Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Curlicue Chronicles has moved.

Curlicue Chronicles has moved to Wordpress.

I hope you'll consider moving too. And perhaps signing up for email alerts.

My latest essay, a short one, is about meeting the legendary Smokin' Joe Frazier. A girlhood dream. Perhaps a strange girlhood dream. But there you have it.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Performance by Arachne Aerial Arts 
She and I stand on the sidewalk in front of my Washington, DC apartment talking briefly as she drops off her daughter. She is Sharon Witting, the co-director of Arachne Aerial Arts and she's going to work.

"Thanks for watching her. The warehouse where I'm rehearsing is filled with sharp metal shavings."

I hate when that happens.

No worries, I reassure her. Company for my son means I can get more done. Sometimes two are better than one.

Sharon's daughter is an only child like my son. And like some singletons (a word I learned from Parents magazine) he occasionally asks for a sibling. I get that. What I don't get is when other parents ask, not if, but when I'm having a second child. What if I can't? What if I won't?

I'm surprised to learn that people plan such things as siblings. The whole concept of sibling math is new to me. If so-and-so is two years old, we should have so-and-so in less than three years but no more than five. 

But this is coming from a woman who is also shocked to learn that some little girls, and some not so little girls, dream of their future wedding. Complete with tear sheets and story boards. I've never been much of a planner.

Sharon's advice, though, is spot on. Get a cat. Hell, get two. This satisfied her daughter's craving for a playmate.

"What he doesn't realize," she adds, nodding in my son's general direction, "is that you're not going to pop out a 5-year old brother for him to play with."

Sharon Witting and Andrea Burkholder (Photo by Enoch Chan)
As she drives away, I'm still laughing at the the image of birthing a 5-year old boy for my son with a complementary demeanor he'll find agreeable and toys that he doesn't already have.

The laughter then turns to abdominal cramping. And I wonder where I could put a litter box. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Oh No He Didn't

David Sedaris 2007

"You should read David Sedaris. You'll love him." That's what one of the Wenches said to me recently at our monthly W.E.N.C.H. meeting in Washington, DC where I live.

(W.E.N.C.H., a professional woman's group I founded, stands for Women Exploring New Career Hemispheres. I wanted to name it Careers Undergoing New Transformation, but the ladies voted that one down.)

So I did just that. I read three of his essay collections and loved them. Funny. Self-deprecating. Dark. All things I love. I began imagining that with practice, focus, and the proper amount of childcare, maybe one day I could be a humorist writer like Sedaris. Except with boobs. And hair.

I start researching his agent because that's what Betsy Lerner, in her book The Forest for the Trees, recommends as a smart first step. After I type "David Sedaris" in Yahoo, the first hit is not his representation information, but rather  "Chicken Toenails, anyone?", an article he published on July 15 in the UK's Guardian newspaper.

The article floors me. It's not his usual hysterical account of Life as David. It's a mean, scathing diatribe of his recent visit to China with not a trace of the self-deprecation for which he's so famed. No disclaimers of any sort. He just drones on and on about the lack of sanitary conditions and the poor quality of food, sounding like a hoity toity bitch. And I don't call just anyone hoity toity.

Maybe I fell in love with Sedaris too quickly and now I'm seeing him in the morning with bad breath,  scratching himself through dirty, worn boxer shorts.

I fell in love with China too. But that took much longer. It's where I lived for several years, the first half of my 20s to be exact. It's where I got one of my degrees, making me the first Westerner to graduate from Henan University. It's where I became Kaifeng's Beer Girl with television ads and everything.

View from my beloved tiny, humble, concrete room at Henan Univeristy, Kaifeng, China. 

I won't go in for a tit-for-tat. Not here anyway. Jeff Yang, in his follow-up article "David Sedaris talks ugly about China" published in the San Francisco Chronicle, does a better job than I could. And he's Chinese.

I'm just wondering what happened. Was it the typical you-become-famous-and-turn-your-venom-outward syndrome? Sedaris, in his secluded fame bubble, should remember his own recipe for success. Direct the venom where it belongs, at himself.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Surviving a heat wave. Or a dirty bomb.

