very selective travels

Life In Paris



NOTE: I wrote this a few years ago, when Matilda was younger and before I published any books. Because clearly, publishing books makes you the High Priestess of Regal Glamour.

Whenever I get upset with myself, the hurrying-around doing dull errands, the mess in the house, the slopped-together meals of cereal on the couch, the ugly clothes I wear constantly, I beat myself with a stick I like to call “Life In Paris.”

Let’s apply this concept.

Last week, we went out to eat at Ember’s. My daughter Matilda wanted pancakes and my husband and I were too tired/lazy to make them at home. (Also, she wanted bacon and we had no bacon.) After we ate our crappy meal at Ember’s, which was actually quite delicious, we went home and I put on a pair of clean pajama pants and went to bed in the shirt I wore today.

When I woke up, I put on a bra under my shirt I had slept in and replaced the pajama pants with the jeans I’d wore the previous day. I splashed water on my face and brushed my teeth. Then I hustled Matilda through dressing and breakfast (whole wheat English muffin with rhubarb-strawberry jam and a shot of blueberry juice). Then I dumped her and the rest of the kids on our block at school and burned rubber over to the grocery, wearing no make-up, forgetting the reusable bags, to return milk bottles* and get more milk for my coffee.

Now, what’s wrong with all of that, you say? I’ve had that morning often myself, you think.

Enter the Life In Paris. If I were having my Life in Paris, I would not take my child to Ember’s to eat pancakes. In Paris, we have crepes, which I make with total and complete magnanimity, as I’m a Parisian woman! Just as it’s in my nature to fuck an older, uglier man who is shorter than me, so is making crepes without breaking a sweat.

In Paris, I would not leave the house wearing a shirt that’s been recycled continuously in three different instances. I would not leave the house without styling my hair or wearing make-up.** I would not wear junky, flat-bottomed snow boots and ill-fitting, thrice-worn denim.

Furthermore, in Paris I would not drive to some ugly, all-purpose grocery store where the food is bland and indistinct and the counter man in the meat department has no more expertise in meat than the $7 bucks-an-hour cashier. No, in Paris, I would market at individual shops that offered premium food know-how – fromagerie, patisserie, charcuterie, boulangerie – and after learning about the provenance of my purchases, I would put on my Chanel sunglasses, exit the store and clack down cobblestone streets in heels. My feet would not blister or ache. I would buy fruits from a vendor every day. I would buy my paper from a gnarled old man in a newstand and peruse it while I nibbled on a pan au chocolat. Because there’s no way I would not have coffee at home with a plastic coffee maker.

Non, belles amies! I would be having cafe au lait in a charming bistro before I went to work at my glamourous job at a publishing house. I would be wearing a frilly silk blouse with lots of lovely necklaces. I would have jewelry custom-made that didn’t come from a thrift store. And of course, I wouldn’t be fat. My bra and panties would match. My daughter would toddle off to school on a bus – such lovely public transport! – and I would meet her at home for a lunch of dressed greens and roast duck.

Isn’t Life in Paris is beautiful? Life in Paris doesn’t involve scraping one’s windshield, or picking up dog shit with a shovel in the backyard. Life in Paris features shoes with smart heels, and clothing made of silk and wool. No synthetics allowed in Paris! Life in Paris doesn’t include a trip to the health club to stand on a machine for a requisite 45 minutes to remove flab. In Paris, we flutter over long, picturesque sidewalks, holding our berets to our heads, as we jet to meet our lovers in bistros in the rain! This type of exercise isn’t labeled such. It doesn’t exert, you see. Besides, should your body have the audacity to store adipose, which I don’t believe is actually possible within the 16th arrondissement, such tasteless flab would be run out on a rail by a mob holding stalks of artichokes.

Why I let this stick abuse me so, I don’t know. I went to France on my honeymoon, with a phrasebook and not much else. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I didn’t like France very much at all. We drove from north to south, in a rented car, going down the autoroute at high speeds only to be stalled out by our lack of language skills in small towns. Adrian found the whole place in need of some spackle.

