Arizona is in the Superbowl! A Short Story

She had not seen a hair salon in eight weeks and so she looked, despite her hipster clothing, disheveled or maybe dangerous. She looked like a poet.
Hair appointment. New fan belt. Groceries. New job. She had a long list of needs over which she regularly obsessed. She'd get the fan belt next week when she got paid. She drove her Nissan into the strip mall. She passed The Dollar Store and Wig Land then pulled up to the salon that was on Baseline and 48th Street in Phoenix. Where are the cars? she wondered and then saw the broken glass in front of the store. The window had been shattered and no one was inside.
She called Gwen, her hairstylist, on the phone. "I'm in front of Just Your Style and no one is here," she said.
"I thought I told you," Gwen said. "I'm across the street now. Just Your Style closed last week."
She drove across the street to a strip mall next to a Circle K. She felt disoriented. She was in a new salon with new people and new smells.
She sat in Gwen's swivel chair and buried her face in her book. Minutes later, a tall man walked in. Gwen said something to him about his teeth which looked too perfect in his mouth. His locked hair swung as he walked.
"You know who that is?" Gwen said to her.
"No, I don't."
"That's Fitzgerald from the Cardinals. Larry Fitzgerald?"
She looked up from the pages in her book. "The Cardinals?" she asked.
"Never mind."
She'd figure it out later. Arizona was in the Superbowl! She'd tell her boyfriend, hoping to make him jealous. "Guess who I saw today."
"Who?" her boyfriend would ask.
"Flanagan!" she'd say.

What We're Reading on the Metro + An AZ Arts Alert

Books that I spyed people reading on the Metro:

Kurt Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

An LSAT primer

A James Patterson novel (again)

I wonder if I'm missing people who are reading e-books on the train? I'll have to check.

On a more serious note, the Arizona legislature is eliminating a significant amount of arts funding, with promises that the money will return later, but who knows? If you value the arts and artists as part of the culture here in Arizona, please write to your state representative and protest these drastic cuts. More information below.

Take Action!
Contact your Elected Officials Today!


Jan 27, 2009 - Arizona Action for the Arts has been actively working with legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle to protect the Arizona Commission on the Arts' budget.

Today, we learned of a potentially devastating proposal to cut all state funding for the Arts Commission; Arizona ArtShare (the statewide arts endowment) and the Arts Trust Fund. This proposal threatens an already vulnerable nonprofit arts industry serving citizens in every Arizona community. If state funding for the arts is completely cut, we also lose our annual federal match and eligibility for federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The net effect: decimating the nonprofit arts industry that provides quality programming, educates our young people, brings tourism dollars into our state, creates jobs, generates taxes and encourages spending.

The Arizona Commission on the Arts has distinguished itself by working with leadership in making appropriate and reasonable reductions to its budget for 2008 and 2009 thus far. By continuing to work with legislative leadership, we hope to ensure that reductions to our funding would have the least impact in our communities and keep the arts industry in a position to be a part of the economic recovery.


At this time, it is most appropriate to send a PERSONAL message to your Legislators by CALLING or WRITING (preferred), or by emailing them to let them know that:

* The Arizona Commission on the Arts is willing to do its fair share to help solve the budget crisis and that any proposal to eliminate all state funding would be short-sighted and unfair in this current crisis which will pass over time.
* Given the small size of the total arts budget compared to the state's fiscal problems, eliminating the Commission would be draconian and would severely disable programs and services the arts industry provides for Arizona citizens.
* A current analysis of nonprofit arts organizations statewide shows an already-stressed sector with 84% experiencing decreased contributions, more than half already having cut program and more than one-third instituting hiring freezes or starting layoffs.
* Eliminating public funding for the arts will have a devastating impact on thousands of Arizonans who make their livings, pay their taxes, contribute to the well being of Arizona through the arts and make Arizona a great place to live.
* The arts and creative industries in Arizona, which include 10,590 small businesses, employ more than 46,000 people. (ref: AFTA Creative Industries report)

Stay tuned for future alerts and messages. We are very early in the Legislative session.

