Seattle: A Blast from the Past

On a recent trip to  Seattle, in lightly falling snow, I took a  guided walking tour of the city’s mid-19th century “underground” origins: its musty subterranean passageways of abandoned toilets, pipes,  cast-off furniture and windows that once were the main first-floor storefronts of old downtown Seattle.  Like layers of fossils built one sedimentary deposit over another, the city’s hidden foundations are revealed. Approximately 25 square blocks of wooden buildings were either burned to the ground or flooded during the Great Seattle Fire of 1896.  What were once the first floors of thriving businesses are now 25-to-35-feet high tunnels below street level. Pioneer Square, the city’s birthplace, lies virtually forgotten except for this tour. It was very entertaining!

Next I walked to the historic Panama Hotel, located in Old Japantown,  part of the International District which also includes Chinatown. Built in 1910 by a Japanese-American architect, the Panama Hotel  served as a community gathering place and bathhouse for generations of Japanese immigrants and Alaskan fishermen.  I could see rows of lockers where Japanese Americans stored their belongings before being forced into concentration camps.  Standing on a glass window on the floor of the hotel’s beautifully renovated teahouse, I peered down into the bathhouse, which was not open to the public the day I visited
 Jamie Ford, author of the best seller, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, (whose setting is the Panama Hotel)   stayed here while writing part of this novel.

My third and final stop for the day was the little-known Wing Luke Museum. Wing Luke, the museum’s visionary founder, had dreamt of a place where the healing power of creativity and art embraced by  Asian American communities would flourish in the Pacific Northwest. As not only the first Asian American to hold elected office in the Pacific Northwest but as a supporter of the arts, Wing Luke established this museum to tell a story for all of us.  Dedicated to the Asian Pacific and Native American experiences the museum collection share their stories of survival, success, struggle, conflict, compassion and hope. A Smithsonian Affiliate, the museum is in a beautifully designed new building in which the cultural and artistic legacies of people who are either Asian American,  Native American or both come together for the first time in an exhibit called “Cultural Confluence.”  Heroic art by well-known artists as well as school children is presented, sometimes side-by-side, in original and colorful displays to celebrate life and its unfinished business.

“Departures”–“Between Life and Death”

For a guest lecture I am preparing for a  course, “Philosophy through the Movies”, I decided to select the Academy Award® Winner for Best Foreign Language Film of 2009,  “Departures”,  (Japanese title: “Okuribito”, lit. “a person sent out or dispatched”), a  look into the in-between of life and death.  What the Tibetan Buddhists would call “bardo”.

Loosely based on Aoki Shinmon’s autobiographical book Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician (納棺夫日記 Nōkanfu Nikki), the movie opens with the main character,  Daigo Kobayashi, preparing a young woman’s body for “sending off” or being dispatched to the next world. After the unexpected happens while tenderly and respectfully cleansing and dressing  the corpse, there is a flashback to Daigo as a cellist in a symphony orchestra in Tokyo.  The orchestra has to disband, for lack of funding, and Daigo finds himself suddenly unemployed.  With his good-natured wife Mika, he moves back to his deceased mother’s house in his hometown in the hinterlands of Yamagata.  (Daigo’s mother had been abandoned by her husband when her son was only four years old and had operated a teahouse or coffee shop in her home to support the two of them.)

Spotting a job listing featuring the word “tabi” (or “trip”) from NK Trading, Daigo applies for the position, thinking he is going to start a new career in the travel industry.  Instead, he is stunned to learn that he will be the Buddhist equivalent of a mortician as well as an embalmer who washes, dresses, and applies makeup to the corpse in front of the bereaved.

Buddhism is  the religion most closely associated with death in Japan. But death is also a taboo or “unclean” subject as it is in the majority of cultures.  This universal fear of death and coming to terms with the death of a loved one are made even more fascinating by the ritualistic preparation of the body in front of the grieving family and friends. Understandably, given the nature of the job, Daigo keeps his new profession secret.  His wife and friends think he is a travel agent.

