What to do about Richmond hate crime

Last week a woman was attacked and raped in Richmond by four men who apparently targeted her for being a lesbian. (Read the Associated Press story and the KCBS story.)  

Even though I know most sexual assaults are committed by people known by their victims, for me personally, I felt scared and powerless reading about this random attack. I was also angry. 
While I was just having these feelings (ok, ignoring them) and going about my life, amazing activists and organizers were working behind the scenes. Thanks to them, the rest of us don’t have to feel powerless. Here are a few things we can do right now:
GIVE directly to the survivor of the attack by donating to a fund for her set up by her community’s rape crisis center, in response to the Richmond community’s spontaneous outpouring of support. Write “Richmond Jane Doe” on the check and mail it to Community Violence Solutions (CVS), 2101 Van Ness St., San Pablo, Calif., 94806.  
BEAR WITNESS at a peaceful vigil in Richmond scheduled for Saturday night, Dec. 27.  More information is below.
STAY SAFE by reading the community alert issued by Community United Against Violence (CUAV) of San Francisco. Here it is as a Word document, for easy forwarding, or read on below.  
GIVE AGAIN: A check written now to CVSCUAV, or your own local rape crisis / anti-hate-crime organization will support the amazing work these groups do in preventing assaults and supporting assault survivors year-round. 
TELL WHAT YOU KNOW: The Richmond police are offering a $10,000 reward. Read descriptions of the suspects in this article and call Detective Yesenia Rogers at 510-672-1718 if you have any information.
SPREAD THE WORD. Share this and other information with your loved ones so that we can all be as safe and powerful as possible in this path we walk.
Be well, everyone.


Community Vigil for Peace and Healing

Where:  1500 Visalia Avenue, Richmond, CA (near Richmond Bart Station)

When:          Saturday, December 27, 2008, 9:30pm-10pm

What:          Peaceful vigil in response to hate-motivated gang-rape

>Alert:            Members of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, and Intersexed communities will hold a peaceful vigil with support from Hand to Hand Martial Arts Center, at the location where a lesbian woman was raped by four men on Saturday December 13th 2008. LGBTQQI community members and all allies are welcome to come join in peace, healing, and support for the survivor and her courage in speaking out about the violence that was perpetrated against her.

People can bring a candle and are encouraged to carpool or take BART or walk-together.  For more information regarding the incident in question please go to: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/12/21/BAV714SBA1.DTL

Safety Tips:

  • Reporting Violence / Seeking Emotional Support – If you or someone else experiences Anti-LGBTQQI hate violence and/or sexual assault please contact CUAV’s 24 hour crisis line at (415) 333-4357 (HELP). Sexual assault survivors can also call San Francisco Women Against Rape at (415) 647-7273. If you have been sexually assaulted, it is recommended that medical attention be sought within 72 hours of the assault.  If you need immediate assistance call 911 for help. Remember, you are not alone!
  • Safety Buddies – Make a plan with a friend, neighbor, or co-worker who knows where you will be and what to do if you need help. Keep an eye on each other if you are going out together.
  • Call for Help – Bring a whistle, a fully-charged cell phone, or just shout to get the attention of people around you.
  • Buy Your Own! – Get your own drinks and take ’em with you! Never leave drinks unattended.

Abundant Mushroom Soup

I went shopping at CostCo (with my mother) last week. Alas, I happened to be slightly hungry at the time. A person who lives alone should never shop for food at a warehouse where everything comes in “Eight Is Enough” quantities. Most of the things we bought, we split: a tub of grapes, a big container of dates. I was attracted to a thousand fairies‘ worth of mushrooms. Mum doesn’t like mushrooms so they were all mine.

