2011: A Year in Review

Another year of blogging. How about that. Aside from that dry spell after going to BlogHer, it's been my most productive year of posts. People apparently like to be all up in my fertility as those posts were by far the most viewed, and while this year finally brought some happy news in that regard, 2011 was about more than that. Here is a review of the year on the blog.

Drafting Overdue Apologies, my forthcoming middle school memoir... due out, well, before the baby (I hope).

Reading from and promoting Through Eyes Like Mine.

National Pancake Week!

Reading, critiquing and viewing The Help.

Photo essays using Instagram.

Poetry in April.

Twitter as a #writingpromptgenerator.

A memorial to my cousin Traci.

Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting on this random little blog. Here's to good times to come in 2012!


The Closest I Ever Got to Kim Jung Il

In the summer of 2009, I had the chance to visit China where my sister and her family were living. We took a day trip to Dandong along the China/North Korea border.

It was a warm summer day when we left Dalian, but by the time we arrived in Dandong it was raining. If there's one place that makes China seem normal, it's Dandong, because right over there, across the Yalu River is North Korea and just by looking, you can tell things are a little crazy over there.

We walked across the pedestrian bridge. It had been bombed during the Korean War but the North Koreans left the damage so Americans couldn't deny they bombed it (crazy?).

From the dead-end bridge we could spot a Ferris Wheel and what appeared to be an amusement park. How normal! How not crazy! Except it's only there for show. The wheel never moved and we only spotted a couple of people walking through the park.

We then drove along the Yalu to a stretch of the Great Wall. Along the way, the skies cleared allowing us to see to the North Korean side, spotted with guard towers and the occasional armed guard.

Blue skies and this sign welcomed us to this part of the Great Wall. We hiked up the wall and gazed over into North Korea wondering just what life might be like over there.

At the top of one of the towers we could pay to use a telescope to look further into North Korea. A couple of American tourists were taking advantage of the scope but for me, just peering over the Great Wall into North Korea was as close to Kim Jung Il as I needed to get.

Maybe with the death of Kim Jung Il we'll soon know more about life in North Korea, or maybe Kim Jung Un will continue to isolate North Korea and its people with pretend amusement parks and armed borders.


Ice Skating and Spin the Bottle

This week we took a bunch of our students ice skating. For many, it was their first time on skates and on this cold December evening, as I watched my students wavering across the ice, I remembered all the time I spent skating with friends when I was in middle school. Boys and girls raced around the ice, tried hard not to fall, and clung to one another for balance, reminding me just how it felt to be on that edge, constantly teetering along between humiliation and glory. But then I caught two different couples stealing kisses, and it was back to my reality as a responsible adult chaperone.

Funny how things change. I couldn't help but think of this of excerpt from the forthcoming Overdue Apologies: a middle school memoir. It captures one of those ice skating nights from my youth, and hopefully none of those kids I caught kissing will stumble across this post.

Ice Skating

Just before Thanksgiving the first snow of winter falls and the rink at the Inn of the Seventh Mountain opens. Jamie, Robin, Bianca, Kim and I plan to go Friday night and I'm pretty sure Mom will let me go. Anything can happen on a night up at the Inn and I'd be devastated if I missed out. We invite everybody, but Gabe, Cougar and Cody are hunting, so it's just us girls. 

I'm surprised Mom agrees to drive us because there's already a trace of snow on the ground but she takes Robin, Jamie and me slowly through town and pulls up to The Inn. The little rink is lit up beneath a starry winter sky. 
"Have fun," Mom says as we step out of the car and Jamie and Robin thank her for the ride. "I'll pick you up at nine, okay. Don't be late." 

"OK, Mom, bye," I say as I slam the door. I can't get away from her fast enough. I sprint to catch up with Jamie and Robin and hope Mom pulls away before anyone sees our old beat-up car. Our station wagon pulls away and I feel free: three full hours without any adults around, without family watching my every move. The night feels electric with the possibility.

We rent skates and the brown boots smell like dirty feet. The leather is stiff and cold, but I shove my feet in anyway, lace up and wobble out onto the ice. I've skated before, on the pond at Shevlyn Park, and Dad's words echo in my ears, "Keep your ankles stiff; lean into your turn just like skiing." Jamie hasn't been on skates much. She shuffles across the ice with one hand on the wooden wall that surrounds the rink. Robin has actually taken a few lessons. She crosses her feet in the turns and skates backward, peering over her shoulder like a real professional. Robin manages to be the coolest again. I'm somewhere between the two of them, skating around the rink, occasionally pounding into the wooden walls, laughing, and watching the parking lot for Bianca and Kim and anyone else who might show up to tonight. 

The rink fills with little kids and their parents and then Bianca and Kim, and a few other girls from school: Stephanie Troutman, Amy Oliver, Loretta Garretson, and Tara Transue show up. We spot boys from Cascade, not Duffy, but Ryan Combs, Todd Hoffman and Peter Moore. They fly around the rink on hockey skates until we have to clear the ice for the Zamboni. Everyone crowds around the counter to return skates. My feet ache and the warm, ripe room makes me claustrophobic. I yank my feet from the skates and hurry outside.

