Monthly Archives: May 2010

Korean dating flow chart

LMAO at Mental Poo’s Korean Dating Flow Chart, based on the Maxim (heterosexual) dating flow charts. Above is the Maxim dating flow chart for (heterosexual) women. If you want to see the Korean Dating Flow Chart, you’ll have to visit her site. Hilarity will ensue.


Filed under Funny Things

Be Good

tidal pools

This is the beginning of my “be good to myself and inspire others” summer. As I’ve said, I’ve been feeling lost. My novel has felt far away. My friends have felt far away. Inspiration eludes me. Self-confidence has eluded me. Instead of hating this feeling of being lost, I am going to explore this world and try to embrace it and learn some lessons. And I am going to be good to myself while doing it–because I still have choices. I have the choice to eliminate the toxic.

In short, I’m in a period of self-imposed rejuvenation.

I know a little about what is toxic to me; when I was at a writing colony, a Famous Writer came to dinner each night and announced her word count. That alone paralyzed me. It made me feel AWFUL, and it smacked of competitiveness. And Facebook is replete with news like that from my network; word counts, publishing data, industry data. Because Springtime is the time when writers receive literary acceptances to such things as litmag publications, fellowships, conferences, scholarships, etc., it’s been toxic to my writing process and to me. So I logged off of Facebook. (Okay, I will confess here: not entirely, because I’m still addicted to Farm Town–! That in and of itself is kind of a problem, but to my credit, I do skip my newsfeed and go straight to Farm Town). Silence is good.

One thing that struck me was Elizabeth Stark’s video, which made the simple yet brilliant statement that support is key to finishing a book. I didn’t have enough support. And I had plenty of road blocks. So I’m removing those roadblocks. I’m off Facebook, but I’m also spending some time with myself and doing things that make me happy.

I know that the teaching semester isn’t over yet (tomorrow, my students turn in their final papers and we have a potluck in class to celebrate our achievements!) and I have plenty of grading to do, but I’ve made a conscious decision to begin winding down now. This semester has EXHAUSTED me. I’m sleeping in. I’m sleeping a lot. I’m sleeping tons, like I did when I first arrived at Hedgebrook. And instead of feeling guilty like I did then, I’m understanding that it is a part of what I need to do as a writer.

I’m going to all my favorite places, especially those that inspire me. I’m stunned I haven’t visited one of my very favorite places in the Bay Area, the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, in nearly 15 years. I used to frequent those tidal pools on a weekly basis during one of the blackest periods of my life, and I used to stare at all the life teeming in the crevices of rocks and in tidal pools, in awe of life’s tenacity.

reef point

A tidal pool habitat is one of the most extreme in the world; the waves constantly pound life and for a few hours each day, the water completely leaves the inhabitants exposed to the air. And yet they survive, and survive well. They have all adapted to this harsh environment. It was totally inspiring to me, and I would sit there on the beach and contemplate this for hours, and derive strength from everything before me. This time around, we sat down and held hands and celebrated our 11th marriage anniversary, feeling more blessed than ever.

anemone and turban snails and hermit crabs

Those waters and that habitat helped me, again. The tidal pools are not the same as they were 15 years ago–instead of many starfish, I spotted one, and no brittle stars and only one tiny sculpin–but still, the myriad anemones and turban snails and hermit crabs were still there, weathering the elements (one of the elements included a family that was actually EATING them straight off the rocks), and persevering/living their lives.

Oh, and the best way to watch a tidal pool? Be still. Be very still and wait.