With this cold cold weather, I crave hearty, earthy soups.  Below is the recipe for what I made, using the mushrooms and whatever else I had handy. It was very good with a side of simple roasted butternut squash and fennel, each of which I cut up into big quarters, slathered with olive oil and black pepper on the cut sides, and put in the oven cut side down at 400 degrees just before I started the soup.  (Total roasting time was about 1 hour, which was a bit longer than I intended just because I got so excited to eat the soup that I forgot about the oven… but everything turned out soft and delicious nonetheless.)
As for the soup, I am not a fussy cook (though I am a fussy eater) so it is simple and easy to make. Chopping the mushrooms took a while only because there were so many. Other than that, I put everything in the pot and Facebooked for a while until the soup was cooked (and the squash was roasted). I don’t like cooking with stocks and bullion; it makes no sense to me, so this soup is good and tasty with no stock necessary. If you are a stock-lover, though, you could substitute some of your stock for some of the water.
Finally, these quantities are approximate. If you cook a lot, you’ll know how to improvise and your soup will turn out delicious. If you’re wary, you can either experiment and say a little trusting prayer to the kitchen goddesses to help you, or you might prefer a real recipe.
Abundant No-Stock Mushroom Soup (Vegan)
Chop up your mushrooms. The more the merrier, really. What kind of mushrooms? Mine looked like large crimini but the package said ‘baby portabella.’  The package was about 2-3 times the size of the regular grocery store quantity.  I think any kind of mushroom or combo would be good in this simple soup.  If you’re using a dried type of mushroom, I’m assuming you know how to handle them; do the soak-in-boiled-water thing before you chop.
Dice one shallot, half a red onion, and a leek (white part only), or some combination thereof. I knew I was going to blend the soup at the end so I didn’t worry too much about the size of my chopping. If you don’t have a blender, you should chop to the size you like to eat things floating in your soup.
In a big pot or wok, heat olive oil (I used about a quarter cup) and sautee the shallot/onion/leek family until they are mellow, like your family after a round of hot toddies. (About 3-5 minutes.)  Add the mushrooms and cover with more than enough water.  If you like a creamier soup, use part water and part unsweetened soy or almond milk. If you’re the measuring type, I’d say about 1.5 times as much liquid as mushrooms. Cover and bring to a boil.
Add 3 bay leaves and generous quantities (approx 1 Tbsp each) of dried basil, sage, oregano, and black pepper. Salt to taste but go lightly on the salt because some of your liquid will boil down; you can always add more salt later.  Stir.  Simmer, uncovered. 
Go do something else for 20-30 minutes. You could, for example, do the dishes. Or instead you could blog about what you cooked yesterday.  This sets up a nice life rhythm: cook, blog about what you cooked, eat; cook, blog about what you cooked, eat. Unfortunately, eventually the dishes will assert themselves as you will have nothing left with which to cook or eat. Unless, of course, someone does it for you.
Now the soup should smell delicious and the mushrooms and spices should be nicely integrated. Turn off your heat and set up your blender.  If you have an immersion blender, go ahead and blend the soup right in the pot.  If you have a stand-up style blender, pour the soup in batches into it, blend, and return to the pot.  Either way it ends up a thick, yummy, mushroomy texture.  If you have no blender, your soup is still yummy, it’s a clear  mushroomy broth with chunks o’ mushroom.  Taste for salt and add more if you need too.
Serve by itself or with bread, or crackers, or the roasted veggies that you are NOT forgetting to take out of the oven.

Solstice Vegan Chocolate Mousse

I mentioned that I had this as part of my very lovely solstice evening, and someone asked for the recipe. I’m writing down how my genius friend Miriam showed me to make it.  She adapted it from somewhere else.   Despite the picky tone of my instructions below, it’s really easy and took about 15 minutes at most.  You can substitute non-organic stuff and a different brand of chips if you want; it might not be quite as virtuous, but it will still be incredibly tasty.  Fool your non-vegan friends — it’s that good.

Vegan Chocolate Mousse
1 package organic silken tofu — the very softest kind.  Press some of the water gently out of it by putting it in either cheesecloth or a thick paper towel (or a couple layers), placing the bundle in a colander, and putting a bowl or something on top of it. It’s not like pressing hard tofu; you don’t need much weight.  Leave it for a few minutes.  If you forget to do this ahead, you can squeeze it over the sink like Miriam did.  Be gentle.
1  10-oz  package Guittard or other non-dairy dark (= “semi-sweet”) chocolate chips.  Melt these on low or medium heat in the microwave. I use the defrost setting. Put it in for a couple of minutes at a time and stir frequently.  If you don’t like radiation you can also melt chocolate in a double-boiler but I have no idea what that even is.
Meanwhile, move the tofu into your mousse bowl and mash it up a bit.  Add a few shakes of organic vanilla and mix.  We’re not talking a few drops here, two to four liberal shakes of the bottle should do it.  Taste the tofu to make sure you’ve added enough vanilla to get rid of the (normal) slightly bitter aftertaste that all tofu has.
Are you remembering to stir your chocolate as you keep melting it?
Now get your electric eggbeater or immersion blender or mixer or whatever ready to go.  AS SOON AS the chocolate is all melted, pour it in a steady stream into the bowl while mixing with the mixer. If you have a sous-chef, have him or her pour the chocolate while you mix and hold the bowl. 
(If you dilly-dally, or if you try hand-mixing, you will cause your mousse to be lumpy since the chocolate will quickly harden into little bits as it cools.  It will still be yummy, but more like creamy pudding goodness with little chocolate flakes in it, rather than a mousse.  If you don’t have any of these devices and are considering investing in one, and/or have a last-minute Santa sugar daddy waiting in the wings, an immersion blender would be my choice. It’s a vegan’s best friend and you can also use it for smoothies, soups, etc. It has a sleek and sexy form. And it’s easy to clean up which is important so you can spend more time eating your mousse and less time cleaning up after it.)
When the tofu and chocolate are nicely combined and very smooth, put the bowl in the refrigerator for 10 minutes or so.  Occupy yourself by licking the bowl if you like.
Voila!  Mousse.  You can top it with real or fake whipped cream, or not.
I think it is important to have chocolate on the longest night of the year.