Robin, Jamie, Bianca, Kim and I walk to the café to get hot cocoa but Jamie and I only have a couple of quarters, so we hang out in the arcade. The boys from Cascade are there too and after watching me beat Jamie at air hockey, Peter Moore and Todd Hoffman challenge us to a match. We slam the slippery disk back and forth and even though I score first, I think Jamie misses on purpose. The air shuts off and Peter and Todd win 4 - 1. 

We head back out into the cold and walk along one of the wooded paths. Kim and Robin follow Peter, Todd, and Ryan off the path to a small clearing in the dark. The tree branches have kept any snow from falling here and we kneel on a bed of springy pine needles. There is an empty Pepsi bottle in the middle of our circle and I look over at Jamie, unsure how to handle this. There isn't anything in that book Mom left about how to handle a game of Spin the Bottle, but Jamie's whispering with Kim about something so I shift on my heels and try to slow my racing heart. I look around the circle. I don't think I want my first real kiss to be like this. I pecked Jimmy Olson, my fifth grade boyfriend, and dreamed of really kissing Duffy or Shawn, but I never thought of kissing Todd or Peter or Ryan.

Robin is bold, fearless, and she spins the bottle first. It lands on Kim. They giggle and Robin pecks Kim on the cheek. Peter goes next and the first time he spins it lands on Ryan. We laugh but Peter immediately spins again. There must be some kind of divot in the dirt because it lands on Kim again and Peter kisses her on the lips. Everyone giggles and oohs. 

It's my turn next. Thank God it's dark so no one can see how red my face is and my gloves conceal my sweaty palms. 

"Come on, Nori, spin," Robin demands.

I spin the bottle fast. We watch as it turns through the dirt and then slows, slows, slows. It stops on Todd and I freeze not knowing what to do but before I can even think Todd leans over, his warm face in mine, and kisses me quickly on the lips before pulling back to his spot. 

"It's 9:00, we've got to go," Bianca says glancing at her Swatch watch. Before there's the chance for any more spins we sprint through the dark to the parking lot. We laugh about what just happened on the forest floor and measure tonight against every other night in our lives. This might have been the best night ever. 

As we reach the skating rink the headlights of our station wagon turn into the lot. We tumble into the warmth of the family car, and the excitement of the night fizzles away. I'm glad we left the boys behind us so they won't see our car. We climb in and Mom asks if we had a good time. 

"Yeah," I answer as I peer over my shoulder to see Bianca, Robin and Jamie smiling in the dark of the back seat.

"Oh, good," Mom says as she navigates the streets of Bend, completely unaware of the girl I am with my friends, the girl who skates fast and hangs out with the cool kids. The girl who plays air hockey because she doesnt have money for a hot cocoa, the girl who plays Spin the Bottle with boys in the dark. 

I grin at my friends sitting in the back seat, all of us trying to hold on to the magic of the night just a little bit longer.


Wishing for Snow

It's been a cold, crisp week in LA and this morning as I drove to work the foothills were dusted with snow. And when I head to Oregon for the holidays, I'll be checking the weather and like the kid in that iPhone 4S commercial, wondering if it will snow. I guess some things never change. Here's an excerpt from Through Eyes Like Mine for anyone else who's ever hoped to wake up to a blanket of white.

Wishing for Snow

t sunset, the world grows cold and dark. The red line of the thermometer outside the kitchen window creeps from 34 degrees to 33. I watch the line drop toward the magic numbers: 32 degrees Fahrenheit, 0 Celsius. It hits 32 and then keeps dropping until it rests in the mid-twenties. Now it is certain. Anything that falls from the dark night sky will be snow.

I look up into the starless sky and wish for a couple of white inches to cover the ugly, dead of winter, the naked tree branches, the brown grass, and the frozen asphalt so everything will look fresh and clean again. The clouds will break and the sun will shine through the clear, cold air. The snow will sparkle as if the whole world is sprinkled with diamonds, such a brilliant white that my eyes will hurt and I will be torn between looking out at the perfect snow and wanting to play in it, to cast snow angels and bring snowmen to life. The next night I'll wish for more snow, enough to cover the imperfections we created that day, to fill in the snow angels and bury the snowmen because even they will look more beautiful covered in a new layer of white. 

"Nori, time for bed!"

I've been staring out the window for an hour and still no snow. I head upstairs, climb into my cold bed and shiver until the sheets warm up. I try to fall asleep but since counting sheep never helps I force my mind to wander through starry skies, away from all the things I should have prayed for. I travel past galaxies and planets and into the vast nothingness of a black hole, and if I still haven't fallen asleep, I sit up and look out the window, hoping that instead of darkness, I'll see millions of white flakes falling like stars from the sky, turning my ugly world perfect and white. Most of the time the world remains dark, barren, cold and dry, or just a trace of snow dusts the trees and rooftops. I wake up morning after morning wishing for more.


Blog? What Blog?