I am cooking delicious meals again. Over the weekend, cod en papillote atop peashoots with a light mirin sauce). Crawfish boil a couple weekends ago, and then crawfish etouffee. This weekend, I made stock from all the crawfish heads from the boil (I stuck all the shelled heads and tails in the freezer after the boil). I also made chicken stock from a carcass in the freezer. Is it weird when I say that making stock makes me happy? The slow slow simmer rendering the flavor from meat and bones into a clear broth gives me such satisfaction. I like that the discards become the foundation for something new.

beginning the crawfish stock

I’m going to make gumbo tonight. I’m baking cookies for my students grand finale potluck tomorrow; I’m baking all their requests: the New York Times chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin, and toffee chip cookies. My kitchen may look a bit like Sylvia Plath’s kitchen on one of her baking sprees (was she also trying to rejuvenate?)

chicken sausage and shrimp gumbo

Last night, I made a rigantoncini with morel mushrooms + asparagus + shallots in a cream sauce (using Samin’s rigantonicini from the Pop Up General Store, and adapting their suggested recipe).

rigantoncini w morels, asparagus, shallots & prosciutto in a cream sauce

I totally forgot to add chives and a chive flower from the vegetable garden. But seeing that (single) chive flower in the garden made me happy this morning. Speaking of chive flowers–I’ve never gotten any of my chives to flower before (hence the single flower). So that’s sweet.

flowering chive

I bought mangosteens, thanks to my friend (whose blog is a ghosttown) who gave me the heads up about their appearance in a not-so-distant grocery store. And while there, I spotted them: fragrant pears. I filled a bag. (I have to go back for more). Deliciousness. Deliciousness is important to my happiness, and it is important to my psychic health. Deliciousness inspires my tastebuds and in turn, deliciousness inspires me.

I spent some time sitting outdoors on our patio, reading, writing in my journal, and eating homemade salsa. It was nice to spend time outside, in the shade on a temperate day, with a breeze tickling the hair on my forearms. Whatever pollen is flying through the air isn’t bothering me; my allergy season is over.

The resentment and envy has left me and my person, thank goodness. I hate feeling envious–and I see it as an alarm warning saying, “There is something awry in your world, Christine.” There is a quote by Craig Ferguson who said, “Someone once told me resentment is like drinking poison, and expecting someone else to die.” Hence, my immediate decision to detox. I had drunk some kind of poison, and I need to take care of myself. And refill with inspiration and love and support and kindness and energy and joy.

I know, I’m not the kind of person who likes chanting in a yoga class, because I feel it’s too “hippie” but there you go.

I’m decompressing, being still, being with myself. When I was emerging from that Black Period nearly two decades ago, one of the many things I had difficulty with was being by myself, and being still (hence, why I’d go to the tidal pools–knowing that in some way, all the creatures were keeping me company). But in the end, that very ability was the thing that saved me.

There is still heartbreak happening in the world. For starters, the oil slick in the Gulf is now viewable from a NASA satellite…from OUTER SPACE. And there seems to be no end in sight, despite assurances from BP. But–I’m going to start with being good to myself. Or else there will be no goodness coming from me.


Filed under Helpful, Life, Writing

Thoughts on Being LOST


I watched the LOST series finale last night–and can I say it? I *KNEW* the island was Purgatory years and years ago! But the writers denied that the island was purgatory, so I dismissed the theory (even though it seemed to hold up). The thing is, knowing this did not make the finale any less meaningful or significant for me, because I still enjoyed the journey with all the characters, and I still savored all the plot twists and details and detours; those details are all that make made the show unique. (Note: that the island is purgatory is still being debated–The Marquee Blog on CNN says the island is not purgatory).

We can all write stories about A Stranger Coming to Town, one of the biggest archetypes in literature (and essentially all stories are either about a stranger coming to town, or a man/woman going on a journey), but in the end, the details make each story unique.

Still, I have questions about the finale remaining–but then again, a story has no obligation to answer every single question, just the big ones. And a story has to focus on its characters first and foremost to capture an audience.

I loved that all the characters were happy in the end. I know there are some who didn’t like the cheez-fest of reunions, but I loved it. It made me feel satisfied. I didn’t stop at wanting happiness for Desmond and Penny or Jin and Sun, I wanted them all to be happy because I just spent 6 years rooting for every single one of them. They were joyful when they realized what being LOST was.


I’ve been lost these days. I’ve been feeling lost about my novel revision and one big personal dream.