The end of email?

As I get a little more fluent with (ok, addicted to) Web 2.0, I’m having an Aha! moment.  I believe email is, very soon, going to be all but obsolete. 

Remember the early days, when it was very exciting to get a message — any message — at all?  “You’ve Got Mail!” said the cute little AOL alert.  It actually spoke out loud every time you got an email! Someone loved you!  People actually paid to use email, though I didn’t; I canceled my AOL account at the end of my free 30-day trial period. Other than the person I lived with, no one was emailing me anyway.
[A long aside: It was sometime during this period — probably 1996 — when I was at a Silicon Valley cocktail party (such things were just beginning to happen). I worked for the soon-to-be-rebranded “newspaper of Silicon Valley” and I started chatting with a guy who had just started a company to give people free email accounts. He gave me his business card so I could check it out for myself. 
Once home, I emptied out my purse and looked at the card: Sabeer Bhatia.  Hmm, well, I already had a free email account at work. I threw the card out. 
Years later, at some point when I had not one but three Hotmail accounts, I regretted that I hadn’t immediately offered to invest half of my paltry income in his startup. I tell this story so that you, dear reader, know to take any technology predictions posted here with a few googol grains of salt.]
Anyway, that sweet phase of email-as-fun-and-love lasted about a minute, and was quickly followed by the horror years.  All of us, but especially those of us in the news and information business, were virtually buried under piles of email, unsorted and unmanaged — the wanted and the unwanted, the trivial and the serious, the personal and the impersonal, friend and foe all arriving together by the dozens, the hundreds, the thousands. A daily, Sisyphean chore.
Many of us still live there. For me, it was so terribly distracting and unmanageable that for a couple of years as I was writing my book, I actually got rid of my home internet service.  This backward step was incredibly liberating and allowed me to seize control of my inbox again. Here’s how I did it, in case anyone out there wants to stage a personal Luddite rebellion and try it:
  • I literally unplugged (and stopped paying for) Internet service in my apartment, and instead bought a $55 wireless card for my laptop (of course, now they come installed).  I didn’t have a wireless network at my house, so presto, no internet at home. 
  • I automated my accounts to alert anyone who sent me a message that I was checking email once a week or less, and to call me if the matter was urgent. (No, I didn’t put my phone number in the outgoing message; I figured if they didn’t already know me well enough to have it, how urgent could it be?)  My lovely friends and family quickly learned to call instead of email if they wanted to reach me.
  • I got off most of my group lists, and kept the ones I wanted on a digest-only or read-online-only basis, so that they didn’t exceed my inbox capacity.  
  • Using an online guide like this one, I scoped out places with a pleasant environment and free internet. San Francisco’s public libraries and the Cole Valley Cafe became favorites.
  • Throughout the week, I would jot down (on paper!) a list of tasks I needed to conduct online.
  • Once a week or so, I would go to one of my spots, have a mocha, and spend a very efficient hour or two online. I quickly learned to skim and delete, and I enjoyed the satisfaction of checking items off my (paper!) list. 
It was lovely.
Ultimately, of course, that modus operandi worked wonderfully for a writer needing to produce a big work in solitude and concentration — but it’s not so great for a writer/performer with a book coming out into the world.  Now that I’m living large online again, I find that things have changed, dramatically, for the better.  
Now, for all but a few tasks, I’m finding that the new tools are so much better than email. And the techie geniuses out there seem ever-more devoted to making these tools really easy for a fuzzy like me.  (My college classmates will recognize the techie v. fuzzy distinction.)
So here’s what I’m using right now: 