Heat wave hits Washington, DC. Temperatures to reach 103 degrees.

But my apartment is cool. And shady. Mainly because my husband is a master of something he calls, Shade Management. He is so serious about this concept that as I type, he's on the roof blocking our skylight with a blue camping tarp. My son squeals with joy "It's blue in here! Can we leave it like this forever?"

I'm not exaggerating.
Until the heat breaks, I will be living in a bunker-like fortress with a hodgepodge of makeshift window treatments giving my home a certain crack house chic. Or perhaps meth lab circa 1990s. I'll have to ask my decorator friend.

Naked windows let in the view. And the scorching sun. So, he's taped cardboard to one, clipped a beach towel over another and, in the kitchen, stapled one of my favorite sheets to the wall, promising that he didn't put a hole in it. And here I've been living foolishly under the impression that making a hole is integral to the stapling process.

He also rigged the floor ducts with pencils and books to redirect cold air away from the windows where it immediately gets sucked out and burned to a crisp. They look like a snares for trapping small woodland creatures should the take-out grid go down. Which is exactly why I'm a loyal viewer of Dual Survivor. They cover things like that.

Some would complain. But actually, it inspires the survivalist in me.   

Wind-up flashlight? Check. Canned tuna? Lots. Can opener? Got it. (You need only have that nightmare once.) Plenty of candles, bottled water and Zip Car on my speed dial should my attempts at hot wiring an escape vehicle fail.

I go into survival mode very quickly. And becoming a mother has only quickened my response time.

When a tornado warning threatened DC, I packed emergency food supplies before the first raindrop fell. Actually, I was still breast feeding at the time and therefore a Survival Goddess. Not only would I be able to feed my son without modern technologies, but I could also treat wounds because breast milk acts as a topical antiseptic. When choosing teams in a game of Judgement Day, always pick the nursing woman.

So, as much as my aesthetics are assailed by all the barricading, I kind of enjoy temporarily living in a shit-just-hit-the-fan film. As long as it's not the quiet, apocalyptic delight Right at Your Door because nothing goes as expected in that one. Although, I do recommend it. 

And of all the decorating styles out there, Modern Armageddon isn't so bad. The only thing I'm missing is a bad-ass costume which seems to be a necessity when all systems break down.

Though, as great as this full-length leather trench would be for looting a grocery store of all non-perishables while evading armed foreign interlopers, it could be a little hot in a heat wave.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Variation on a Personal Debt Crisis

"Hey, let's buy a lighthouse."

He says it just like that. As I'm picking up toys off the living room rug. 

Excuse me? Who are you and how did you get into my apartment? 

Okay, yes. He is my husband. And yes. We have saved and are ready to buy our own place. But a lighthouse? I think I've mentioned a ranch house. But never a lighthouse. Ever. 

"They're cheap right now," he adds.

His attempt to appeal to my frugal side is transparent, yet appreciated. Regardless, is a lighthouse really something you want to buy in the discount bin? What if the roof leaks? Hell, what if the walls leak? It's just begging to be a great party story. "Did I ever tell you about this couple I know who bought a lighthouse ..." 

I suspect my husband may be trying to recapture some of his childhood that did, in fact, involve shark fishing with old, crusty, drunk fisher people. Mine didn't. To me, Jaws is a cautionary tale and the ocean is mainly a backdrop for lobster dinners, tropical cocktails and a cute bikini. Not necessarily mine.   

Admittedly living in a lighthouse is not without its allure, especially the possibility for themed dinners and costume parties. Though the pirate motif could get stale pretty fast. And I can't really pull off Ralph Lauren's nautical line.

There's also my son to consider. It could very well shape his future. Or scar it. Either way, he could write a book about it one day. "My parents decided it would be a good idea to raise their son in a lighthouse. Here's my story ..." It is our job as parents to give him options after all.  

But a lighthouse?

What if it doesn't look like my idealized, romantic image of a lighthouse? Like this.

What if it looks like this? 

Or this?!

But I'll consider it. I like an adventure. And besides my husband does go along with some of my less-than-stellar ideas like the time he agreed to juggle eggs while I tap danced around him to the song "Me and My Shadow," a piece I choreographed for a retirement home performance. 