Feeling lost culminated in resentment and self-pity and bitterness and sadness and grief. I don’t like feeling, or being, those things but there I was; crying in bed, walking around lips pursed, feeling un-generous, selfish, sorry for myself, not conscious of any way out of the hole. Maybe, because I was lost, I wasn’t even in a hole; maybe I was out in an open field, surrounded by pitch black darkness, maybe there was a door. I was just too lost to notice.

And in this vastness of being lost, I became what I hate: I became…envious.

Is there any worse poison than envy?

I wanted to be cured. I happened across my friend Ericka’s blog post entitled, “The Envy Flu and Its Cure.” I laid in bed, hopeful of being cured, of letting the feelings wash over me. There were a lot of feelings. And even more recently, Tayari measured out some tough love on “penvy,” and its dangers, on her blog. All of what they wrote is true.

But me? I wasn’t just dealing with envy and penvy, I was…lost. After the envy dissolved, I discovered I had no sense of direction, no clarity. Being lost was the root cause of my grief.

Part of my struggles with my novel revision is that I feel so utterly lost. It is the same feeling I’ve experienced at points of my first draft, but more pronounced, because–shouldn’t I *know* what to do by now?

There are those who love being lost–but me? I’m the kind of person who obsesses over the weather, and who is well versed in the future 10 days of weather, precisely because I don’t like being caught off guard. I love the invention of navigation systems, and before GPS, I always had a Thomas Brothers Guide in the car. I equate being lost to lost pets–something akin to death, a state without love or home or safety. Being lost is purgatory. I will fight being lost. In the world of LOST, I’m Jack.

I was once given the advice to SAVOR being lost–that it was NOT the worst thing in the world to have happen to me. I have to tell myself to savor being lost. Being lost can be an incredible story. Being lost is rich with emotion. Being lost is beautiful. Being lost brings lessons. Being lost can be a good thing. Once, I was lost in the Japanese countryside, unable to speak a word of Japanese, having overshot my destination of Nikko via train. Instead of freaking out (something I’d normally do), I doubled over with laughter on a bench at the train station. I want to feel that. I want to savor being lost like THAT.

...but then we weren't in Nikko
(that’s a picture of me laughing when realizing I was LOST in the Japanese countryside)

So that’s what I’m trying to do. I’ve decided to open my eyes, disconnect from my distractions, and look around. So I’m joining Nova: I’m taking a break from Facebook, from Twitter and exploring. I’m making way for something amazing, too.

I think it will be good for me.

I’ll update you on what I’m doing to explore being lost.


Filed under Helpful, Life, Writing

This is a really long story about my relationship with my body

finger puppets

I have had a really bad relationship with my body. A *really* bad relationship with my body. At the horrible risk of offending the quadriplegic community, I will say that for most of my life, I have been a psychological quadriplegic; my psyche was disconnected from my body. I did not include my body in my decisions, life, goals, etc. My body had let me down so often, that my entire life was in my head; my life was invested in academics, in reading, in writing, in conversation.

Everything, I thought, was mind over matter. Exercise was painful. Mind over matter. Backpacking, one of my favorite hobbies, was still painful. Mind over matter. My body brought me no joy. Pushing my body through the journey was a means to an end, dictated by my mind. Get to the top of the mountain and digest the view! F*ck the vomiting and the pain. Get through it. My body brought me no joy.

My body was the cause of psychic pain: in grade school, a very ungifted child at any form of athletics (except hula-hooping, and I’ll get to that later), I was always picked last. When you get picked last time after time, you learn to divorce yourself from the source of that pain, and that pain was my body. There are students who fail in school, and after awhile, they remove any self esteem from academic success.

I learned, strategically, to position myself as the CAPTAIN of teams in grade school. Guess what: I was a wizard at strategizing so that I picked the strongest teams. The “Dangerous Dandelions” won every single soccer game during lunch hour. I positioned myself as a fullback and prayed the ball would never come my way. It never did. Everyone on my team knew better than to let the ball get to me. I was proud of them for being so wise.

I was good at hula-hooping. But that was because my dad thought that hula hooping would chisel away at my belly fat. I could hula-hoop for an hour straight. I was a wizard at hula-hooping. Still, it had been a painful road; I had to hula-hoop in front of my dad who made me hula-hoop for an hour on end.