  • Google docs, for sharing documents for client work and review by multiple editors. No more “I couldn’t open the attachment!”
  • Groups (Yahoo, Google, etc) and forum/bulletin board posting functions for creative drafts, documents within a virtual community.
  • Facebook and LinkedIn for staying in touch with extended personal and professional network, as well as introducing people to each other. No more “So what have you been up to lately?” emails.
  • This blog (powered by WordPress) for incremental progress reports and random creative spurts. I also like that blogging is totally consensual; I don’t have to worry about irritating people by sending them too many emails about trivial updates, or decide which friends would really be interested in which of my various book updates and pithy observations. 
  • Gmail chat and Facebook chat for quick hits, arranging meeting times, logistics, flirting, quick one-on-one catching up with friends. I particularly love how Chat eliminates the long strings of emails saying “I don’t know if I can meet at 6. Does 6:30 work for you? / OK, but can we meet near my work then? There’s a Thai place. / No, I don’t really feel like Thai. / Cuban, then? / etc.”  One quick chat, and it’s all settled!  It’s so easy that, during my recent bout with bronchitis/laryngitis when I couldn’t talk on the phone for days and days, I even persuaded the recalcitrant and tech-averse Daddi G to g-chat with me.  Hoorah!
  • Gmail video chat and Skype for virtual conversation.  On Google video, I did an interview with a magazine reporter based in New York who wanted to look at my family photographs as part of her interview.  In theory I could use Skype to chat with my family all over the world, though I haven’t yet used it much.
  • Designated private chat rooms for topic discussion, such as for an online writing class I’m currently taking.
  • Evite to invite people to events and respond to invitations. Facebook also has useful event and group tools, so I’m doing more of my inviting and social/writerly event coordination there instead.
  • And of course, my trusty little Helio Fin cell phone, where I can access all of this at anytime, even though it’s not a superduper smartypants crackberry or iphone.
Sometimes it feels like the only reason I still use email anymore is that not everyone in my life is using these tools. Or people are using different tools than I am; if you’re on MySpace and I’m on LinkedIn, we probab
ly still need email to connect online.   But it seems like our techie friends are working fiercely on integration. Already I can, for example, feed this blog into my Facebook page with ease. I also like the integration across my various gadgets such as the phone, laptop, and iPod (I believe these are called “platforms,” but that makes me think of Vegas shoes).  
And I realize I’m just scratching the surface — I don’t use Twitter, MySpace, SecondLife, etc. Still, at my decidedly fuzzy level, I’m finding two clear benefits of all this interactivity:
  1. My email inbox is more under control than ever.  This is also because of the genius of gmail, and my friend Patty’s advice on how to use it.  Now, at any given time, my actual inbox has fewer than a dozen items. Everything else is neatly sorted (filtered) away into folders, searchable and available to me at any time, but not screaming for attention.
  2. The time I spend online is not reduced, but it is more fun, less tedious.  I hang out on Facebook way too much, not because I have thousands of pesky chores piled up waiting for me to decide or act or delete or just read — but because I like to.   I could stop anytime (really, I could!) without that horrible feeling of being behind and overwhelmed.  
So, how about you?  Are you ready to attend the end-of-email celebration/wake? 
I’ll set up the evite.

First sign of the apocalypse?

It’s almost midnight and I’m awake listening to the umpteenth hailstorm of the day.  Some last just a few seconds; the longest have been maybe 15 or 20 minutes. They produce small lentil-sized balls of ice that quickly melt away. This particular hailstorm seems harder and longer than the others; it sounds like a flock from The Birds pecking at every window of the house at the same time.  

The hail itself isn’t really a problem, but the cold is inconvenient.  It’s COLD!  We are not used to below-freezing temperatures here in San Francisco;  houses, clothes, etc, just aren’t made for it.  Brrrrrr.

My cat was totally freaking out earlier, especially after he got hailed on (he goes outside sometimes).  Now he’s curled on my lap, and when it hails he just perks up his ears and looks at the windows. I guess he’s adapted, as I suppose we all will when global climate change starts to really hit home.
In between hailstorms I went to a community yoga class with the wonderful Skeeter Barker.  I’ve never been to a yoga class where people laugh so often.  It’s nice to have fun while sweating and stretching.  
Other than that outing, it’s been perfect weather for nesting, getting little things done at home and on the computer, napping, and doing lots of not-much.
If today’s hailstorms are a harbinger the end of the world, I wonder how long we have left. Maybe it’s silly, but I’d at least like a chance to enjoy my book launch first.  I’d hate to have all those years of fantasizing about talking to Terry Gross be wasted; can’t I at least have *chance* at being on “Fresh Air” before armageddon hits?

