
When I read Tatiana Strelkoff's story, "Pointed Lessons," I almost turned blue from holding my breath. It's a real heartstopper, and also a fantastic portrayal of those nosy people who can't keep out of parents' business.

I hope you'll all visit Literary Mama and read these great pieces, and that you mother-writers out there might think of sending us something. Suzanne Kamata, my co-editor and I, are always looking for great new short fiction, written by mothers, with the theme of parenting (almost always from the parent's POV).

This fiction editing job has made me remember how much I like being an editor. It's so exciting to find these great pieces of writing, and then to be able to share them with the world. I love sending out those acceptance letters. Sending the rejections, of course, is a lot less fun. I try to be as kind as possible, but I know it still stings. But get this: there have been two writers whose initial stories we didn't take - even though well written, they just weren't right for certain reasons, like maybe they were from a child's POV rather than a parent's (we really do focus on the experience of parenting). We encouraged them to send us something else, and they did, and lo and behold, those second stories turned out to be a great fit for Literary Mama, and they're going to be published. So take heart out there, and don't give up if it doesn't work out at first.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Photo Project

So yesterday I started the photo-interview project with my mom. I took out this one, that says "Mas and Kiku, Central Park, 1946?" on the back. She immediately said, "My favorite jacket!" and then she pounded the table. "It got ruined by acid."


She said it had been her favorite red jacket, with white piping down it, and it had gotten ruined when she accidentally leaned on a table during a chemistry lab. "Oh, so this was high school?"

She looked at me as if I was crazy. "No, it was night school! College!"
"What college?"
I blinked. "You went to NYU??"

The things you learn. I had no idea my mother ever went to college. I know she didn't graduate from college, but didn't know she ever took classes.

"Those classes were a pain," she went on. "They let out at 11:30 at night, and I'd be on the subway, only two or three people in a car, and people looking at me funny. I'd run down the platform and look to see where the conductor was, and make sure I got on the same car. Then when I got out at my stop, way up at 165th St., I'd have to walk really fast and make sure nobody was following me. There was a garage, where Uncle Ki (her older brother) parked his car, and I knew the fellas that worked there, so if I got nervous, I could always stop off there and maybe one of them would walk me home. It was a safe place I could stop."

Wow. This was a lot to absorb. My mother, taking chemistry at NYU, at night, and then commuting from lower to upper Manhattan by herself on the train.

"And what was this about the jacket and the ... acid?"

Large harrumph. "Yah, we were doing some experiment with sulfuric acid, and I was leaning on the desk to see what was going on, and when I stood up there was a big hole in the arm of my jacket. There had been a puddle on the table, and it just ate right threw. (sound of disgust) That was my favorite jacket. I had to throw it in the garbage."

A picture tells a thousand words. Was that a thousand?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Maybe It's Not the Right Time

I've been a bit paralyzed in my writing life recently (like, for the past ten years). Trying to write this memoir/novel monstrosity in a million little fits and starts. Sometimes I get what feels like... this close, and then it evaporates again. I can be thrown off by the smallest things.

I am reading Francine Du Plessix Gray's "memoir of parents," titled Them. It's gorgeous, beautiful writing, mostly centering on her glamorous, narcissistic mother and equally intense stepfather. But something in her Introduction stopped me short, and has been revolving around in my little pea-brain for a week now:
To write truthfully about anyone who is still alive is a Utopian task, suspect at best. So I bided my time, looking on a projected family memoir as one of several distant ventures. And not until a year after my cherished stepfather's own passing, did I reach a stage in the process of mourning that allowed me to write this book.
What will ever allow me to write my book? Do I need to, as she says, bide my time as well? I am writing a memoir of four parents: one dead now, one living under the same roof as me, one distant and yet with an inordinate amount of influence, who would severely disapprove of my writing such a book, and one whose living status and whereabouts (and identity) are completely unknown.

This weekend I decided to bide my time and put it to good use. I unearthed a pile of ancient photos and took them to the photocopy store: my grandfather's Manhattan restaurant from the 1930's and 40's, actually quite glamorous looking, photos of relatives in Japan, stern and kimono'd, a tiny photo of my mother on her first day of kindergarten in Brooklyn. Maybe these next years are not meant for writing at all, but for gathering, for memory-taking, while the memory is still good. I want stories about that restaurant. I want to know what it was like for her to go to kindergarten. Did she walk to school, at five? Did she take a lunch? I want to know it all.

I also received an email from the Other parent, my birthmother, and it succeeded in enraging and seducing and paralyzing and aweing me all at once. It's difficult to describe what an effect this person has on me. At seventy-plus she is still co-leading trips around the world with her artist husband: India, Ireland, Peru. Since I had not heard from her in several months, part of me was in the process of disengaging, for the hundredth time, of insisting that she did not, does not, matter, not so much. And then a screenful of words on my computer, and I collapse again.