You could say I owe him. Big time.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Connect The Dots

Let's play a game.

First, name three things that have seemingly nothing in common. Then find a common thread that connects them together in 500 words or less.

I'll go first.

1. Fisher-Price Little People
2. Yoga
3. Drunks

Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market, Washington DC
It's Saturday morning in Mt. Pleasant, my charming-yet-sometimes-crime-infested Washington, DC neighborhood. I'm going to the farmers market, a quaint scene that unfolds near my apartment each Saturday. Not bad for urban living less than two miles from the White House.

I also work there. (At the market. Not the White House.) But not today. Today I'm here to rendezvous with a stranger who wants to buy my son's Fisher-Price Little People collection. I'll be the tall, curly haired woman carrying a plastic roller coaster, I tell her. She responds that she'll be one of two Asian women with a tall white guy.

The racial profiling helps. I find her easily, something I expected. It's a small market. What I didn't expect was my emotional attachment to these little plastic people as I explain how much they meant to my son. "The school bus sings a safety song," I sniff.

I pull it together and buy some peaches. Then mingle. I see Holly, my son’s favorite yoga instructor. He’s taken as many yoga classes as I have and has been infinitely more successful. Once I fell asleep and drooled all over the rental mat. Another time I was kicked out. But that’s deserves its own 500 words. 

Holly knows this about me but invites me to an open house at Past Tense yoga studio anyway. Sure, I’ll come. It’s near my apartment. There’ll be free food and drinks. And I won’t have to wear Lycra. I'm at peace with all this. 

Heading back to my place, I run into the shoal of drunk, homeless Latino men who have taken up residence on my block and have been pissing on my trash cans. Some are asleep. Some are singing a song in Spanish that sounds really dirty. You can just tell.

Remembering what I heard in one yoga class, I tell the Universe what I want. "Please don't let these drunks see the flyer and understand the meaning of 'Open House.' Namaste." I realize this makes me a candidate for some sensitivity training course. I'm at peace with that too. 
Passed out? Or meditating? Who's to say.

But the owner of the studio is so sweet, she just may let them in. You know how yogis are. She may see yogic potential, like the guy in the photo on the far right who seems to be doing The Savasana, or Corpse pose. It's important to know the difference because in DC, if you call 911 for a corpse-like drunk, the fire department will show up too and, unlike the Little People Lil' Movers School Bus that I just sold, there's no easy on/off switch for the sirens and sirens can really ruin the peace and harmony of a Saturday morning in Mt. Pleasant.  

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved"

"Fancy Fillies" by art deco artist Jeff Williams.  
Hunter S. Thompson nailed it. Despite all the fancy hats and chilled Mint Juleps, horse races are decadent and depraved.

On Kentucky Derby day, the crowd I see picnicking in Georgetown, Washington's rich, historic neighborhood, with their elaborate hats and seersucker, covers the decadent part. Now for depraved.

In my favorite pizza joint where I get a slice and a pint for $5, I wouldn't exactly call the young woman wearing a millinery mess two feet in diameter, depraved. More like obnoxious as it clogs up the aisle. However, another Derby Girl, overly dressed and stumbling drunk at 4 in the afternoon, bangs up against the wall on the way back to her barstool. That's more like it.

I wonder if the woman who chose to swathe her head in yards of turquoise netting has a bet in the Derby. Does she know what OTB stands for? Has she ever been to a horse race? Or does she just like hats. Hard to tell. Now I'm being judgmental. I feel I have the right. A strange, inappropriate thing to feel. But when I hear "They're at post!" I'm a little girl again, back at the races, where instead of chiffon dresses and sprigs of herbs, there's old man wool and flat beer. Can't a girl wax nostalgic? Without all the young posers?

Even before my time, my maternal grandfather was the constable at Waterford Park, the local racetrack in West Virginia. My mother and her brothers would hang out just as I would with my brothers. 
My Grandma Katie, Grandpa Steve and Uncle Caiden at The Track. 
In the 1970s when it became our weekend family outing, Waterford was packed with career gamblers, people cashing in their pay checks, illegal doping. Cigar smoke. Character. In those days, if a horse was unlucky enough to break a leg during a race, they shot it in the head on the track. A white doctor's screen shielded spectators but didn't stifle the gun shot. "Mommy, why is that big, white sheet on the track?" BAM!