For additional information, please look at the new publication, Building Public Value for the Arts in Arizona: Advocacy, Promotion and Audience Engagement

SIGN UP FOR ARTS CONGRESS TODAY! (Monday February 2nd)Your opportunity to personally talk with your Legislators is coming up next Monday - Click here to Register Today

1.At this time a personal phone call or handwritten message is best! These communications carry much more weight with elected officials who are being overburdened with hundreds of emails from every cause imaginable this session. Click here to find phone numbers and addresses.
2.If your only alternative is to send an email message, create your own - again, "stock" email messages are proving less effective. Here are some good TIPS for writing your personalized email message:
a.Your subject line should be simple, for example: "Message from a Constituent" or "Please consider my request" or "Special request" or something creative that will stand out from other subject lines - possibly more personalized, ie: "Senator Jones - I have a request. "
b.Keep your message SHORT. Get right to the point, the shorter the better - no more than 200 words (one paragraph).
c.Be sure to say WHO you are, WHERE you live and try to share one PERSONAL story as to why you believe in the work of the Arts Commission or what impact drastic cuts would have on you, your family, your neighborhood or community.
d.Use one or two facts only from this alert.
e.Ask that they be "fair" to the arts when considering budget reductions this year.
f.Thank them for their service, or their time.
g.Tell them you look forward to seeing them at Arts Congress on Monday, 2/2

A Process Of Sorts

It's been three weeks since I worked on the short story that I'm trying to complete. I may get to it this weekend, we'll see. The story is in it's final stages of revision which is exciting for me and if allowed to do so I could work on it for 72 hours non-stop. But I guess I must feed my kids. Probably bathe and dress the three-year old, too.

I'm used to this start-and-stop creative cycle and I've learned to appreciate the process. There is something to be said about letting ideas mature and calcify before making art out of them. And I'm aware that you don't have to have young children to get pulled away from writing. Teaching, working, illness, life--they can all interrupt what would otherwise be a steady flow of inspiration.

Before I had a family, when something prevented me from writing, I'd find inspiration from movies, art shows, music. But those options aren't as practical or affordable, for me, with a family. There are a bunch of movies I'd like to see right now (The Wrestler, Revolutionary Road, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Notorious, Milk...I could go on) but movies + sitters are expensive. So Paul and I wait until it's on Netflix. We are going tomorrow with friends to see Revenge of a King, a hip-hop version of Hamlet performed by Phoenix's Black Theatre Troupe and maybe that will inspire me. But the truth is that we take in less art than we'd like.

So I've learned how to be inspired by everyday experiences during those periods when I know I won't have time to write. Recent observations/thoughts:

The smell of honeysuckle.

The teenage neighbor who borrowed 4 slices of bread because there was nothing to eat at his house.

The family of six (also neighbors) that can no longer afford their house and will move their family into the home of the kids' grandparents.

The way rainbows look in the Arizona sky.

Scorpions (my obsession with them).

The kid named Muhammad across the street. How others are suspicious of him.

The underground tunnels that immigrants hide in to get to to the U.S. This is something I read last week in Alberto Rios' memoir, Capirotada.

The story someone told me about a friend, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, who lived underground for a year in a sewer.

How anxious I feel having to undress for my male gynecologist.

The HUGE yellow python in the school library during a science fair at Amir's school.


These things will eventually work their way into my writing as images or themes, but I find it helpful to make a list so I don't forget these initial impressions.

Barack's literary bent

Thanks to Karen Gilliland for forwarding the quote from President Obama that I mentioned in an earlier post. It's from the New Yorker.

His description of the mystery of one's spouse seems so familiar, but our president is so good with words that his speech, when committed to the page, probably reads like literature.

Thanks, K!

by Mariana Cook January 19, 2009

On May 26, 1996, Mariana Cook visited Barack and Michelle Obama in Hyde Park as part of a photography project on couples in America. What follows is excerpted from her interviews with them.