The theme of karma, the sacred nature of all sentient life, and ritual purification are subtly interwoven.   Death, in all its ambiguity, both a sacred and a profane “departure”, is viewed through Daigo’s eyes as he slowly awakens to the necessity and normalcy of his profession.  “Death is normal”, the movie states, and “Everyone dies”, while the scenes of eating in the office reiterate that “The living eat the dead.”

The themes embedded in every scene of “Departures”–forgiveness, compassion, letting go, and sending off–are about the healing of unhealed wounds.  In the case of Daigo, it is a reconciliation through the stone-letter with his absent father; for his wife, it is the misunderstanding of what death means for the living; and for the NK Trading employer it is the full circle of succession and passing on his experience to the next generation.

“Departures” is a beautifully crafted film, which opened this viewer’s eyes to the essential services that funeral directors, morticians, autopsy doctors and all who handle the dead provide for all of us.  This movie not only demystifies the process of closure, which ritual provides, but also the skillful grace, compassion, and respect for “sending off” the deceased, in order for the living to move on. This cinematic gem is, above all, a profoundly empathetic portrayal of people trying to make peace with the finality of death.

BLOOD LOTUS: Discovering New Voices in Literature and Art

I discovered the online journal, Blood Lotus, while doing a Google search for submitting my short stories to small boutique journals.  While spending hours looking for  an appropriate fit for my edgy short stories about growing up with wounds, both healed and unhealed, I discovered this literary and quarterly gem.  Blood Lotus, established in 2006, with the belief everything has not already been written, has a mission to promote not only distinctive writing but also unusual art. Two poets, Stacia Fleegal and Teneice Durrang Delgado, are its co-founders.

Stacia M. Fleegal (co-founder, managing editor, poetry co-editor) was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2009 and 2010. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Fourth River, The Louisville Review, Skidrow Penthouse, Pemmican, Blue Collar Review, and The Kerf. She is also co-founder and co-editor of Imaginary Friend Press. The other co-founder and co-editor, Teneice (Durrant) Delgado is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Flame Above Flame (Finishing Line Press 2006) and The Goldilocks Complex (RockSaw Press 2009).

Each issue is predominantly poetry, reflecting the founders’ own interests but, I think, also the need for high-quality poetry journals since poetry is more difficult to get published than non-fiction, and secondarily, fiction, especially by unknown authors.

I particularly liked issue #17, both the art and the literary articles.  The art is a series of woodcuts by Peter L. Scacco, quite abstract and rich in composition.  The fiction and poetry are not mainstream, in the sense that the unexpected happens in offbeat ways.  I particularly liked “Underwater” by Trevor Houser and “Greater than Y” by Cherri Randall.  Check them out!

The theme for the next issue (#19) is the outsider or outlier, one who walks the fine membrane between mainstream and trespasser/interloper.  While my short stories did not fit this theme, the art I submitted fit Blood Lotus‘s “outsider” theme for inclusion in the forthcoming issue.  I hope you check out the issues on line at:  www.bloodlotusjournal.com for new voices, both in literature  and fine art.  The experimental vision of this journal should not be missed!


Eleven Tips for Women’s Memoirs on 1/11/11

Thousands of us love reading of all kinds:  fiction, history, memoir.  Sometimes all three are combined into one glorious book. We all know someone who is writing:  a novel, a blog, a series of poems, a mystery, children’s book, cookbook, screenplay and more.  And everyone knows someone in a readers’ or writers’ group.  Now there is one website which can fulfill the function of writers’ group, readers’ group, and how to get published in one URL.   The website womensmemoirs.com is for everyone who is a writer and/or a reader!

Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler, the authors of the award-winning collective memoir called Rosie’s Daughters: The “First Woman To” Generation Tells Its Story, have gathered all the information needed for how to write, edit, promote and publish all in one place! Tools and online support are provided. They have essays, excerpts from ongoing manuscripts, book and movie reviews.