“It’s like they rebuilt everything that got destroyed in World War II,” he said, as we drove through a cloverleaf in some small town with too many vowels and x’s in the name. “But they only rebuilt it once.”

In France, I could mimic my phrasebook and get a response that sounded like someone sucking on marshmallows. About all the French I have left from that puny guidebook has been used in this essay. All of this left me feeling like France is some club I can’t be a member of – is that what life is all about? About letting junior-high notions of exclusivity ruin your day? I can’t help it that I’m provincial and my province doesn’t have lavender fields or couture houses. We have a local foodshed, but only for 5 months of the year. The rest of the time, life here is slogging through snow muck up to one’s ankles or dragging a large plastic garbage bin to the curb at 9:30 at night or picking around superstores with an oversize shopping cart or watching pay-per-view movies versus hoofing it to the art cinema. Anais Nin couldn’t land in my life and grab the reins. There are not enough satin lampshades or casks of wine in the cellar or opportunities to watch burlesque shows.

Maybe I just need a Life In Akron, Ohio stick? Maybe I don’t need a stick at all?


*Back then I used to buy milk in reuseable bottles but our grocery doesn’t carry that brand anymore. Of course it doesn’t.

**I don’t do this anymore. I put on make-up because I’m a vain motherfucking 40-year-old.




Almost Home

Figure 1. Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon. This has nothing to do with anything.

Figure 1. Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon. This has nothing to do with anything.


My friend Nancye lives in Tacoma and she generously is putting me and several other people from my graduate program up at her house and her daughter’s house, which are on the same plot of land. It’s beautiful here, indoors and out, and I’m so happy to have a place to just relax after all the craziness of residency.

I will be home late tomorrow night. I guess my own house is a disaster of demolition and re-roofing and remodeling and framing-in.

This was my fourth and last residency at the Rainier Writing Workshop. And it was the first time here that I was missing my family and anxious to get home, actually; every other year, I’ve just enjoyed hanging out with my writer friends so much. But still, I’m sad, thinking that I don’t get to go to Hogwarts/Writing Camp anymore. Graduation is like being shown the door, in many ways.

I am super tired.

I have 20,000 words left on book #2 to finish and deliver by September 1. That is a new thing for me, a hard deadline. I hope I can get all my facetime in with Matilda and Adrian and re-route myself from travel to stasis rather quickly in order to get book #2 done. In a lot of ways, I kind of like that I don’t have a choice.

My fellow graduates? Are writing some amazing things, yall. Really. I was blown away by their skill. And the variety! We all created such different manuscripts. It just pleases me so much, having made these friends.

I think the point of an MFA program is making good friends.

I bought Matilda a toy and some other little things. I like coming home from places and busting stuff out of my suitcase for her. I couldn’t find anything for Adrian this time. Last time I bought him a t-shirt of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. A book I hate and a book he’ll never read. Though he wears the t-shirt regularly.

I haven’t run since I did the half-marathon. I didn’t even take the stairs if I could help it.

There was some Genre Snobbery this time around at residency and at first I felt both smug and offended but now I’m like, oh who fucking cares, already; where me and my newly-pressed MFA degree are going, that shit will not matter. Because, in my office, where I make things up about Fake People, nobody gives a shit about genre.



Figure 1. Oh my sweet holy unfathomable lord

Figure 1. Oh my sweet holy unfathomable lord. Click on this to animate it because I said so.

I have to get on an airplane tomorrow and I hate doing that because of irrational fears. Don’t worry, I have Xanax. But still. I hate it. I hate leaving my little house and my little family and my little groove.

In the spirit of not being all bummed out, I invite you to send me some good-looking Fake Boyfriends. Fill up that submit box, yo. Get my mind off this fiery-crash death spiral.

Here is the submission page link. 

You can send a picture w/o a caption if you like; or caption it yourself. I’m not fussy.

And thank you in advance.




On The Goddamn Weather


When I was twenty, I went to study abroad. It was my last year of college. I was going to central and south America to do an Urban Studies program. I didn’t give one shit about Urban Studies. I just wanted to improve my Spanish and get the fuck out of Northfield and move on after a kind of icky break-up with a long-term boyfriend.