I know. It's been a while. Blogging seemed so much easier a few months ago. I was on summer break. I wasn't brewing a little one. I had so much to say to the world. Now, after eking out 30,000 words in November for NaNoWriMo, I have very little to say except, I'm tired and I can't wait for the holidays. So, I thought I'd post a couple of excerpts from my students who participated in NaNoWriMo this year too. Here is the first: Julia's The Cancer Cloud, along with the incredible cover she designed. I'm a proud teacher, but really, all I did was provide the time and space for creativity.

The next day, we went to the oncologist's office.

My heart sank.

"C-cancer?" Lily stuttered.

"Lily has cancer?" Mom was already in tears.

The doctor, with a solemn look on his face, replied, "Yes."

"Well, is she going to be okay?" I asked anxiously.

"We don't know for sure. It could be weeks before we find out. I'm going to run some tests, and we will see." He looked down.

"It's official. We're dying your hair pink," I said, trying to lighten the mood.

"Adelaide!" My mother snapped. "Lily is staying alive, meaning no alternative hair colors for her."

We all laughed a little bit. I couldn't imagine my identical twin, or either of us for that matter, with pink hair.

"Well, if we decide to use chemotherapy, it's possible Lily will lose her hair," Dr. Simon, the oncologist said.

The slightly happy moment vanished. Lily started crying. I hugged her and whispered that everything would be okay. Then mom started crying. I hugged her too. I sat between them in the oncologist's office, on a tacky purple couch from the 70's.

Then I started crying. It took a lot to get tears out of me, and when I did cry, it meant something real was happening. Something that would change my life for the worst.

And that was the day that the cancer cloud blocked my sunlight.


A Through Eyes Like Mine Excerpt

One of my students created a diorama of a scene from Through Eyes Like Mine. Here's the excerpt that goes along with it.
Tiger and Bob the Cat

itch has wanted another cat ever since Neko went away. Even though our family has terrible luck with pets we rescue Bob and Tiger from a farm near Redmond: two yellow and orange brothers. Bob the Cat is the crazy evil one. He hisses and howls if you come close to him and he sneaks everywhere he goes. His eyes dart and he looks like that cat from the Opus cartoon, Bill the Cat, who's on drugs. Tiger is the good cat. He rubs against your leg and purrs when he sits on your lap.

One morning I’m eating oatmeal at the kitchen table. I warm my hands around the ceramic bowl and look out the window. A trace of snow has fallen over night, dusting the rooftops. The sun rises over the Ochocos, chasing the stars like static from the sky. I spot Tiger walking on tiny cat feet across the frozen backyard. 

Laura walks in and glares at the pot of oatmeal Mom left on the stove. She dumps some in her bowl and sits down at the table. We say nothing. I don’t even know who my sister is before 10:30 am. She is another creature, angry and sullen.

Mitch comes in. “Good morning girls. Mmm. Oatmeal. Perfect for a cold morning.”

I look back at my bowl not sure which of my siblings is worse company first thing in the morning. Two more bites.

Outside, Tiger tiptoes across the snow on tender feet and then paws at something buried in the snow. I can tell by the dirty, orange fur that it's Bob the Cat. He doesn't move. He's a frozen, snow-covered lump like that stubborn duck still buried in the ditch. 

Mitch and I look out the window with horror, but Laura takes another bite of oatmeal and says, “Well, Mitch, looks like your cat froze to death last night.”

Mitch runs outside to Bob the Cat as I watch from the table, trying to keep the oatmeal from climbing its way back up.


Fertility Update II...

It's been a little over a year since my last fertility post and that's how long it's taken.

Infertility sucks.

But with some help from two different healthcare providers, unimaginable medical advances, a lot of poking and prodding, a dozen or so shots to the abdomen, and a specialist with a curly straw on a Saturday morning, we've got something brewing.

We are thankful for all the support from friends and family throughout this time and we feel quite lucky. This journey has opened our eyes to how hard it is for so many couples, but people say it's all worth it.

We hear our lives are about to change (early in April) and that's both scary and exciting. We're scared. We're excited. Please, wish us luck, unless you are supposed to say break a leg. I have no idea how this parenting thing works.


Missing Blog Posts

It's been a while since I've posted here, mostly because I started blogging for Specter Lit Mag. It's a great new lit mag focusing on "the modern experience." Here are links to the random and not-so-random stuff I've recently posted over there.

Truth & Reality TV: How much do we owe the people who share our stories?

Truth & Lies in Memoir and Fiction: So, does what actually happened matter?

Clean-Up on The Help by Kathryn Stockett: The movie cleans up a little on a messy little novel.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien: Exploring big gooey messes in literature.


@Spectermagazine Friday Twitter Topic #top10bkmovie

Again, there was a twitter hashtag I had to chime in on and this time it's books made into movies. Here are my top 10. I put 11 on twitter so Henry the V had to go.

1. To Kill A Mockingbird: inspires just with the score and opening credits.

2. Whale Rider: indigenous girl's coming of age story, lovely little book too.

3. Pride and Prejudice: the BBC version with Colin Firth that made me love Mr. Darcy not that ridiculous Keira Knightley one.

4. Precious based on the novel Push by Sapphire: didn't think it could be done. A different experience but equally devastating.