When I told a friend in my mid-20s that I didn’t work out because it was so painful and difficult, he gave me a response that was straightforward and true. He said, “Christine, if it were easy to be fit, everyone would be fit.” Oh. I realized that it wasn’t supposed to be easy. But–still, why was it so difficult for me? Why did I pass out during workouts? Why did running leave me dizzy and gasping for air, and often, throwing up by the side of a road or by the side of a treadmill?

My body was a source of pain in so many ways; I wasn’t allowed to date in high school. I was taught to cover my body up. I was told my body looked horrible in a bikini, not because it looked horrible, but because, in hindsight, I realize it was a way to prevent me from wearing a bikini. But the message came through, all the same.

When I got to college, and experienced the first amorous pair of male hands on my body, I stiffened. I divorced myself from my body in a way that I’d divorced my body before hundreds of times. My body was no longer there. And because I went numb, I let the boy go too far; I’d never been kissed before, but there I was, being kissed. His tongue was cold and probing and I wasn’t there. So I didn’t stop him. It wasn’t until my roommate walked in, saying, “Oops!” that I was able to snap out of my stupor and tell the guy, “I just want to go to sleep.” He was confused. And he was angry later, when I told a mutual friend that his advances were unwanted.

Future amorous encounters were just as uncomfortable. Had I been abused? No. I just couldn’t STAND my body. The next time a boy touched me, it tickled. It.tickled. I couldn’t stop laughing. It.tickled!!! I couldn’t get comfortable. I couldn’t get relaxed. I had to drink to be touched. My friends heard me recount my dependence on alcohol to be touched and they became concerned. But it was what I had to do to divorce myself from my shame around my body.

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Filed under Favorites, Life, Running, Stroke, The Personal

Happy Bittersweet Complicated Mother’s Day

mom and me circa 2007

Mother’s Day is bittersweet in our household, because motherhood is complicated, and motherhood is different people and histories and situations now.

I love my mother, who has had my back my entire life. I know she will always take my call and all I have to say is “I need you” for her to drop whatever she’s doing to come to my side. She is the model of unconditional love.

She provides me lots of amusement, too. Her phone calls to me resemble that of Margaret Cho’s mother. When I imitate Margaret Cho’s comedic routines about her mother’s voicemails (*booooop!* Mahgalet! Theeej eeej your Mommy. I jus wanna call yooo to tell yoooo dat Grlampa and Grlamma, they gonnna die! Uh–not today, but someday! So don’t be suhprlised! (pause) Also. Don’t tell dem! That’s not niiice, that’s not nice! Ok. Bye! *boop!*), my mom rolls over laughing. Because that is the kind of shit she tells me.

I miss my mother-in-law, who was killed suddenly only a few years ago. I don’t think any of us have gotten over her death; we all miss her. That’s all I will say in a public forum, but know that my grief goes miles.

I am happy for all my mama-friends who have lovely children. My mama-friends work hard and have deep compassion for their children, and I am glad there is a day of recognition for them. (May your children cook you a better meal today than I did for my mother on Mother’s Day while growing up; once, I cooked her split pea soup, a very very crunchy split pea soup, because I didn’t know you had to cook the split peas down until they were soft (the good cook in me now cringes at how I merely boiled the water, merely blanched the vegetables and split peas and said with great pride, “eat my soup, I made it for YOU, Mom!”)…Guess what? She ate it ALL, as I asked her, “Don’t you LIKE it? Why aren’t you smiling while you eat it?”)

And–I am sad because there are women who cannot enter this sometimes smug bastion of motherhood. And it’s my mom who I turn to for comfort when the pain feels especially daunting (think of that scene in “Julie & Julia” when Meryl Streep’s Julia Childs reads a letter from her sister announcing a pregnancy and says “I’m so happy for them! I’m so happy!” and breaks down in tears, clearly in grief for her own childless state). I’ve been trying to have a child longer (eleven years and counting) than I’ve been writing this novel of mine. Both bringing me agony this week.