Negligee, fur coat, and mind map: My ‘puter accessories

I got a new MacBook Pro in September, and I adore it.  It was a few weeks before the latest versions announced in October, so it was on sale (deal!),  awfully cute, and a huge leap forward from my 2002 Sony Vaio (which I also loved, but in a less cuddly-wuddly way).  
Accessories are a necessity (say that ten times fast), so my MacBook now has a very hot red see-through outfit that it wears all the time, and which I’ve further gussied up with stickers. For going out on the town, it glams up with a fabulous fur coat (aka laptop sleeve) that looks like Cookie Monster from Sesame Street.  Unfortunately the MacBook’s built-in camera cannot take a picture of itself, unless I were to rig something up with a mirror, which I’m too lazy to do on the coldest Saturday ever in San Francisco, so you’ll just have to look at the two pictures and imagine them together with Dora the Explorer and other assorted adorable stickers.
Now that the outside is taken care of, I’m starting to accessorize on the inside.  I understand that some people call this “installing software,” but that phraseology makes me feel like a plumber with erectile dysfunction, so I’m reclaiming girly shopping language for this process.  Since I am a marginally employed writer (not that I’m complaining), as well as descended from frugal immigrant stock, I have developed a strong affection for discount shopping.  When it comes to computer accessories, that means keeping an eye out for freeware, shareware, tips from friends, free trials, and good deals.
My favorite ‘”find” so far is MindNode Pro, a very simple and elegant tool for Mac users. It allows you to create mind maps.  
(Some British guy claims he invented mind-mapping, but then, they also took credit for ‘discovering’ half the world, so I’ll ignore that Google hit and instead point you to the Wikipedia article on mind mapping, which takes a more ecumenical view.)
I’ve been doodling out my to-do lists, writing ideas, etc. as mind maps for a long time, although I didn’t know what they were called. They end up looking amoebic and crazy, but they work for me.  
MindNode lets me take those doodles out of my notebooks and brainstorm on the computer, where I can save, print, revise, manipulate, and color-code them. I can also save them as PDFs for sharing with others who don’t have the software.
So far I’ve used a MindNode map to plan an upgrade to my website, with each little limb of the amoeba (octopus?) telling me what I need to do for a particular area of the site.  I printed it out and am checking things off as I go.  
Next, I’m going to try it out for a writing project, where I’m not sure yet of the order of events/scenes/ideas.  It’s hard for me to write traditional outlines because themes, scenes, and characters intersect in multiple ways, and if I knew what order they should go in, I might as well just write the story.  So I’m looking forward to enjoying the mind map as a way to both capture my developing ideas, AND have the flexibility to move them around.
The best part of the MindNode software is that you can download it for ABSOLUTELY FREE, and keep it forever (it’s not a trial period).  If your mind maps grow more complex, to where you need more than 20 ‘nodes’ in a single map, then you can easily upgrade to the paid version, which costs all of …. $15.
I recommend it for anyone who wants to try a non-linear, creative way of thinking through a process, story plot, or just day-to-day tasks.
(PS I realize that some bloggers are paid to recommend products. I (alas?) am not. I just like to share. In case you were wondering.)

Leaving India blurb by Chitra Divakaruni

I’m so delighted and grateful that Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, author of several books including most recently The Palace of Illusions, has sent in the following endorsement:

Minal Hajratwala’s Leaving India is a fascinating history that kept me up late into the night–and I suspect it will do the same for most readers. Filled with amazing and compelling family stories, it will strike a chord in anyone whose people have come from elsewhere–and today, in America, that’s most of us! I am filled with admiration at Minal’s honesty and the careful beauty of her language. I learned so much, through the story of this one family, about the tragedies and triumphs of the Indian diaspora.

Chitra is best known as a novelist now, and was one of the first South Asian American authors to draw a mainstream readership.  However, I first encountered her as a poet, through her books The Reason for NasturtiumsBlack Candle, and Leaving Yuba City.  I still return to those poems over and over, and feel that she is one of the writers from whom I learned the power of “the careful beauty” of language.  

For much of her early material she drew from her work as an activist and organizer.   I was inspired by the story of how she founded Maitri, one of the first organizations in the U.S. to serve South Asian women suffering from domestic violence, who often face culture-specific issues and are not well-served by mainstream d.v. organizations.
Chitra is also one of the most generous writers I know. I remember being just barely 25, with a couple of poems published in obscure literary journals to my credit, and somehow getting invited to a “book party” at her house. She invited everyone who came to bring their own books/journals/anthologies/zines/publications of any sort, and set them up all around the house.  It was a lovely validation for me as an emerging writer, and I still think of that event as a touchstone for me, a model for doing the work while remembering to celebrate and stay connected with a wider artistic community.
Thanks, Chitra!

Book news, job listings

I’m performing, planning, hiring… enjoying the last bit of 2008, and laying the groundwork for 2009.  And I’d love your company!
SF Reading Friday 12/26

If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area for the holidays, please join me and several other authors on Friday, Dec. 26, at Hamara Mushaira – the hottest, smartest desi lit event of the season.

Hamara Mushaira is the evening program of the South Asian Lit Association conference, which happens in conjunction with the Modern Language Association conference every winter.   This year’s theme is “Gender and Sexuality” so you know that’s gonna be fun.   I’m excited to be sharing the stage with Toronto-based novelist Farzana Doctor, author of Stealing Nasreen; Chicago-based writer Mary Anne Mohanraj; and other talented writers/performers.

Details: Friday Dec. 26, 8:00-10:30pm, Galleria Park Hotel, 191 Sutter St, SF.

For full conference program or if you’d like to become a member of SALA, please see: http://www-instruct.nmu.edu/~jsingh/SALA/

The evening program is open to everyone.  I’d love to see you there.

Help birth the book!
LEAVING INDIA officially launches in March and we’re rolling with loads of good news: readings lined up in several cities, a starred review in Publishers Weekly, and a lovely blurb from Alice Walker.  It’s quite a change for me, from hibernating for seven years as I wrote the book, to getting ready to take it public. I’d love help in brainstorming and creating a fun, community-based book launch and tour!  In particular:

PARTY TIME: Got ideas, venues, connections for holding launch parties in San Francisco and New York? I’m looking for locations, co-sponsoring organizations, food/drink providers, DJs, and fellow performers.  I have a small budget and can also do trade and/or publicity and/or a friends-and-family rate because yes, I pay for the party! If you love to plan a party and want to share the fun of planning either of these celebrations with me, it would be totally fun to do it as a team project. 🙂

AT THE MIC: Invitations to speak, read, perform in your area are very welcome.  In March/April 2009, I’ll be touring in NY, DC, LA, SF Bay Area, and Toronto.  In addition to the bookstore readings my publisher is setting up, I would love to collaborate with other artists/performers on joint events while I’m in town.  It’s not just about the bookstores anymore, so I definitely welcome your ideas and contacts at community spaces, museums, universities, non-profits, etc.  (For those of you with academic connections, I’m also available to teach creative writing and performance workshops in late spring, or fall 2009.)