5. A Room With a View: Helena Bonham Carter saying, "Freddy, go look for tennis balls!" is my most quoted movie line.

6. Capote: a movie about a book about an author writing a book.

7. The Hours: another movie based on a book about a writer. A modern take on Virginia Wolff?

8. A Single Man: Oh, Colin Firth, you kill me again. And if you haven't read any Christopher Isherwood, the time has come.

9. Malcolm X: Alex Haley + Spike Lee w/ Denzel = <3.

10. Stand By Me: Stephen King meet River Phoenix.

I've forgotten many others. Help remind me.


Really? I'll be happier without kids? No kidding...

Come on, look how happy I am with my niece and nephew.
I was on my way to meet good friends the other day, stuck in LA traffic, and this Freakonomics program was on the radio: "The Economists Guide to Parenting." David and I are getting pretty serious about trying to start a family so I gave it a listen. Hey, even though we're not parents yet, I might as well get a head start.

The show had economists applying rational economic theory to child-rearing and family planning. They talked about the investments parents make in their children (piano lessons, soccer camp, organic produce...) even though they are likely to have very little or no return. A couple economists argued that you should be a more chill parent so you and your kids will be happier. All of it was very interesting, but the part that stuck with me as I crawled along Fairfax was the scientific study stating that married couples without kids were much happier than married couples with kids. Really? David and I are happier than all of our married counterparts with kids? Can someone remind me why I want to have kids?

Anyway, I met up with my friends and their almost-two-year-old son. I thought about how happy I was not having to take care of a kid during lunch. I watched little Keanu's parents take turns walking with him, coaxing him to eat, or drink or nap and though I'm pretty sure his parents still had a nice time, it also looked like a lot of work. And still, as I got back into my car by myself, I knew I agreed with those economists. I know it's irrational to want the craziness of being a parent. I can't explain it, but when I talked with David about the story later that evening, we both knew, without a doubt, starting a family is what we both want. So, look at us now, we're pretty happy, but wish us luck. We hope to be less happy very soon.


Twitter as Blog Topic Generator: #top25books

I've been spending so much time on twitter lately that I almost automatically add # and RT before writing, but it's so worth it. I have met an amazing community of writers and teachers there and today a couple of twitterlits (twitter people who love literature) started a conversation about their top 25 books. If you haven't explored twitter, just search for #top25books and you'll get a glimpse into the way dialogue on twitter can work. Anyway, here is the list I came up with and I'm sure (like the twitter conversation) you'll have lots of titles to add and comment about. Do it. Comments on blogs make them worthy.  And if you join twitter, let me know! I'm writersgrind and these are my #top25books ~in no particular order.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
Billy by Albert French
Blu's Hanging by Lois Ann Yamanaka
Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers by Lois Ann Yamanaka
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Native Son by Richard Wright
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Push by Sapphire
Drown by Junot Diaz
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery


A Few Through Eyes Like Mine Big Pimpin' Shout Outs

In November I wrote this blog post about pimping my memoir and since then I've been working to get Through Eyes Like Mine into people's hands. I've participated in readings in Bend, Portland and Los Angeles. I've spoken with book clubs, received my first fan mail and had wonderful conversations with people about the book. It hasn't been easy and I haven't done it alone. The support I've gotten from family and friends has been phenomenal. There are so many great people out there getting the word out on the book and I want to honor some of them because it's hard out there for a pimp.

Everyone who reviewed the book on Amazon, Goodreads and Powells and the many others who sent me messages about the book.

Hazel Witham, who wakes up early every school day to write with me, who edits and provides feedback AND generously pimped my book to her many family and friends for the holidays.

Friends in Bend and Portland who supported my first readings at Old St. Francis School and Everyday Wine.

Leah Mackenzie who interviewed me an article in the Examiner. 

Emerson Middle School colleagues who continue to share Through Eyes Like Mine online, (thanks Diane and Caren) who showed up for our book club some of you twice, (thanks Meghan) and Michele and Heather who chose the book for their book club so they've discussed the book ad nauseum.

My Webster Middle School peeps who invited me to their book club (thanks, Alma) and even hung around during their conference periods to talk memoir.

The Rhapsodomancy Reading series, who hosted me at The Good Luck Bar (Thanks, Wendy) and all the Angelenos who came out to the event. 

Jeff who invited me to talk on CSDHTV with his students and is including TELM on his syllabus.

Hippocampus and Specter who published excerpts of my work in their literary magazines.

Jordan, who paired my book with a tasty Pinot Noir on her blog, This Girl Walks Into a Bar.

Katrina at KJP Creations who is making upcoming readings in Portland happen.

My parents: big pimpin'.
My extended family, Ron and Ruth for spreading the word among the Nakadas, and Aunt Bev on the Barry side.

Yukiko, my big sister who is responsible for my wide international following (so many people in China have read my book, and there are a lot of people in China).

Chet, and Mitch for continuing to support the book with friends and family. 

My husband, David who has put up with me working two jobs, handles all shipments and event sales, and has made many teachers at Brentwood Science Magnet buy my book. 