I personally am intrigued by memoir, which necessarily has to deal with “coming of age”:  writing down and publishing one’s deepest personal experiences without camouflage or embellishment. Why not write memoir as fiction? What has changed since, say, the 90’s to make people expose themselves, their wounds, their banal thoughts, for perfect strangers to enjoy? Why the hunger, perhaps obsession, to hear about a woman’s terminal cancer, or a youngster’s frightening abusive parents?  There is social networking which touches upon too much information, but there is also the brutal honesty of memoir.

The process of writing is an arcane one, capturing a story that is compelling, pulling the reader in to care about what is being retold.  The same can be said about a great movie, or a play, or even an entrepreneurial idea for the next Facebook. For some, writing is a  process of healing and recovery. For others it is also a work of art, not dissimilar from a painting or sculpture.  All sorts of skills are required to put words onto paper, and www.womensmemoirs.com provides all the tips to getting you where you want to go.  Check out this website today:  for the eleventh of eleven writing tips for the first eleven days of the New Year.  They are wonderful to read!  Check out “Eleven Memoir Predictions for 2011” published on January 1 but read (or re-read) today, 1/11/11!

“Wine Shop At Home”—The Art of Wine “Gifting”

It’s that time of year again, when all of us curmudgeonly folks have to think about that tired old ritual of gift giving.  Each year I try to figure out what to give—a thoughtful gift which will be enjoyed, something original or unexpected.  But, I think I am the world’s worst gift-giver.  I love any gift given to me, and I have very idiosyncratic taste so the conventional advice to give what you yourself would most like as a gift usually doesn’t work for me.

Last year I discovered the online wine merchant, WineShop At Home, because our daughter, Maya, is so passionate about wine and loves discovering new, lesser-known vineyards.  So, she signed up to be a wine consultant throwing parties (a new take on the old-fashioned Tupperware) in her spare time for friends and family as well as referring people to order from her online. The website is www.wineshopathome.com/mayapaul–please order through our daughter, if you can.  (I know I am a shameless commercial for her!)

I thought I should try it, to help our daughter and see what the wines are like.  I was delighted to find out that I could order wine with a personalized label, either a jpeg file of one of my art works or a photo of a special event.  Since I am a printmaker, I loved the idea of having a miniature reproduction of one of my prints on each bottle of wine I would give for Christmas and throughout the year.

I really like the merlot and ordered a case last year, to much appreciation (or so my friends said).  But, you can also choose from cabernet, chardonnay, champagne, and gift packages.  I do think that they should expand to some foreign, little-known wineries from Argentina, Chile, and Spain, where great wines are made at a reasonable price. For those of you who are getting increasingly worried about what to get for someone you love—check out the art of wine gifting!  I have posted the two wine labels I have created so far—last year’s “Lotus Sutra” print on the Napa Valley 2007 merlot and this holiday’s “Hot Stuff” print on the Sonoma 2009 merlot.  Enjoy shopping!  And, I’ll bet at least a few of your friends won’t throw out that personalized wine bottle, once it is empty, unlike the sweater or tie from last year’s holiday gift giving.

“Ascent Aspirations: Up, Up and Away!”

I recently discovered a gem:  an online art and literary journal, entitled Ascent Aspirations (www.ascentaspirations.com), based in British Columbia.  (It is also published semi-annually in print media—“hard copy”.)

I love the fact that Ascent Aspirations’ mission is to give aspiring writers, poets, and artists a chance to present their work online.  All of us writers, artists, lovers of art and fiction, know that the world of art and literature is rapidly shrinking in “hard copy” format and is transitioning to a digital one.  Ascent Aspirations aims to do just that—ascend from analog to digital—for those desiring a Web presence!