MICHELLE OBAMA: There is a strong possibility that Barack will pursue a political career, although it’s unclear. There is a little tension with that. I’m very wary of politics. I think he’s too much of a good guy for the kind of brutality, the skepticism.
When you are involved in politics, your life is an open book, and people can come in who don’t necessarily have good intent. I’m pretty private, and like to surround myself with people that I trust and love. In politics you’ve got to open yourself to a lot of different people. There is a possibility that our futures will go that way, even though I want to have kids and travel, spend time with family, and like spending time with friends. But we are going to be busy people doing lots of stuff. And it’ll be

interesting to see what life has to offer. In many ways, we are here for the ride, just sort of seeing what opportunities open themselves up. And the more you experiment the easier it is to do different things. If I had stayed in a law firm and made partner, my life would be completely different. I wouldn’t know the people I know, and I would be more risk-averse. Barack has helped me loosen up and feel comfortable with taking risks, not doing things the traditional way and sort of testing it out, because that is how he grew up. I’m more traditional; he’s the one in the couple that, I think, is the less traditional individual. You can probably tell from the photographs—he’s just more out there, more flamboyant. I’m more, like, “Well, let’s wait and see. What did that look like? How much does it weigh?”

BARACK OBAMA: All my life, I have been stitching together a family, through stories or memories or friends or ideas. Michelle has had a very different background—very stable, two-parent family, mother at home, brother and dog, living in the same house all their lives. We represent two strands of family life in this country—the strand that is very stable and solid, and then the strand that is breaking out of the constraints of traditional families, travelling, separated, mobile. I think there was that strand in me of imagining what it would be like to have a stable, solid, secure family life.
Michelle is a tremendously strong person, and has a very strong sense of herself and who she is and where she comes from. But I also think in her eyes you can see a trace of vulnerability that most people don’t know, because when she’s walking through the world she is this tall, beautiful, confident woman. There is a part of her that is vulnerable and young and sometimes frightened, and I think seeing both of those things is what attracted me to her. And then what sustains our relationship is I’m extremely happy with her, and part of it has to do with the fact that she is at once completely familiar to me, so that I can be myself and she knows me very well and I trust her completely, but at the same time she is also a complete mystery to me in some ways. And there are times when we are lying in bed and I look over and sort of have a start. Because I realize here is this other person who is separate and different and has different memories and backgrounds and thoughts and feelings. It’s that tension between familiarity and mystery that makes for something strong, because, even as you build a life of trust and comfort and mutual support, you retain some sense of surprise or wonder about the other person. ♦

Perfect Poetry-Part 2

Here's a poem by Stephanie Han that I love. Stephanie has published her work all over; one of her short stories was chosen by Ron Carlson as the winner of a Nimrod fiction contest. She blogs at

A Garden’s Bones

Bones shoot from the earth—
a three-pronged fork.
hard and pale white stumps—
jetties on green sea.
a sturdy skeleton buried in tufts of winter grass
hacked and sawed by the woman upstairs—
one less to water, feed or tend;
a Death
a Blessing.
A curious sculpture these bones
kicked by a tiny boy
ringed by dirt and dried feces
for the gods to chew
for the winds to gnaw
a brittle snap
a slow decay.
Bones are phantoms spit from the glory of summer’s bush.
At night my son cries: shadows, ghosts.
Does he mean these bones?
Weeks pass
nubs give way to stems and curved leaves
Feel the baby’s temple, the barely-hard skull
damp with the terror of light.

Perfect Poetry-Part 1

Check out the First Couple's first dance. Beautiful!

Trivial Pursuits

Barack, Michelle, and Literary Styles


Inauguration day 2009 exceeded all of my dreams heretofore. I still can’t believe BO is our president.

A few things came to mind as I watched the festivities:

1. I wished that my mom could have witnessed this day. My solution? I held a photo of my mother on my lap so she could “watch” the C-Span coverage. I swear I could hear mom making remarks about GW Bush and possibly about Aretha Franklin although Aretha, covered up in a conservative gray coat, looked very nice today.

2. I thought about this photo of my son, Amir, taken in front of the White House in 2005. It had one meaning for me before the inauguration but it takes on a different meaning during Obama’s presidency.

3. I thought about how today seemed like the real start of the New Year. I don’t know about you but I cleaned my house all weekend in anticipation. I mean real cleaning where you use Clorox in the laundry and you wipe off doorknobs and light switches. Even though I work from home on Tuesday, on this inaugural Tuesday, I wore a skirt and dangling earrings all day. It just seemed appropriate.

4. I thought about the literary voices of Barack and Michelle.

Much has been made about the literary talents of our president. It’s been said that he once thought about pursuing a writing career and we all know that his two books are bestsellers. If you listen to his speeches it’s clear that President Obama is enthralled by language and literature.