The first part of the trip was like some kind of test. We were in Guatemala, in the Altiplano, and I got sick. Everyone got sick. You kind of learned to be sick in another country, in all the unpleasant ways that can bring: on an overcrowded bus, in a restaurant, in a hotel with a communal bathroom and newspaper for toilet paper. I got elevation sickness, I was tired, I didn’t know anyone. I got fleas; I swam in Lake Atitlan each morning to drown them. I boiled my laundry. I lost 15 pounds. It was kind of insane.

So by the time we left for the second part of the trip, in Bogota, Colombia, I was pretty battle-hardened. I ended up living with a family in a gated community in Bogota. Everything’s gated in Bogota. But still, it was a cake-walk. It was lovely. There weren’t usually chickens on the laps of people taking my bus to university every day. My host mother put an ashtray in my bedroom and ironed my socks and underwear. I walked every day to the same cafe after school to eat empanadas and smoke cigarettes with my classmates. After dinner with my host family, I’d go down to the corner store and drink a beer on the curb, bringing the glass bottle back to the shop keeper when I was through. I did Neruda translations with a Literature professor in her apartment every Friday in downtown Bogota. Things were great.

But I couldn’t really get into doing any work. Because the weather never changed. It was always sunny, always in the mid-60’s. The leaves didn’t turn. Every afternoon it rained, sending us indoors for a few hours, but that was as prohibitive as the tropical climate got.

That was the first time in my school career that I didn’t do any work and I didn’t really care. I didn’t want to do anything academic. I wanted to drink rum and lemonade. I wanted to go bowling in the Bogota Mall. I wanted to dance like a dumb gringa in the Zona Rosa. I just didn’t give a fuck.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that I’m stuck in Minnesota for life. I don’t think I can ever move any place where the sun shines indiscriminately and the weather is fair and temperate. I might be as mindlessly content as can be, but I’ll surely get nothing done.

Not Going Anywhere

My vacation piggy bank, which is full of nickels, if I’m lucky.

I don’t ever go anywhere. Well, not that much.

I was just talking to Adrian about how happy I am that I’m not really going anywhere this summer. Last summer, I went everywhere. Two weeks in Red Wing for a writer residency thing. A week in France. A week Up North. Ten days in Tacoma. There was always a half-packed suitcase on my bedroom floor. I felt like I was never fucking home.

This summer feels all luxurious to me. I’m only going to Tacoma, which isn’t until August, and which is my divine Adult Summer Camp AKA low-residency MFA program. So that whole vast slate of unscheduled time makes me swell with happiness.

And I guess I’m teaching six classes over 3 weeks, but that is fun. Because they pay me to talk about The Hunger Games. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

Traveling is not something I do well anymore. This didn’t used to be the case. When I was younger, all I wanted to do was get on an airplane and go places. California. Mexico. Italy. Spain. Germany. Colombia. Guatemala. Ecuador.

But then after a really hairy flight to Costa Rica in 2001, I developed the unshakeable feeling that every plane I’d ever go on was going to crash. So that made going places a dreadful prospect.

Even though I have some pretty sweet medications I can take to knock me out when I have to step on a plane, the whole process has revealed to me that I also have some natural trepidations about going to faraway places. I dunno if I need a thicker membrane between me and the world, but I get enough stimulation just walking from my home office into my crappy little kitchen. I don’t really need to go to another country in order to get my neurons to fire, yanno?

Also, I like knowing where my hair products are. And having a huge closet full of choices. All the shoes I want. All the belts I want. I hate the constricted efficiency travel demands.

And I only speak English and Spanish (I kinda speak Spanish, but only in emergencies). So I feel like a dickhole going somewhere without being equipped properly with language skills, typical monoglot American.

There are only a few places I’m interested in traveling to anymore. They are:

New Zealand
the United Kingdom (like, the whole thing. Including Ireland.)
Turkey (shhh, don’t tell my father)