Since 1997 Ascent Aspirations has grown from a small electronic Canadian magazine of science fiction, fantasy, horror and darker mainstream fiction into a journal for edgy fiction and a wide array of art. In the spring of 2011 there will be an anthology focused on the theme of work and social issues related to work and daily life. You can bend and twist your material to fit the theme. In other words come at the theme from whatever direction you wish. 
 This is a great opportunity so get the word out to all the artists and writers you know!

I enjoy the website’s archive for the artists and writers who have contributed over the past 13 years.  To see art from past issues, for example, several of my prints featured in the September 2010 issue (http://www.ascentaspirations.ca/dianapaul1.htm), go to the main page (www.ascentaspirations.ca) and click on the right column, Art Archives, (or Fiction Archives), to see a range of past contributions. The work is edgy, sometimes disturbing, even in the writing/grammatical styles used.

One note about the web design in this world of instant gratification.  The home page is on a black background. Granted it’s original, but also difficult to read.  In addition, the top line of tabs leads only to advertising, and some of that advertising repeats unnecessarily.  Ignore those tabs. Far better to focus on the left and right columns to read some very surprising flash fiction (“The Secret” by Michelle Bryan, and “The Blood Drop” by Spiel, for example).   An easier-on-the-eyes, more navigable website of the journal can be found at:  http://wordstorm-wordstorm.blogspot.com/2010/08/ascent-aspirations-magazine-spetember.html. Enjoy reading and looking at some great new work!

Off & Away: Travel Auction Sites—Why Am I Not Surprised?

I discovered the auction site, “Off & Away”, after reading a New York Times article in June.  Off & Away has what seems like an ingenious business model: bidding on hotel suites for what could be pennies on the dollar. I thought I would give it a try.

Being susceptible to becoming obsessed over the idea of bidding in an auction –one of my favorite things to do– but I rationalize that my bidding is usually going to a good cause such as a school fundraiser or a nonprofit charity—I had some fear and trepidation about getting my feet wet in an anonymous free-for-all public “penny” auction online. So, I first researched the website:  www.offandaway.com.  Two former executives from Amazon.com and Amazon’s venture capital firm invested in it.  Not too shabby so maybe it was legitimate, not a scam.  Each day at least two or three  hotels are listed as well as upcoming auctions for planning ahead.  Almost all of the hotels featured are in the U.S. with the vast majority in three cities:  San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.  All three happen to be some of my favorite destinations so I was hooked.

With each bid you cast, the price of the suite goes up by $0.10 and up to 20 seconds is added to the timer.  There is a “hot zone”: usually about thirty minutes before the auction is scheduled to end.  Depending on how many other bidders decide to hop on board and start bidding during the “hot zone”, the auction time can be extended for hours.  I have watched it extend over five hours with the so-called  “last minute” rush of bidding.  This jacks up the price considerably.

Being the addictive personality type that the Internet further enables, I researched the site, looking for trends in time and day when traffic was heaviest. No trends were spotted, with the exception that perhaps the three cities I was looking at were the most popular and had the largest swings in final bids, anywhere from a low of $30 to a high of over $1000.  I was undaunted and jumped in.

My first and only bidding pitted me against at most four other bidders. My heart kept pumping.  I would read my name on the screen, after placing more than $50 in bids on the desired target suite.  The message was something like:  “Don’t give up.  Hang in there.  You’re the top bidder so far.”  It was hard for me not to be carried away by the excitement and emotion of the moment.  I didn’t win.  The suite went for way over the final price I was willing to pay.

Are you still with me?  I can see travel auctions becoming addicting.  I started wondering if there were software programs that helped some bidders place their bids more successfully.  Things called “bid bots”, automated bidding programs that help either the bidder or “sniping programs” which help the seller place bogus bids to inch up the bidding war.  Perhaps when the host computer sees a frenzy of bids from one bidder (let’s say me), the auction site plants a bid, jacking up the price by ten cents, so I won’t walk away.