MEDIA BUZZ: Know a journalist who would be interested in covering the book and/or me?  Let me know!  Or, are you a freelancer who wants to do a review or interview?  Occasionally editors ask me to suggest a reporter, so do get in touch.  And of course, if you happen to be connected with the “big media” – Oprah, the New York Times Book Review, major national magazines and broadcast venues – you’re my new best friend.  Seriously, any contacts you feel comfortable sharing would be very welcome, and will be treated with the utmost professionalism.

Now Hiring… You?

I’m looking for a few smartypantses to work with me for the next few months, and possibly beyond. An upbeat, professional attitude is really important to me, and I’d love to keep resources within the (progressive, queer/trans, poc) community. These are paid positions. I am also open to barter if you’re in need of professional editing, writing, writing coaching, or manuscript consultation. Anyone interested should email me with a brief description of herself/himself and a daytime phone number.

The jobs are:

– An assistant who can work with me in my San Francisco home office, a few hours per week, on various administrative, marketing, and creative support tasks. The most pressing of these are: to help me sort out my contacts from several databases into one place; to help plan SF and NY launch parties; to provide home-base support for me during the book tour; and to assist with other tasks that help support my consulting/freelance work. This person should be super-duper-organized, Mac-literate, able to take a task and run with it, and more tech-savvy than me.  This is a paid, hourly position from now through April 2009 (and possibly beyond, if available).  Since this person will be in my home regularly, I’d really like to hire based on a friend’s referral.

– A web designer/graphic designer who knows the latest bells and whistles, and can help me take my website to the next level. I have a wee bit of Dreamweaver training, but the more I learn, the more I realize that at this point my ideas far outpace my skills.  I prefer someone with a strong visual sense, who can stay calm while troubleshooting technical problems, who can be patient with dumb questions, who is willing to teach me to keep the site maintained, and who is based in or near SF because I find at least occasional face-to-face meetings helpful. This is a paid contract position based on the designer’s estimate. Work will need to be completed by Feb. 10, with possibly a small number of ongoing maintenance and design update hours thereafter.

– A person to set up QuickBooks for my little consulting/freelance editing biz.  I can maintain it on my own but I’d like to be sure the categories, etc., are set up correctly. This is a paid position based on a work estimate. I’d like to have this set up by mid-January, if possible, so that I can start the new year fiscally organized.

Thanks in advance for your help!

And if you made it this far, thank you for reading.  You definitely deserve a holiday cookie and a sparkly beverage now.  Enjoy the rest of 2008 … and may 2009 be full of wonder, excitement, art, and community for you.



Grinching and Gifting

Every year I feel grumpy about Christmas.  Sometimes it’s severely raging grumpy bitchy grinchy.  Other years, like this one, it’s more sort of sigh-grumbly.  

For me, winter (especially this one, after I’ve been sick) feels like a time to stay indoors and enjoy the long dark nights and reflect, hibernate, restore.  I am attracted to the parties and social time with friends, but part of me senses that the holiday buzz and tinsel and lights are a cultural attempt at avoiding our bodies’ and planet’s natural, instinctive turn toward darkness.