I loved the race track. I'd spend all day kicking asides cigarette butts to collect the worthless losing tickets that carpeted the floor. Everyone held them with such white-knuckled grips, whapping them against their thighs yelling for that "Goddamned horse to get the fucking lead out!" that they just had to be special.

And sometimes they were.

I was about three years old, when I handed my father a treasured scavenged ticket telling him it was special. The ticket showed a losing 3, 4 perfecta. Gamblers are a superstitious lot. So, of course he bet it. And hit for $500. The 3, 4 perfecta remained his bet, boxed usually, for decades to come. Not the luckiest of gamblers, he studied old racing forms as if trying to crack code. He knew things like which horses to bet on if the track was muddy. And to bet more if your horse just peed because it'd be lighter. Stuff you just can't learn from the horse betting books that lined his shelves.
My mother yelling for he horse coming down the stretch.
My mother's favorite bet was 1, 3, 7 after winning $10,000 on a long shot trifecta. We were escorted, as a family, to the parking lot by security guards that night. Where my father took a mathematical approach to betting, she relied on her Hungarian Gypsy heritage. I would wish and wish for his horse to win. But she was the lucky one. Other gamblers knew it too. Old men and women, gamblers she knew well, asked her as she stood in line at the betting window, "Hey, Kathy. Whodya' like in the 5th?" Word got around quickly when she was hot.

Dougie after winning some money for my mom.
She also bet the birthdays of her children. But with seven kids, the math could get a little dizzying. It became condensed into a system where she only bet the next upcoming birthday. Unless Dougie was riding. Doug Williams was her favorite jockey. Kelly, a pretty blond, was a close second. I grew up thinking all mothers had favorite jockeys. And a bookie named Jimmy the Greek. Of course.

Visiting my parents as an adult, we would still go. But it wasn't the same. Over time, even my parents stopped going. It's now called Mountaineer Park. Gambling machines draw the crowds, not the horses. Sad.

Hunter S. Thompson
I realize things clean up with age. Pole Dancing classes at the gym. Office types using "pimp" as a verb. Even Las Vegas, Sin City, is filled with family fun. Maybe that's why Mr. Thompson shot himself. Instead of Fear and Loathing he'd have to write about Cher and The Lion King.

Before you suck your teeth at that one, do know that in addition to the horse track, another common family outing was the shooting range at the Paris Sportsman Club. That's Paris, Pennsylvania. Not France. So, I'm betting that Gun Enthusiast Hunter wouldn't mind the suicide crack.

I understand why some may want to pretend that horse racing is gentile and highbrow. But I prefer Mr. Thompson's lurid version. It's closer to home.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Taking Eleanor Roosevelt's advice literally, I watch 28 Days Later again late one night, feeding my ongoing love/hate relationship with zombie films - or infected films, if you want to have that argument.

Although I don't think she was talking about zombies. And neither am I. I'm talking about film. (Should you click on her name and buy a t-shirt, I don't get a cut. Just so you know.)

"Do You Want To Be A Filmmaker?" the email asked. Well, gee, I haven't thought of that in years. I did have a hoot back in the 90s working on the film Whatever. And as I am exploring new career options and there aren't any "So, You Want To Be Death Midwife?" seminars in the Washington, DC area, (nothing's off the table) I decide to give it a go.

Admittedly, attending a forum on filmmaking does not have a high scare factor. Not like bungee jumping. Or going to an Scientology open house. But it is a departure from the work-life I've created around two decades of Chinese language studies. And departures can be scary.

The day of the forum torrential rains pound most of the Mid-Atlantic and a band of tornados threaten the DC area. Perfect weather to talk about film. And the cost is perfect too. Only $10 for the whole day which includes a panel of noted filmmakers and workshops on camera, lighting and sound. The writer/director of The Blair Witch Project, the movie that made my then-Bangladeshi boyfriend's petite Indian friend puke in a New York City trash can, is on the panel. I hope I get the chance to tell him that his movie made someone I know throw up. But I'm sure he gets that compliment all the time.