They say that a good writer borrows from other writers and I’ve noticed a few passages in our president’s speeches that seem familiar. What immediately comes to mind is his speech on election night when he said, “We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America...we will get there.” There’s also a quote by him that was used by The McLaughlin Group last week where he describes Michelle when she's asleep and he talks about how you never fully know a person. The wording of that quote (was it from Ebony? Essence? I'll post it when The McLaughlin Group makes the podcast available) seemed familiar although I could not remember where I may have read it before.

Anyway, our president probably internalizes beautiful phrases and those phrases, slightly tweaked, sometimes peek out of his own prose. That’s a common phenomenon with writers: you unconsciously pay homage to language that you love. It’s also clear that Obama reads a lot because he writes in a soaring poetic style that is only found in literature. He likes to say things like, “They said this day would never come,” which is the first line of his Iowa speech. Also from that speech: “and sometimes, just sometimes there are nights like this” and “the belief that destiny has not been written for us but by us.” His race speech contained high rhetoric as well.

And while I love his grandiloquence and use of poetic devices, I must say that I prefer Michelle’s “literary voice” over his.

Before she was forced to play the traditional First Lady role, Michelle’s speeches displayed the hallmarks of any good postmodern writer. Her speeches were full of self-deprecation, self-awareness, and irony. She laughed at herself and the situations of the modern woman. Check out her campaign speech at a state fair where she says that she’s there to get “stuff on a stick” and that oh yeah, her husband’s running for president, too. Or her Delaware campaign speech which begins like a comedy routine.

And who were the stiffs who couldn’t see the humor in her description of her husband as stinky and snore-y in the morning? Her response to those critics was perfect. She said that people have ideas about what her role should be but her model is a little different.

Michelle’s literary voice, if developed, could be like Lorrie Moore or Gayl Jones, Toni Cade Bambara, Flannery O’Connor. The woman is funny, smart and macabre. Obama may be our rockstar poet who inspires us to reach for our higher selves but it’s his postmodern plainspoken wife who describes the absurdity of now.

Reading and the Light Rail

Phoenix has entered the New Year by stepping up its public transportation game. January 1st, metro area Phoenicians got a light rail that takes us through some of the East Valley (including Arizona State University) and a good chunk of Phoenix. Now I don't have to commute an hour each way to work or pay the ridiculous parking fees ($10 a day! or $800 a year!) at my job. But the main reason I wanted to ride the light rail is because it gives me an hour of uninterrupted time to read.

It's hard to read with kids running through the house. It's hard for me to read before bed because I tend to fall asleep. Like immediately.

So reading at dawn on the train sounded good. Other folks take advantage of this, too, and last week I actually looked at the books that riders were reading. Three or four people were reading James Patterson. One rider was reading Stephen King. Another person had a book titled The Toyota Way that looked interesting for wonkish, corporate types.

As much as I love to see people engaged with a book, I have to admit that I was disappointed with such obvious mainstream choices. The NY Times recently reported that reading of fiction by adults has risen which is good news. And Barack Obama's choice of Elizabeth Alexander as the inaugural poet is an inspired choice that will hopefully turn people onto her amazing body of work. What are you reading that you'd like to recommend? What are folks reading on the trains and buses in your city?

Let Me Clear My Throat

So I decided to start a blog with this simple purpose: to reflect on the unglamorous, everyday life of a writer. You know what I'm talking about--writing while raising a family; writing while unpublished; writing while working various jobs that may or may not be related to creating literature.

I know many writers who fit this description, some of them young, some of them older. Many of them are women. Their close friends usually have an idea that they write but it's not their primary identity. If you pry, you'd probably find hundreds of pages of unpublished manuscripts in their homes, pages that contain exquisite prose or perfect poems. They create intricate worlds on their off time, which is few and far between. So when does the girl from the block or the mother next door write? And what, exactly, is on her mind? I hope that this blog will explore that.

The blogosphere is crowded, for sure. There are already great blogs out there on the craft of poetry and fiction, on publishing and marketing your work, on the intersection of writing and academic life. I'm offering a different wrinkle, a glimpse into the juggling of many things. I take the crafting of stories as seriously as I do figuring out how to make ends meet, finding good schools for my kids, and reading dirt on celebrities. It's writing in real life.