I'm biding my time. Waiting for what, I don't know.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Simple Things Meme

I've been tagged by Christine! to do the Simple Things Meme. Hmmm...

"Instructions: Name 10 of life's simple pleasures that you like the most, then pick 10 people to do the same. Try to be original and creative and not to use things that someone else has already used."

1. Writing in a big fat Michael Rogers spiral notebook, paired with a microfine pen.
2. The silence at Santa Sabina.
3. My husband reading to me in bed. (from The New Yorker, or Gilead, or Rilke or Neruda)
4. Feeling very homesick for our traveling daughter and then hearing her happy, excited voice on the phone.
5. Watching our adorable, hyper dog leap around in circles until she is totally exhausted.
6. Afternoon naps.
7. Receiving a real letter, in handwriting, in an envelope in the mailbox.
8. Hearing our younger daughter say "Good night mommy good night daddy" right before she goes to sleep. For a moment she sounds like she's about four, even though she's twelve. It's a very sweet thing to hear.
9. Walking in the woods with my iPod, and having about two dozen intense memory flashbacks, depending on what songs shuffle into my head.
10. Just having finished a really hard workout.

I'm tagging: anyone out there who reads this and has a blog!

Monday, July 03, 2006

NOT GONE: Or, This is What Friends Are For

So, I spent the weekend crying over the little green house. Gone, gone, gone. But first I emailed my best high school friend, and asked her to check it out, to make sure it was really gone. I went for a little overnight getaway - wonderful - to the Mountain Home Inn on Mount Tamalpais. On the way up, my husband's iPod played the Jackson Browne song that always makes me cry.
Well I looked into a house I once lived in
Around the time I first went on my own
When the roads were as many as the places I had dreamed of
And my friends and I were one
Now the distance is done and the search has begun
I've come to see where my beginnings have gone
Oh the walls and the windows were still standing
And the music could be heard at the door
Where the people who kindly endured my odd questions
Asked if I came very far
And when my silence replied they took me inside
Where their children sat playing on the floor
Well we spoke of the changes that would find us farther on
And it left me so warm and so high
But as I stepped back outside to the grey morning sun
I heard that highway whisper and sigh
Are you ready to fly?
And I looked into the faces all passing by
It's an ocean that will never be filled
And the house that grows older and finally crumbles
That even love cannot rebuild...

---Looking Into You, Jackson Browne

I thought I was going to just shatter into a million tears. We got into our cozy little room and I just cried and cried. My house! Gone! I immediately started planning a massive writing project, in which I would meticulously record every memory of every square inch of that property, from the circular driveway to the mulch pile in the back yard, to the enclosed porch and the laundry room.

When we got home, an email from my friend Cathy. With a photo, taken from her car. "Relax," she wrote. "It's still there -- no worries."

I wanted to break out a bottle of champagne. I danced around the kitchen and hugged my husbsand. "If we can save a bunch of money," I said to him, "I'm going to buy it back." He gave me a sideways, alarmed, are-you-nuts look. "And do what with it?"

I thought about that. Restore it. Preserve it. Rent it out to sweet little families with little kids. Turn it into a little writing retreat. Go there with my friends. I don't know. Anything but let it crumble.

And: Thanks, Cath. I don't know what I would do without you.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


I was fooling around on Zillow.com today - it's a strange, surreal site where you type in an address and you can see the current market value of any property, including satellite photos that are eerily close up. After checking out our present house and feeling relieved that its value hasn't totally tanked since we bought it, I decided to type in the address of the house I grew up in in New Jersey, the sale of which nearly shattered me two years ago. I longed to see it again, even a fuzzy birds-eye satellite shot.

Zillow responded: There is no house at this address.

I blinked, thinking, there must be some mistake. I typed in the address of our old across-the-street neighbors, just one digit away from our address. It showed up right away. I zoomed in on their house. Their driveway was directly across from ours. I zoomed in and zoomed in. I saw trees with skinny, bare branches. I saw the house that used to be next to ours. I spotted all the neighbors' houses: the Kiesselbach's, the Wubbes', the Schleichers'. But it was true. Where my house used to stand was an empty lot. It was a gray-green scrabble of nothingness.

My house is gone. I'm typing through tears.

I mourn the loss of that house almost as deeply as I mourn the loss of my father, who died six years ago. Both of them meant home to me, in the most elemental way.

I can't think about it right now. I can't think about telling my mother. We'll both have nightmares for months. Years.