The venue is a theater where my son and I often get our musical theater fix, one of which involved a vampire bunny. Not the best $22 I've ever spent. The fact that I'm in a children's theater and that the $10 on-site registration fee requires a student identification (something the on-line process, I swear, didn't mention), should've tipped me off. And in hindsight, most of the adults I see are dropping off kids, throngs of teens and pre-teens who I'm assuming came to see George & Martha: Tons of Fun. George and Martha the elephants. Not the Washingtons.

It isn't until a woman with a clipboard instructing all film seminar attendees to file into the auditorium and we all stand up together do I realize what I've done. I've signed up for a forum intended for students. Not even college students. Junior high and high school students. Things just got a bit more scary.

I consider leaving but I've already paid. Ten dollars. I've also walked nearly a mile to catch the Metro and then walked another quarter mile to the theater. I am doing this, dammit. Student i.d. or no student i.d. At least in an old, torn Ramones t-shirt, black hoodie and sneakers I'm dressed appropriately. Maybe I'll blend.

Excuse me, ma'am, says one of the kids as he heads to his seat.

Name calling, are we? Is that how this going to go down? Well, during the lunch break I'm heading to the cafe down the street for a beer. Enjoy your juice box.

But they seem like nice kids. Nice kids with their own audio/video departments. They talk about their current projects and have coolers phones than mine. I chastise myself for comparing phones. This isn't high school. Well. Today it kind of is.

What the hell. I plunge full-steam into the seminar which is well produced and professional, beginning with screenwriting and ending in post-production. I learn industry secrets about scriptwriting. Follow format! And creative collaborations. Filmmaking is a team sport! Thankfully, the sports references end with that one, something that concerned me as the moderator, the entire discussion panel, all the workshop presenters and most of the attendees are men. And boys. They couldn't find one chick working in film?

Age and gender aside, I learn other secrets. How the right backlighting adds ethereal highlights to an otherwise flat hairdo and can heighten and sculpt your cheekbones, something more restauranteurs should keep in mind when lighting their dining rooms. How a humming beer cooler is actually really loud if you're filming and not just drinking in a bar. How some guys become sound recordists for the gear alone. And how their wives feel about that. So much to learn. We dabblers love hearing years of experience speak.

I look around and wonder why no one else is taking notes. Quietly I slide my favorite Pilot G-2 gel pen and Wonder Woman notebook back into my bag. Even among teenage, techie gear nerds, I'm a nerd. The Ramones t-shirt has helped not in the least.

But the day proceeds fine. Until the end of the lighting workshop. Then things get a bit shaky. I ask a general question on how Julian Schnabel accomplished that dreamy feel in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a movie about Jean-Dominique Bauby's efforts to write his memoirs when the only remaining corporeal movement left to him was blinking one eye. (Bauby is pictured at right). I loved this film until learning how much Schnabel altered the truth for the sake of adding petty drama.

I say something to that effect to Mr. German Lighting Guru but he's too busy digging in his camera bag for something he calls a Lens, baby. I blush thinking he's coming on to me when he pulls out a Lensbaby. Oh. Well, if we're not going to flirt, can we at least slam Schnabel for being a deceitful bitch without mucking about in the weeds too much?

When on an exploratory career expedition, stay out of the weeds.
(This is my advice. Not Eleanor's.)

As soon as he suggests a lens, my heart starts pounding. Please, don't ask. Please, don't ask. "So, what type of camera are you using?" I hate him. With his $200 denim jeans and bed-head hair, I hate him for asking me this. I can't remember what kind of camera it is. It's a Sony, I think. With some letters and numbers after it. I've never been good at remembering names with alpha-numeric combinations. I feel exposed. Over exposed. All washed out and two-dimensional. Something you want to avoid when filming, by the way.

Didn't I tell him that my "film" project is pulling my son in his Red Flyer wagon around our DC neighborhood to capture his fleeting childhood?

How do I tell him, now that he's mounting his precious Lensbaby onto his camera to show me the great effects I could achieve with this innovative lens, that my 5-year-old will be the one holding the camera? Do I use words like cinema verite and verisimilitude to change the topic? Luckily he has a plane to catch and cuts his demonstration short.
Auf wiedersehen.