When I call my mom and communicate this pain, she says without irony, “Unh–don’t worry, Christine. Being mommy is hard! Take up all your time! When you have baby, your life ends! You don’t need to have baby, so hard and waste of time. Notice I don’t push you to have baby? Because I want you to live your life.” Bwahahahaaa.

Once I asked her, “Do you regret having me?” To which she responded, “No of course not! You and R****** are best things to me!” with the same exact sincerity she used to reassure me to not have a child.

There are other hilarious phone calls, too–I once called her from Hangzhou, China, abandoned by my paid-by-the-hour driver who insisted a certain sight took an hour to see (it took 15 minutes) and who drove off promising to return in an hour. Bored, and unable to call my husband who was in a business meeting in a hotel room in Hangzhou that day, I called her while sitting on a bench by a lily pond, and the phone call went like this:

Me: Mom! It’s me! I’m in China!
Mom: Oh! Where are you?!
Me: I’! I bought some tea today!
Mom: Unh! You bought tea? Christine–don’t drink it!
Me: What? It’s the best tea!
Mom: No, don’t drink it! Pesticides! Give it to your friends as presents instead!

Then there was the time she came home from work and offered me one of her kazillion pieces of advice, always packaged in some random out of the blue but very practical manner–and in hindsight, I now realize it must have been an extra brutal day as an intensive care unit nurse. Before dinner she leaned over and said to me, “Christine, never get tattoo on face. You know, when you die, if you have eyebrow and eyeliner and lipliner tattoo, it doesn’t look good at all. My patient today was so pale and blue. And then tattoo makes worse!” Got it.

Another phone call went like this (we were caravaning to Yosemite, and lost each other–but when she got to the Valley, she called my cell):
Mom: We are by Yosemite Lodge!
Me: Mom! Where did you guys go? We looked back and you weren’t there anymore!
Mom: We are by Yosemite Lodge!
Me: We’re by the general store, come meet us here, Mom
Mom: We are by Yosemite Lodge!
Me: We’re by the general store, come over here.
Mom: We are by Yosemite Lodge!
Me: You want us to meet you by the Lodge?
Mom: Okay! See you!

Happy Mother’s Day. To those of you missing your mothers, I give you a big hug. To those of you who have lost children, I give you a big hug. To those of you struggling to have children, I give you a big hug. And to those of you whose mothers are still living and in your life, I hope you give your mother a big hug today.

Update: Here’s a writer after my own heart! Anne Lamott writes, Why I Hate Mother’s Day.


Filed under Favorites, Life, The Personal

It was the only day she didn’t need to hear his voice…

Out of frame

Hi, a bunch of us are in a Literary Blog Relay.

Basically, one writer writes a 250 word post/story/fragment and then tags another writer, etc., etc. We can write whatever we want, so long as our posts begin with the last line of the previous post (in bold here) and are linked to a central theme; in this case, “A Stranger Comes to Town.”

The following is Jennifer Derilo’s post, using the last line (in bold) from Jackson Bliss’s contribution.

Alexander Chee is next.

It was the only day she didn’t need to hear his voice. It was the only day she shouldn’t have been alone. It was the one day she should not have been alone to hear his voice. To note the ironic euphony. Lymphoma. Leukemia. The tap tap of the tongue’s tip against front teeth. Long vowels slipping into her ears. Soft morphemes unclasping. Converting themselves into recognizable units. Blood. Cancer. Sick. Me. All these syllables stretching between her and him. The small exam room, expanding. He rolling himself away on a chair. She sitting sedentary on the patient’s booth. His gesture elongating her loneliness and their unfamiliarity with one another.

She shouldn’t have been alone. That day. To listen to that voice. To weigh the medicalized language sliding out of his mouth. Watch him dump it in her lap. Move away from her and stop. Head lowered. Eyes boring into the woman-girl slouching on the patient’s booth. For once, not fidgeting. Silence compresses her. Maybe holds her together. Lym. Phoma. Leu. Kemia. You look confused, he says across the divide. I’m not, she says. I’m trying not to fucking crumble, she doesn’t say. She thinks about canceling tomorrow’s trip. Worries about telling. Boyfriend. Mom. Sister. Dad. Friends. Self.