The upside of all of this bidding is that the bids you have spent can be applied to any of over 100,000 hotels in Off & Away’s inventory.  I checked out the hotel rates.  Off & Away definitely matches hotels.com so there is nothing to lose in terms of booking a reservation using up your bids, within seven days of the auction closing.          Wondering… is hotels.com far behind in acquiring this formidable competitor?  Hmm…. that wouldn’t surprise me one bit!

Blogger Nube—What’s Up with That?!

This Friday, November 19, will be my blog’s two-week anniversary.  So, for those of you out there who have been contemplating writing a blog, here are my Top Ten tips from my past two weeks’ blogging experience.  Obviously, I need to do a lot more blogging to give advice to non-nubes.  But what I learned in my first two weeks is very fresh, so I want to pass it on to those of you in the midst of what can be a rather scary process! As my experience grows, I will be adding more suggestions.  If you’re a nube at this too, by all means send me your comments!

1)    Read others’ blogs to get a lay of the land. Blogging is a time suck!

2)    Set aside time to write at least two times a week. The week goes by quickly! Blogging is a labor of love. One of my friends with an award-winning blog takes her laptop on vacation to make sure she gets her new posts uploaded on time!

3)    Use a simple, free version of WordPress or Blogspot for your “beta site” (Silicon Valley jargon for “testing site”) to see if you like it. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice—lots of it! The upside to a free blogging site: less time to get accustomed to the templates and software.  The downside:  WordPress is sandwiched in between the blog title and “.com”.   My blog had the middle name “wordpress” (www.unhealedwound.wordpress.com) until I hosted my own website.

4)    When you graduate to wanting a blog without the word “wordpress” or “blogspot” or whatever blog hosting site you are on, then you have to go to the trouble of re-entering all the information onto your own hosted site.  I use www.godaddy.com because their customer service is outstanding.  This costs money: about three times as much for a two-year contract.  So, make sure you want to do this!

5)    On your own website, make sure you look at it frequently to see if the appearance and content are what you like.  Again, read more blogs by others.  See what you like and ask yourself why.

6)    Set your “comments” section to  “needs approval” first.  I was so excited when I got comments from people who were not my friends. However…

7)    Comments need to be screened! I received requests to be guest bloggers.  When I tried to respond by email with follow-up questions, my email bounced back—a bogus email address!  What’s up with that?!

8)    Some comments from strangers seem really nice, even complimentary.  Go to their URL address (if given) to check the commenter’s background.  I did. One was a porn site!

9)    For possible strategic alliances read blogs and links you may want to be associated with.  Be careful out there in cyberspace.

10)  Most of the blogging tips online are still too technical for me. For additional tips here is one website I found that’s down to earth and really helpful: www.toptenblogtips.com.

What’s not to like? Post Ranch Inn’s Wine and Food Event

On Saturday afternoon, our daughter Maya and her boyfriend joined us for an afternoon at Post Ranch in Big Sur, for part of the Big Sur weekend wine and food extravaganza.  What makes this event different from other wine and food events is that you can sip wine, eat and then work some of it off walking from one station to the next on the Post Ranch’s spacious 100-acre grounds.  Guests wander the ranch’s picturesque paths while visiting seven stations in which there are at least four boutique wineries pouring their finest wines paired with a  delicious assortment of small plates prepared by the executive chef of Post Ranch’s Sierra Mar restaurant. Although the day had started out as a harbinger of drizzle and fog, the weather forecasters were proved wrong (again). The sun came out as we drove through the gatehouse and we were not disappointed! With map in hand, the four of us enjoyed a beautiful day of eating and drinking.  At the first station, we were treated to both French and local California wines.  One of our favorites was the Adelaida white (Version 2008), a combination of Rousanne and Grenache, which we happily sipped along with nibbling on mushroom crostini, fresh sardines topped with an herbal breadcrumb topping, and two types of cured, smoked salmon.  And that was just station number one!