But the biggest pimps of TELM are definitely my parents. They not only allowed me to write all about how they raised me, but then they encouraged people to buy the book! Thanks, Mom and Dad! You are the top pimps! Congrats!


Young Adult Lit: Book Thieves Listening for Voices in the Dark

When the Wall Street Journal published "Darkness too Visible," by Meghan Cox Gurden, writers and readers of young adult literature fired back with blog posts and a twitter hashtag #YAsaves.

Her article argues that young readers are being exposed to too much ugliness and darkness, but I don't see it that way. As a young adult, books like Go Ask Alice and Judy Blume's Forever  gave my girlfriends and I literature we actually wanted to discuss. While our teachers guided us through Diary of a Young Girl, we dog-eared pages in Tiger Eyes so we could read and re-read passages, discuss the decisions of young protagonists and help us navigate similar territories. YA lit provided my classmates and I our first book club experiences and opportunities for real literary analysis.

Last school year, for the first time as a middle school teacher, I wasn't sure if I wanted to put a book on my shelf. I wasn't sure Push by Sapphire, the book the movie Precious is based on, belonged in my classroom library. Should my students read about such brutal incest and abuse? I suppose I was thinking a little like Gurden is in her article, but I put it on my shelf, and talked about the book with students as they checked it out and lined up to read it. And then it disappeared. It went into circulation. It was passed from student to student and I never saw it again. It became a book club book.

I realized that Push is like so many YA books, like many of the titles Gurden is critical of. Markus Zusak's Liesel in The Book Thief (another dark young adult work) steals books and books eventually save her. My students aren't willing to let go of books that mean so much to them. Every year I buy additional copies of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and Judy Blume's Are You There God, It's Me Margaret. I pick up several of Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Series, because if you love a book, if a book saves you, you want to hold on to it. You want it to be yours. For so many middle schoolers, reading just isn't cool, so if my students steal these books and read them in the dark with the door closed tight, they do it because it's true: YA saves.


Best Burger Within a Five Mile Radius

Ever since 5 Guys opened up at Fox Hills, the best burger in LA debate has resumed. You have your classic In-N-Out v. Fatburger and Father's Office vs. The Counter. And fries? You can't forget about the fries.

Here is my take on the best burger & fries combo within a five mile radius from home.

5. Five Guys. Okay, I've only had their burgers once and the hype put my expectations pretty high. I like all the topping options but I hate how they list the calories. The roasted peanuts are a nice touch but 4.29 for a little cheeseburger seemed a bit much. I like the skin on fries and the cajun fries are tasty in a Hot-Cheetos kind of way.

4. Father's Office. If there is a burger Nazi in LA, this is it. No modifications. No substitutions. This is the burger they serve and if you don't like it, don't order it. No ketchup. Grilled onions, blue cheese and a big hunk of ground beef. I like it, but can never finish it. To me it's about the beer and the sweet potato fries at Father's Office but there is no ketchup and be prepared to pay. Father' Office is pricey (David and I rarely get out of there with less than a $50 bill). There's no table service and if you want water belly up to the bar and get it yourself.

3. Hole in the Wall Burger Joint. This hidden gem tucked behind Winchell's at Santa Monica and Sepulveda allows you to create your own burger (turkey, veggie, ground chicken, or beef). It's pretty pricey at 7.95 each, but it's big and I am able to make two meals out of my turkey burger. Toppings are generous and their sweet potato fries are tasty. Like Father's Office, this is an anti-ketchup establishment. *cash only

2. The Counter. When I want to build my own burger, this is where I go. My favorite is their Monday happy hour. You choose a three-slider tasting along with three beers. So tasty. And along with their half-and-half fries (sweet potato and regular), for me this is the best sit-down gourmet burger meal in town.

1. In-N-Out. Let's face it. If I'm craving a burger and I'm really hungry, I head to In-N-Out. So consistently fresh and delicious, I'm a cheeseburger and fries girl (and I occasionally add a neapolitan shake). It's simple and tasty and I always seem to be starving whenever I eat it. The fries aren't the best but the combo works and I'll take it for the price any day.

That's my list. I'm sure there are some Fatburger, The Habit and Apple Pan fans out there. Let the debate begin!


Oprah's New Favorite Memoir is...

Through Eyes Like Mine!

She just doesn't know it yet. And it is my job, as this book's author, to get my quiet little book into her hands so that she can fall in love with it.

Want to help out? Let Oprah know she should read this memoir. After the James Frey Million Little Pieces debacle, this is the memoir Oprah needs to restore her faith in the genre. Besides, I'm a teacher and she owes me after that Waiting for Superman episode.

Here's a section I think Oprah will like in particular so tweet her @Oprah, hit up her website message board, share this blog with your people who know people who might know her people. Oh, and if you are a sister who once appeared on Oprah (Sr. Maximillian Marie aka Loretta) get your people on it! 

Oprah, you will LOVE this book!

Movie Night

t's late, way past our bedtime, but we rented a VCR and the Butlers are over so Mom lets us stay up. Mom picked out some old movie for us to watch. 

"Are there kids in it?" I ask.
"The little girl tells the whole story, Nori." Mom says. "You'll like it."