Still, I’m inspired by my friend DH, who lets her inner child really enjoy the lights and the magic of the season.  Perhaps one of these years I’ll rediscover that part…  
I only had a couple of years of the full-on Christmas experience as a kid.  Until age seven, I grew up in New Zealand. It was a homogenous Christian country at the time, and people tended to mark it as a religious holy day in private or with their churches.  It certainly wasn’t the humongous commercial extravaganza that it is now in the United States.
I was in second grade when we moved to the United States.  My parents started getting a tree and (more?) gifts for us each year. They didn’t want us to feel left out (which I appreciate!), and I think they liked it, too, even though it was probably lots of extra work and required careful budgeting.  It was fun to get Stuff, and I liked singing Christmas carols in school. I was already 7, though, and maybe I believed in Santa Claus for a year or two, or maybe not even that. 
Eventually, as an adult, I started being grossed out by the commercialism and the obligatory nature of the holiday.  So many people I know just dread, absolutely dread, having to spend time with certain family members whom they can barely tolerate and don’t see for the rest of the year. And the consumption mania is rather out of control.  So a few years ago I tried to stop exchanging gifts with my family, suggesting we just spend time together but not shop.  
My brother agreed, so now he and I don’t exchange gifts.  He’s got a big family and plenty of people to shop for.  Plus, we’re both grown and neither of us really needs Stuff.  Or maybe he was just like, “Whatever, weird sister.” 🙂
But my parents weren’t having it. My mother said: “You don’t have to get us anything, but I’m gonna get YOU something no matter what!”  Way to lay down the law, Mum. So I feel sort of sheepish writing a letter to Santa at my age, but it’s best if I say what I really want, and find out what they really want, and it can all be rather nice if I keep it in perspective and stay grateful instead of getting stressed.
I still think Christmas is best for kids, though.  My nieces don’t need any Stuff either, of course; their toy room overfloweth.   But now they are old enough (5, 5, and 6.5) to have definitive preferences: One likes fairies and princesses, while another despises them. One likes pink, another likes purple.  So their letters to Santa are actually quite helpful, and I think I might actually do the Xmas thing for them this year.  (Usually I send them stuff in an erratic, year-round way instead.)  My brother and sister-in-law try to ensure that the girls’ lists for Santa are realistic (no ponies) and include a range of prices.  
So here, from the mouths of the babes, is what’s hot in the kindergarten set:
Tea also wants fairy and princess stuff.  Zoe likes books, so I’m going to get her A Poet’s Journey, a lovely fable that the author says is suitable for pre-readers and readers age 4-7 (or just young at heart).  
And Ava wants a model V8 engine.  Go, Ava!  Who says the auto industry is dead?
I also have a god-daughter, but I suspect she and her little sister are a bit too young to know what they really want.  They would probably be happy with a big cardboard box to unwrap and climb inside of.
My parents are getting something I won’t post here, in case they happen to read this.
Me, I want:
  • a camera (was gonna write, digital camera, but I guess they’re ALL digital now) that can take both still pictures and a few minutes of video, is Mac-compatible, and has an underwater housing so I can take it diving.  
  • a bundt pan, because I’ve been wanting to try out some cool cake recipes from this awesome vegan cookbook that require one.
  • world peace.
What can I say, I may be grinchy but I’m still greedy.  Does that make me a true American?
I also would like a pony.  No, make that a unicorn. 
Happy holidays to you, if you celebrate.  May you be granted everything you need this season, and the best of what you want, too.

Hetero-friendly film reviews: “Dostana” and “Milk”

Quick take:

Dostana“: Cheesy but fun fake gay film. 
Milk“: Well-made but slightly flat real gay film. 
Both hetero-friendly.
Slow take:
I recently received in the mail a copy of Passport magazine. Although the website calls it “The Insider’s Guide to Gay Travel,” on my actual magazine the tagline reads: “The Hetero-Friendly Gay Travel Magazine.”
What does that even mean?  Leave aside the utter lack of poetry and the clearly ineffective marketing strategy (please raise your hand if, straight or gay, those words would make you buy this magazine!) … here, in a 30-point white sans-serif nutshell, is the central dilemma of mainstream gay messaging:
It wants to be gay.  Oh yes it does.  But not too gay!  It still wants to be loved.  So even as it asserts its gayness, it must apologize for being gay.  Pride and shame, hand in hand.
Which brings me to our movies o’ the moment.
MOVIE #1:  “Dostana 
This is being billed as the first gay Bollywood movie. There have been some truly queer independent Indian films (“Fire,” “My Brother Nikhil“), but this is the only one to come out of the big-bucks, mega-stars industry that pumps out hundreds of movies a year.  
So the first obvious question is, Is “Dostana” really a gay movie?  The answer: Only if you thought “Three’s Company” was a gay show.  In “Dostana,” two hunky guys pretend to be gay lovers so they can move into an apartment owned by a gorgeous single woman. Of course they both fall in love with her, and drama and silliness ensue.
Like most of the three-hour comedic musical melodramas produced by Bollywood, Dostana is way too long by half.  Pre-intermission is much better than post-intermission, so feel free to leave after your popcorn or samosa break if you want. Over the second half of the movie, the plot gets increasingly ridiculous as the not-gay boys compete and scheme to get their girl.  For a queer viewer, the most interesting point of suspense becomes, Are the two men going to kiss or not?  I won’t give it away, but if you want to leave at halftime (or not go at all), you can watch a grainy bootlegged YouTube video of the climactic will-they-or-won’t-they moment here.
There are two actual gay characters, both very swishy, a magazine editor and (amusingly) a U.S. immigration officer.  Their portrayals, as well as the straight characters trying to act gay, are highly stereotypical and not for the easily offended.
At the same time, though, “Dostana” is obviously a film that had gay authorship and involvement in the creation. There are inside jokes and references to other Bollywood films and queer culture, and several precious, catty, subversive comments that could have only been inserted by gay (closeted? out? who knows) insiders.
“Dostana” has several things going for it.  It’s fun and entertaining, especially the first half.  It shows ordinary straight Indians having positive reactions to and relationships with ordinary “gay” and gay Indians, which is a step forward.  And the music is really good.
I think “Dostana” will leave a legacy. For starters, it will solidify the sexy John Abraham’s position as a gay icon. More substantively, it should open the doors for other Bollywood films to have increasingly normalized and authentic gay characters in secondary roles, and perhaps eventually in main roles.  It shows that a gay theme is not a box-office killer.
And most immediately, it’s given us a theme song. “Maa Da Laadla Begad Gaya,” which I’ll very roughly translate as “Mama’s Boy is Ruined,” rhapsodizes about the son becoming the bride and the mother shedding tears.  Though the lyrics are tongue-in-cheek tragic, the tune is classic catchy Bollywood pop. I expect to hear it at every desi queer party from now till the next millennium.
The song I liked the most was called “My Desi Girl,” and it’s about how Indian women are the most gorgeous ever. It’s so over the top that it’s kind of ridiculous, and it’s obviously a retrograde assertion of heterosexuality so that the movie won’t come off as too gay… but it still made me feel kinda happy.  (By the way, I can’t vouch for the safety of downloading songs from these links, though I’ve risked it and so far suffered no obvious adverse consequences.)
MOVIE #2:  “Milk 
I was really excited to see this film, made by Gus Van Sant (whose “My Own Private Idaho” was one of the most beautiful boy movies ever) and starring Sean Penn, who is G’s man-crush.  
First the good:  Penn does an amazing job inhabiting a completely different body and mannerisms than his own, without swishing.  The acting is really great, and the film makes interesting use of archival footage in an attempt to make history come alive.  It was great to see it at the Castro and then walk outside and be dazzled by being in the middle of such an important story.  I loved learning how thousands of ordinary queers, by organizing and coming out and asserting themselves, defeated the anti-gay Briggs Initiative in one of the first populist electoral victories for gay Americans. And I cried at the candlelight vigil at the end, lovingly re-created with hundreds of extras from our community, some of whom I recognized.
The film also powerfully shows the schism that still exists today between the assimilationist and radical wings of the U.S. gay movement. The argument between the “establishment gays” like the editor of the Advocate and the grassroots street activists that Milk organized is still going on, and was most evident in the recent No on Proposition 8 campaign, much of whose campaign literature studiously avoid the words “gay and lesbian.”
So this movie is the opposite of “Dostana” in a lot of ways: it’s faithful to real gay people, politically progressive, and … not really very entertaining.
The main problem is that there’s very little suspense.  Basically two things happen in the movie: In the first half, Harvey Milk gets elected to the San Francisco board of supervisors. In the second half, he gets killed.  Since it’s history, almost everyone knows both those facts walking in the door.  The job of the filmmaker, then, is to create suspense in character development and subplots.
That doesn’t happen, partly because “Milk” is so hagiographical that none of the characters can get very complicated or, really, develop.  Dan White, the killer, is wack from his very first scene to his last.  Harvey Milk is good, sweet, hard-working, and politically right-on from beginning to end.  The only person who has any kind of conversion experience is Cleve Jones, who goes from street hustler to the campaign’s main man, but even that is more a testament to Milk’s compassion in adopting the strays of the community than an attempt at actually showing a character’s emotional trajectory.  It’s as if the filmmaker couldn’t risk, in a mainstream release about a gay hero, to portray that hero or his allies as anything less than perfect.
Instead, the real transformation in the film is in the gay movement itself, which provides some excitement, though in a more intellectual than emotional way. Still, this portrayal made me glad to have seen “Milk,” as well as eager to watch the 1994 documentary that covers the same territory, “The Times of Harvey Milk.”
Watching both “Milk” and “Dostana,” I was reminded of what I once heard the director Frank Oz say about his 1997 movie “In & Out“:  “It was about being subversive while being safe. … A studio’s not going to give you $40 million for a movie about a gay teacher without being entertaining to a whole lot of people.”
At the time I saw “In & Out,” several years ago, I was really offended by it and by Oz’s “safe but subversive” claim in the post-film talk.  The movie didn’t seem subversive at all to me; it was merely safe, and stereotypical. The main character of “In & Out” is a swishy teacher whom everyone thinks is gay because of how he walks, but he says he isn’t. Tom Selleck has a cameo role and … well, it’s just really bad.
But this weekend, watching “Dostana,” I sort of understood how someone of a certain generation in a mainstream movie studio at a certain political moment might truly believe that that was the only feature he could make.  
And watching “Milk,” I understood how, before the current marriage movement, large numbers of Americans (think Anita Bryant and the Briggs Initiative) found the issue of gay teachers so threatening that perhaps a silly comedy was a reasonably subversive way to approach it.  
Still, even Oz expressed mixed feelings about his final product: “I wanted it safe, but maybe not that safe.”
And that might be why, in general, I like truly subversive and risk-taking indie movies way, way more than the mainstream versions, with their fiscally motivated, built-in, hetero-friendly, safety features.