Along the way, approximately 200 guests were scattered around the tables so  we never felt as if we were in a crowd.  It was so refreshing, compared with other wine and food festivals, to walk around the grounds, including a sustainable vegetable garden and beautiful sculpture, as we worked up an appetite and metabolized the alcohol (or hoped we did).  The eclectic range of wines from less well-known vineyards, some of which were poured by the winemakers themselves, was truly superb as well as very personal. Wine professionals, including importers and distributors, were on hand to discuss their favorites so for us it was a mini-seminar on wine and pairings.  This was our second year attending this event, and we were so happy that some of the vintners remembered us from last year (the inaugural event).  We think we will make this an annual celebration!

There were orange wines as well as rose cavas, including one we had first tasted in Spain three weeks ago:  Raventos i Blanc.  Sparkling and delicious!  We had the cava at station number seven, the last station,  on the crest of the hill –a 1200-foot cliff– on the patio of the Sierra Mar restaurant, overlooking the ocean with its panoramic views, next to the infinity pool. With our cava paired with raw oysters on the half shell, a buffet of pates (which I never wanted to stop eating) and platters of chocolate truffles and other scrumptious morsels of dessert, we all waddled down the hill to our car, content and waiting to return next year for more!

Lacerated Tongue–In the ER on Halloween

Last night during a delicious dinner made by my husband, Doug, amateur chef extraordinaire, I bit down hard into my Thai pork basil curry with yams, zucchini, and eggplant and hit the calloused divot on my tongue, which I have clamped on before.  That’s what  happens when I eat and talk at the same time—my two favorite activities. No doubt about that!

The blood spurted out.  Very scary to say the least.  The tongue is very “vascular”, meaning that it is filled with capillaries ready to gush out blood at the least provocation.  My mouth filled.  Rushing to the bathroom mirror, I gasped to see not only the blood but a flap, a u-shaped, in the center of my tongue,  now lacerated so deeply that it was loose.  What Doug reported was an avulsion—no, not revulsion—a severe laceration of the tongue that is not quite completely ripped off.  Not quite.  The wonders of Internet research!

Two hours later, the ice cubes in my mouth were covered with blood, the large sized Ziplok baggie was filled with blood-drenched paper towels, and the blood had not decreased at all.  So, I knew I couldn’t sleep that night without reassurance from someone with medical experience.

On Halloween night no less, at 11:15 p.m., we were in the ER room with about ten other people—no one in costume–waiting for medical attention.  Not so bad, I thought.  Wrong.  Even though I had reported nonstop bleeding and the tongue flap, the others in the waiting room had certainly more serious emergencies:  a man with severe gout and pain in a wheel chair, several 20-something males with slashes on their upper thighs.  Ask me how I know?  One of the less shy guys with low-slung jeans, pulled them down and scrunched up his boxers to show the slashes to his girlfriend.  I winced, and swallowed the blood down my throat.

Around 1:00 a.m. the triage nurse called me in, kindly swabbed the tongue and gave me a box of gauze pads to exert strong pressure on my tongue.  Then, I was instructed to go back and sit down in the waiting room.  By 2:30 a.m. there were a lot more young men with a few female supporters (companions?) waiting.  One had fainted.  Another had severe trauma to his head.  His friend seemed very calm.  Asked me if I had that day’s Monterey Herald (I was reading the Wall Street Journal), because he wanted to see an article about himself working at the Fish Hopper restaurant.

At almost 4:00 a.m. I was too wiped out to stay.  My medical emergency didn’t seem so bad now.  The bleeding had stopped, but my tongue was so swollen my mouth wouldn’t close.  We left, explaining to the triage nurse we  understood the circumstances.

Walking out the exit door, it looked like a gathering place of young people loitering in front of a Seven-Eleven.  With police standing next to their cars.  I refused to jump to conclusions about what happened to the young men inside.  I just knew we all had wounds.