I take the stairs two at a time to the family room but still don't believe the movie will be any good. It's in black and white.
The family room is still warm from the hot summer day. The door to the deck is open and a chorus of crickets filters in from the night. The grown-ups just finished watching a movie about some lawyer. Mr. Butler's a lawyer too with an office downtown by St. Francis. When he gives us a ride to school in the mornings, he gives us a word and we're supposed to look it up in the dictionary and tell him what it means the next day. One day I look up culpable which means deserving punishment.
I lay on the floor as Mom turns the lights out and presses play. The tape clicks and the music starts. There is a box with crayons and a pocketknife. A marble rolls; an old watch ticks. A girl draws a bird and laughs. The people in the room fade away and my world becomes black and white. A little girl named Scout counts and swings from a tire tied to a tree branch. I follow her adventures until I can feel the thin denim of her overalls and the summer heat on her back. I imagine what Scout thinks as she sits on Atticus's lap on the porch and he tells her you never really know a man until you walk a day in his shoes. I wonder if Jem, Scout and Dill will ever get Boo Radley to come out and if Atticus will help Tom Robinson. In the end, Atticus doesn't win, Boo Radley comes out, and I think I know why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.

The next day I pull on an old faded t-shirt and shorts fraying at the edges but I wish they were Scout's overalls. I climb up the crooked rungs on the willow tree and sit in our tree house. I look across the backyard at our neighborhood and wonder who in this town might be the Ewells or the Robinsons. I try to figure out how to get everyone to start calling me Scout but the name doesn't stick. No one calls me Scout, and the summer turns to fall.

School starts, fourth grade, and at our first recess I notice an old house on the border of the playground. I peer into its dirty windows, past the dusty green jars cluttering the sills. It's dark inside and I imagine Boo Radley in there, plotting to murder his family. I tell my classmates about it and they say I'm crazy. I think about beating them up. That's what Scout would've done, but Atticus wouldn't have liked that. Then I see Matt Rose looking in the window of the Boo Radley house and I know he's wondering.

Winter brings snow and during a close game of kickball, Richard Eigeren sends the ball flying over the fence into the Boo Radley yard. 

"Go get it, Richard," Matt Rose yells. 

"No way, that place is haunted." 

"Oh, don't listen to Nori. She just made that up from some old movie she saw." 

I look at my classmates and back to the dark house across the fence. "I'll go get it, you big babies." I sprint out the playground gate and up the sidewalk. The red rubber ball is far into the yard, resting on a pile of dirty snow. I look at the ball and remember the time Jem pushed Scout in the tire and she landed right on the Radley porch. I take a deep breath and push open the gate. One, two, three, four, five, six, I count my steps and heartbeats like Scout did when she was waiting for Jem to get his overalls from the Radley yard. I snatch the ball and huck it over the fence where the boys dodge it, not wanting to touch the rubber contaminated by the haunted yard. A dog barks and I nearly slip on the icy walk as I slam the gate and sprint back to the safety of the schoolyard, far from Maycomb, Scout and Boo Radley.


Sneak Preview of Overdue Apologies

When #teenagememories trends on twitter, it's the twitterverse asking for a preview of Overdue Apologies, the middle school memoir that is my daily grind these days. Remember that middle school dance? The crush you had as a seventh grader on the cutest eighth grader? Yeah, this might take you back.

Getting Ready

            Daylight savings time ends so the sun is up when Robin, Bianca and I walk to school. Spring is close and as soon as the afternoon highs reach into the 50s we wear shorts to school and tank tops that reveal pale skin hidden all winter long behind knit sweaters and jeans.
            The Friday of the spring dance Kim and Jamie come over to get ready. We watch one another closely and check out what we've chosen to wear: surf company t-shirts, shorts and sandals. We thread together leis from the crabapple tree blossoms in the front yard. We brush our hair, curl, and spray. We apply deodorant, lotion and perfume and by the time we're ready to go we are three variations on the same look and smell: shoulder length hair, curled and sprayed, pink lip gloss, shorts, t-shirts, sandals and flower leis = perfect for Spring Dance.
Pilot Butte, Bend, Oregon.
            Mom drops us off at school and we can't wait to dance to Prince's "U Got the Look" or Billy Idol's "Mony Mony." Our leis fall to pieces, white petals drifting to the floor, but we don't care. The eighth graders dance in their circle and we dance with the other seventh graders, but I keep an eye on Shawn. He and Caren finally broke up and maybe if I'm around on a slow song he'll ask me to dance. But when they play "Take My Breath Away" Shawn leaves so I head to the bathroom, hoping we might bump into one another. Yes. I time it perfectly and we almost collide at the door.
            "Cool sunglasses," I say as I pull them from his face. "Oooh. Varnets. Can I borrow?"
            "Uh," before he can answer I walk off with his glasses and I wear them for the rest of the night.
            It's almost 9:00 and the dance is almost over. U2's "With or Without You" comes on and Shawn comes up to me.
            Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.
            He looks uncomfortable and won't look me in the eye.
            "Uh, hey Nori," he says, turning to look over his shoulder.
            I can't believe he's right there, standing right there in front of me. He reaches out a hand and I smile and look down at my feet.
            "Can I get my sunglasses back?"

