Month: July 2012 Page 1 of 3


Once when I was visiting my parents in Houston, we went to our favorite noodle shop in Chinatown for lunch. As we stood in line to order, someone called out to me, using my childhood nickname. I turned to find a well-dressed man sitting at a table with an older woman. Both of them waved.

“It’s us!” the man said. I smiled politely, struggling to recognize them.

I gasped when I finally remembered. The older woman was Nina, my nanny from age 6 months to about 3 years. The man was her son John, now grown from the teenager he had been back then.

They invited my parents and I to sit with them, and we quickly caught up on each other’s lives. The whole time, Nina and John kept staring at me in amazement.

My own surprise quickly gave way to joy. After all, this was the woman I had loved most when I was a baby. (Well, third after my parents, of course.) But that joy was interrupted by an odd moment in our conversation.

We learned that Nina was living in the same retirement complex as another woman we knew. When we mentioned that, Nina frowned and said, “That woman is such a gossip. Don’t tell her about me. Don’t tell her I worked for you.”

Her words stung. Was Nina embarrassed by us? Did she not want people to know that she had been my nanny? But why? We had always thought of her as part of the family.

Pushing these questions aside, we finished our lunch and parted ways with many hugs. I tried to shrug off my injured feelings, but they rose again when I emailed John and received no reply.

The following week, by coincidence, I started reading the bestselling novel THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett. Set in 1960s Mississippi, the book revolves around a group of black women and the white families they work for. One character in particular really tugged at my heartstrings: Aibileen, an older black maid with a tendency to mother the white babies of the homes she worked in. Unfortunately, as those babies grew older, they often adopted the same racist attitudes as their parents, and Aibileen found herself heartbroken and alone, scorned by the children she once loved like her own.

As I was reading, I couldn’t help comparing Aibileen and Nina. In this case, however, I was the one who felt scorned.

Though I longed for Nina to love me the way Aibileen had loved the children in her care, what I ultimately realized is that Aibileen is fictional, and in some ways, my Nina might as well be too. I was barely 3 years old when she stopped working for our family. What I “know” about her is based on old stories, vague memories, and my own imagination. That doesn’t make her any less important to me, but it does mean that the Nina I’ve constructed in my mind isn’t necessarily the same as the real Nina. What she means to me and what I mean to her may not be equal.

It’s like a footprint in the sand. The impression will fade over time, no longer retaining the exact shape of the toes, arch, or heel that made it. But the foot was real, and so was its impact. And they will each continue to be real, independent of one another.

On parents in young people’s literature

This past Thursday marked the first ever #NALitChat — a weekly Twitter discussion about New Adult literature (modeled after the popular #YALitChat on Wed nights). Moderators led us through a 5-question agenda — what is NA, who writes it, who publishes it, etc. — and a thoughtful, lively conversation ensued. I’m looking forward to more in the future.

In this post, I want to pull out one thread that is of particular interest to me:

I asked this in response to someone’s comment that parents could be absent in NA lit without it being as weird as in YA lit. But really, is it less weird? Do parents suddenly evaporate when we turn 18? Or, don’t most of us have to learn how to become more independent while also negotiating the shifting dynamics of our family relationships?

(To clarify: I’m not saying that all books should include 2 great parents. That wouldn’t represent the variety of family situations we see in real life.)

Obviously I’m in favor of including parents when possible. Or at least parental figures. Or at least involved adults in some positive capacity? (The standards just keep getting lower and lower…)

I think too many writers “kill off” parents because it has become the norm, and because it’s easier than trying to represent those complex relationships. But talk about a bad message to send. I mean, critics go nuts about whether there’s too much sex and violence in literature for young people. But what about the idea that life would be better/easier/happier/more exciting without parents? That you don’t need your parents? That they’re inept, or trying to control you, or trying to prevent you from having fun or reaching your goals?

Bottom line?

A few must-reads

Bloggers Beware: You CAN Get Sued For Using Pics on Your Blog by Roni Loren

You are violating copyright if you have not gotten express PERMISSION from the copyright holder OR are using pics that are public domain, Creative Commons, etc. I didn’t know better and I had to learn the hard way. So I want to let you all know now so that you don’t have to be a cautionary tale as well.

Plus, beyond not wanting to be sued, most of you who are reading this are writers. Our livelihood depends on the rights to our work.

A Self-Made Man Looks At How He Made It by John Scalzi

I know what I have been given and what I have taken. I know to whom I owe. I know that what work I have done and what I have achieved doesn’t exist in a vacuum or outside of a larger context, or without the work and investment of other people, both within the immediate scope of my life and outside of it. I like the idea that I pay it forward, both with the people I can help personally and with those who will never know that some small portion of their own hopefully good fortune is made possible by me.

“Failing and Flying” by Jack Gilbert (via my friend Rose)

I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

Sing it, Cincinnati

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Empire Records

I first heard of Empire Records in 7th grade Spanish class. I have no idea why we were watching it. (In English, no less.) Maybe Señora Clark had a headache. We were good at giving her those.

Anyway, I didn’t pay much attention at that time, because everyone in my class seemed to think it was the greatest movie ever, and I am predisposed to hate things that are hyped up like that. Fast forward a decade or so, and now I finally gave this movie a chance.

Good decision. It was great.

The movie is quirky, rough around the edges, and much deeper than it initially appears. Yes, there are a lot of characters, but they are quickly distinguished from one another through clever dialogue and subtle details. AJ, the sensitive artist. Corey, pure and perfect. Lucas, devious screwup. Gina, free-spirited slut. Mark, puppy-like stoner. Debra, dark and twisty and sad.

These are the core 6, led by their boss / father-figure Joe, and all of them (including Joe) contribute to the movie’s theme of misfits chasing dreams and depending on music for nourishment, connection, and understanding.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Joe reaches the peak of his frustration and has to hammer it all out on his drum set. Lucas and AJ put Joe on the store’s speaker system for everyone to enjoy. Then they rock out, dancing and singing like loons, releasing all their own nervous energies.

Even though the movie sets you up to root for and focus on 2 particular storylines — the salvation of Empire Records, and the AJ/Corey romance — I thought the more powerful subplots were in the female relationships. Corey, Gina, and Deb make an interesting trio, because none of them really fit together, and yet by the end of the film, all of them understand each other and connect. Bonus points for accomplishing that without the story devolving into a major cheese factory. Corey stays frustratingly clueless; Gina keeps her short skirts; and Deb holds on to her tough girl attitude and sassy mouth. They are true to themselves but also learn how to be true to each other.

Perhaps it goes without saying that I was hugely impressed by the performances of all 3 actresses — Renee Zellweger and Robin Tunney in particular.

Also, Johnny Whitworth is hot. Why is he not more famous?


Even Rory Cochrane was attractive, in an unconventional way. What I loved most about his character was the implication that maybe, just maybe, Lucas had planned for things to go this way all along.

AJ: What’s with you? Yesterday you were normal and today you’re like the Chinese guy from the Karate Kid. What’s with you today?
Lucas: What’s with today today?

Corey: Do you have a plan?
Lucas: No. Not a comprehensive plan.
Corey: I think you do.

Joe: You knew, didn’t you?
Lucas: About what?
Joe: Everything. About me, what I wanted to do.
Lucas: I knew you weren’t happy.

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