I'm sure all of the child-attendees know what type of camera they own. So not only am I one of the only adults at the seminar (some parents stayed), now I feel stupid. Great. Little do I know that a chance to redeem myself waits in post-production, a place where so many mistakes are fixed. If this were a scene, the script would look something like this:



A woman in her late 30s or early 40s fidgets uncomfortably in her seat. After a day-long filmmaking seminar, she feels out of place, inexperienced. To demonstrate their post-production prowess, a renowned media production company shows off a political advertisement depicting China taking over the United States. It's in Chinese with English subtitles. The woman notices something. She raises her hand with a question.

Um. I'm just curious. Have any Chinese people called you about this commercial?

Not that I know of. Why?

Well, it's just that it's set in Beijing and you've used an image of Mao Ze Dong and the Chinese Communist flag. But the actor is speaking in a strong Taiwanese accent. That ... wouldn't happen.

Um. No. I didn't know that.

Just a small detail.

But the Woman knows it's not a small detail. She relaxes back into her chair and smiles.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Life Laminated

Virginia Woolf's A Room Of One's Own has become personal.

She was obviously referring to the importance of having a room of one's own to use one's own personal thermal laminator without ridicule by one's own family members.

Okay. She doesn't mention lamination specifically. But in chapter four she writes that "could she have freed her mind from hate and fear and not heaped it with bitterness and resentment, the fire was hot within her."

Fire. Thermal. To me, she might as well have been yelling from the grave "Go forth and thermally laminate!"

My brand-new Scotch TL901 personal thermal laminator is still in it's box when my husband starts.

"Why in the world do we own a laminator?"

First, this is quite the reversal. Usually he's the one making fun of my hesitance toward accepting new technologies. It was two years ... TWO YEARS ... before I learned he had something called a Facebook page. He was sure I wouldn't be interested. Then, last year, I got on Facebook.

"Hey! Look! I'm Friending you!" I yell across the room from my computer to his. "Look, we're Friends. Now ... I ... am ... wait for it ... Married! Hey, wait a minute. Why doesn't your status say Married? Why aren't you Married? ... Oh. Look. Now you're Married. Never mind. You were right. This is going to be fun!"

But now he questions my most recent foray into a high-tech life. My response to him is simple.

What can't I laminate? The possibilities are endless.

Well. That's not true. The possibilities end at a thickness of exactly 3 millimeters. Then things jam up almost immediately. They also end at 8.5 inches by 11 inches. Which is why I still plan to keep a lot of packing tape around. For bigger jobs.

Actually, I'm late coming to the personal lamination party. I've been preserving things in clear packing tape for years. Give me a sturdy shoe box and I can turn it into a personalized storage container with images of my last trip abroad. But inevitably, no matter how careful you are, creases and air bubbles mar the surface. Strands of hair poke out. The postcards and posters I've taped to my kitchen cabinets don't look very ... slick.

Now with my personal thermal laminator I can decorate like a true professional. Nothing can stop my idea of transforming a collage of family photos into a back splash. Except perhaps heat from the oven. That could stop me. Maybe I'll make my personalized coasters first. That's easy. Just wipe that ring of Pinot Noir off my son's face. Guests appreciate these little touches.

And luckily my personal thermal laminator is compact and travels easily. This is important because I plan to bring it on my next trip to see my family in West Virginia.

While my father, a retired steelworker-turned-poet-and-artist, ruined me forever on long division, he did instill a deep love of reading. And Woolf holds RockStar status.

But now he needs me. He needs a lamination intervention. His prolific sketches are taped, stapled, tacked and nailed to the walls throughout their house. All throughout the house. (My father is also a wee bit eccentric. This is a picture I took of him winning at the racetrack.)

On my next visit I will come armed with my portable personal thermal laminator, to not only protect but organize his vast collection of sketches into binders. My father will become a laminate convert. And together will we laminate. Because according to Woolf "we have borne and bred and washed and taught, perhaps to the age of six or seven years" millions and millions of people.

For this we need lamination.

Because that can get really messy.