The Dukes of Hazzard

When #childhoodmemories trends on twitter, it's the twitterverse asking for a new blog post. So here's a memory of my brother, Mitch, and them Duke boys.

Dukes of Hazzard

om doesn't like us watching the Dukes of Hazzard. She says it's unrealistic to have all of those car crashes and then show people walking away without a scratch. She also doesn't like how the cops are stupid and those "good ol' boys" always get away. She doesn't like the Duke boys' car either because it has the Confederate flag on the top. Somehow that means they are racist. 

But Mitch and I like watching that show and I like Luke Duke. He has dark hair and grey eyes. Most of the girls in my class like Bo Duke because he looks like a Ken doll. I also like how Daisy Duke has brown hair instead of blonde. I get the feeling Mom doesn't like Daisy Duke though because she hates it when I tie up my t-shirts like Daisy does. 

Mitch and I play hide and seek in the backyard. He counts from the willow tree, which is home base, while I run to hide behind the woodpile by the back porch. I can barely hear him counting. He gets to twenty and peeks out from the side of the tree. I try to keep an eye on him but can't see him when I hear a strange crash and Mitch starts yelling. He shouts so loudly I know we aren't playing hide and seek anymore. Mitch still has a strong accent but I can tell he's saying something about the Dukes of Hazzard. I run to the willow tree and there is a car right there in our backyard. Mitch shows me with his hands and crashing sound effects how the car jumped from the road, crashed through the fence, and landed between two apple trees. We run to the house to tell Mom. I try to explain but Mitch just keeps saying, "Dukes of Hazzard, Dukes of Hazzard!" Mom doesn't believe us until we pull her to the backyard and she sees the car sitting there.

Mom herds us inside and calls the police. She keeps hugging and kissing us both repeating, "My god, he could have killed you." 

With Mom's arms tight around me, I remember Greg Bob lying in his casket, and for just a second, I imagine Mitch or myself lying lifeless beneath the branches of the willow tree. Sirens blare from outside and Mom lets us go.

Mitch and I run upstairs to Chet's room to watch the police and ambulance from the window. They pull a man from the car and he looks like he's okay as he stumbles toward the ambulance. Mom talks to the police by the front door but I can't hear what they say. 

Mitch keeps saying, "Yee haw!" just like those Duke boys do when they go flying down the dirt roads of Hazzard County.

Through Eyes Like Mine is available at Amazon, Powell's, or for order from your local book seller. 


Today's Poem: BethenNoriko inspired by Terrance Hayes's "Shafro"

Terrance and me: Antioch MFA Graduation 2005.
Poet Terrance Hayes was the speaker at my MFA graduation and I've had a little writer's crush on him ever since. I used this poem with my classes and wrote this pop-culture bit. And there are only a few days left in April: National Poetry Month. Even David Gantt wrote a poem. Come on people. The comments section is for poems!

By Terrance Hayes

Now that my afro's as big as Shaft's
I feel a little better about myself.
How it warms my bullet-head in Winter,

black halo, frizzy hat of hair.
Shaft knew what a crown his was,
an orb compared to the bush

on the woman sleeping next to him.
(There was always a woman
sleeping next to him. I keep thinking,

If I'd only talk to strangers. . .
grow a more perfect head of hair.)
His afro was a crown.

Bullet after barreling bullet,
fist-fights & car chases,
three movies & a brief TV series,

never one muffled strand,
never dampened by sweat--
I sweat in even the least heroic of situations.

I'm sure you won't believe this,
but if a policeman walks behind me, I tremble:
What would Shaft do? What would Shaft do?

Bits of my courage flake away like dandruff.
I'm sweating even as I tell you this,
I'm not cool,

I keep the real me tucked beneath a wig,
I'm a small American frog.
I grow beautiful as the theatre dims.
By Noriko Nakada
Inspired by Terrance Hayes’ “Shafro”

I see you on TV
So thin,
So skinny.
And I think I hate you.

But Bethenny, you actually crack me up.

I want to hate you
With your book deal
And reality TV show
And perfect little baby.

But I want to drink Skinny Girl margaritas too.

I want to lounge by a pool in Malibu
And do yoga
And ice skate with stars
And visit food trucks.

But I don’t get how you’re so skinny.

When TV adds ten pounds
And you like your drinks (even if they are skinny)
And you’re a foodie
All at the same time.


April is National Poetry Month!

I penned a couple with my students for National Poetry Month. We used the Pablo Neruda poem "You Will Remember" as a spring board. Of course, I went back to my childhood haunts... I invite you to pen a poem for April as well!

You Will Remember
By Pablo Neruda

You will remember that leaping stream
where sweet aromas rose and trembled,
and sometimes a bird, wearing water
and slowness, its winter feathers.

You will remember those gifts from the earth:
indelible scents, gold clay,
weeds in the thicket and crazy roots,
magical thorns like swords.

You'll remember the bouquet you picked,
shadows and silent water,
bouquet like a foam-covered stone.