It was the one goddamn day she should not have been alone. Though he returns to her gingerly. Sweeping her hair away from left shoulder. Sinking needle into a mass. She humming upward. Remembering a chatty phlebotomist from last week. You’re a long way from home, aren’t you?

THE FULL LINE-UP, IN ORDER (Completed posts in bold)….

  1. Wah-Ming Chang:
  2. Jamey Hatley
  3. Stephanie Brown
  4. Andrew Whitacre
  5. Heather McDonald
  6. Christine Lee Zilka
  7. Jackson Bliss
  8. Jennifer Derilo posted at
  9. Alexander Chee
  10. Nova Ren Suma


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Filed under Literary Blog Relay, Memes


sidewalk graffiti: "Never Forget..."

More luscious links.


Filed under Links

anonymous before eponymous

I have an anonymous blog, and I have this blog. I think I’m way more open on my anonymous blog, for obvious reasons; and I feel like I’m a horrible and guarded bore, here. Bleah.


Filed under Uncategorized

It’s an online litmag, but…


I was at a reading, when during the pre-reading socializing session, I was introduced as the fiction editor over at Kartika Review, to which was added, “It’s an online litmag, but it’s great!”

I smiled, noting the use of the conjunction, “but.” He meant the phrase as a compliment, but here’s the thing: “but” is a word used to introduce something contrasting with what has already been mentioned. In this case, by using the word “BUT” he was saying, “It’s an online litmag (which is a totally sucky thing to be), but it’s great!”

“Actually–” I interrupted, “we like being online for the purpose of reaching a larger audience. Print journal distribution is limited in number and duration–we want people to read the work.” (G*d, I hope I didn’t sound as pedantic as I do when I read what I said). The small group, used to deifying print journals, suppressed raised eyebrows; after all, we were in a BOOKstore… (Well, maybe that never happened. Nevertheless, I felt doubt).

I continued. I said that if we were to raise enough money, we’d rather pay our writers than funnel the money into a print run. Our fledgling litmag doesn’t know if we’ll ever raise enough money to do either, but our priority is to pay our writers before we buy into the prestige of going into print. At least, that’s how we feel today.

The Famous Writer nodded his head. “That’s true, you’ll reach more readers.”

I nodded back at him. He is a Famous Writer whose class I once took as an undergrad, and someone who mentioned that he chose University Presses for his books, primarily because University Presses don’t ever stop printing. I reminded him of the same. A diplomatic and neutral end to the exchange, we moved on to other topics like a reading the night previous, old times at Berkeley, and new books.

An online litmag offers free content to readers. An online litmag has an archive of past issues available online for the foreseeable future. Despite Because of being online 24/7/365, an online litmag offers access if not prestige. And there are established litmags with prestige that are online, too: Narrative, Literary Mama,, and The Barcelona Review, for starters, are pioneering a space that I predict will be joined by many more familiar and upstart litmags names.

Don’t writers want a bigger readership? Don’t writers want to be paid? Shouldn’t writers have a bigger readership, and shouldn’t writers be paid for their work? And given the advent of the Kindle and iPad, isn’t the readership going towards an electronic format, anyway?

I used to be of the mindset that wanted my work in print–but these days, I’m changing my mind. As a fiction writer I’d rather my work be read by more people, than gather dust on a few bookshelves, and perish in garbage cans or recycling bins. Of course, I’d like to be paid, but the reality is that the vast majority of litmags do not pay their writers.

I’m wondering what the mindset of other writers might be? Are you becoming more open minded to online literary journals? Do you refuse to submit to online literary magazines? If so, what’s the reason for your predilection towards print journals?

And…if you want to read more on the subject, my friend Andrew Whitacre, fiction editor of the respectable online litmag, Identity Theory, states something similar but with more eloquence and insight in his post entitled, The end of the small print journal. Please.


Filed under literary magazines, Publishing