That time was like never, and like always.
So we go there, where nothing is waiting;
we find everything waiting there.

House on Jones Road
By Noriko Nakada
Inspired by Pablo Neruda’s “You Will Remember”

The house stands tall casting dark shadows.
The willow grows still, a tether of weeping branches.

Stiff roots press solid clay,
And water falls past those same shadows.

Breezes blow past carrying the same scents
In thin mountain air around a tall gray house.

The Deschutes
Inspired by Pablo Neruda’s “You Will Remember”

In town
Your water
Flows like glass
Slowness and mirrors
River as pond
And stones stand still.

Where you narrow
Water comes to life
The smooth click of rock
Striking rock
A rush of sound
And you tumble on.


An Easter Excerpt from Through Eyes Like Mine

Surviving Easter Mass

aster is the longest mass of the year because I have to wear a dress and my feet hurt because my shoes are so stiff. The church is crowded, and hot and smelly from the incense the altar boys pour all over. Palm Sunday mass is actually longer, but Easter feels longer because chocolate eggs wait in baskets at home. There will be an Easter egg hunt, and then ham and scalloped potatoes for dinner. 

I watch the families come in and count the number of girls wearing Easter bonnets. Mom never lets me get one but this year I really wanted one to go with my First Communion dress. After the procession I gaze up at the Stations of the Cross: Jesus is condemned to death, Jesus falls the first time, Jesus falls the second and third times, until eventually Jesus dies on the cross. I stand, sing, sit, kneel and half-listen as the priest talks about spring and life and death. Spring is supposed to be about life, but ever since Greg Bob died over spring break this time of year always reminds me of death. I try to stay awake and remember this is a joyful occasion even though I don't understand how Jesus rose from the dead. Why would it take three days and what was Jesus doing in that cave all that time? 

Everyone takes Communion or gets a blessing, and I recount the Easter bonnets to make sure I didn't miss any. After Communion, I think about chocolate, Easter eggs and ham. Just a few more prayers, "Peace be with you" and finally it's the recessional. The altar boys, the priest, the first and second rows file out and I follow them into a cool spring morning of chocolate bunnies and marshmallow Peeps.

Through Eyes Like Mine is available at Amazon, Powell's, or for order from your local book seller. 


A Central Oregon Spring Day in LA

We're having an unusually cool start to spring here in Los Angeles with highs in the 50s for the past couple of days. Clear, smog-less skies scattered with cumulus clouds and crisp dry air reminded me of spring in Bend. There have been no snow flurries, no frost on car windows to scrape but when I got home from a long day at the softball field my face felt raw from the relentless wind. I've sneezed at least twenty times today and can't stop my eyes from watering. I love the usual LA spring: cool mornings, afternoons in the seventies, but this week took me back to the tennis matches and baseball games during the clear spring days of my youth. The only thing missing is juniper pollen.


GOT Teachers?

I attended one of the most disheartening of meetings today. My employer unveiled a new process for which I will not be evaluated. It's called, wait for it, G.O.T. or Growth Over Time. It's a way my value as a teacher will be not be judged based on how well my students bubble in answers on a flawed assessment. Well, I won't be evaluated or judged by it yet.


Now, I could go on, and on, and on... about how much this sucks but I thought instead I would write about something I love about teaching. And hey, it's NaPoWriMo, National Poetry Month so I figured I would write a little something about my second job. It's a haiku. It's all I could muster.

When students mistook
Sasquatch for a vegetable
It made me chuckle

I dare you. It's April. Write a haiku comment. All the cool kids are doing it.

If you want to read more about GOT, here's a link to Emerson's PD Blog.


The Help: Nonfiction Problems in a Fictional Work

I devoured Kathryn Stockett's The Help this past weekend and while I liked it, (but didn't LOVE it) I loved all of the questions it brought up for me as both a reader and a writer. If you haven't read The Help I suggest you do and if you don't like to read novels, don't worry, the movie will be out this summer.

The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s and told through three first-person povs (plus one chapter in third person). The narrators are Skeeter, a young coed just home from Ole Miss, and two black maids: Aibileen, and Minny. Skeeter wants to be a writer and hopes that a book of interviews of Jackson's Black help will put her establish a literary career. The book chronicles much of that journey.

Stockett writes the two black maids' voices in dialect which bothered me a little (spelling Lord "Law" doesn't seem necessary) but what these voices made me ask was: whose story is this to tell? As Skeeter transcribes the stories of maids, changes their names and surely captures their dialect, does she question if this is her story to tell? If we could see some of that moral dilemma in Skeeter, we could assume that dilemma exists for Stockett as well. But Skeeter never asks, "Is it my place to tell these stories?" She wonders if maids will talk to her. She fears the danger the book will create for them. She worries that no one will read the book, but she never considers that it might not be her place to tell these stories at all.

Then I read about the lawsuit. Stockett's brother's maid, Ablene Cooper, is suing Stockett for using her likeness to inform Aibileen Clark. I wonder if Stockett asked Cooper to read the manuscript just to make sure her character was fictionalized enough for her comfort. What was the L-shaped crack that made Cooper feel taken advantage of by the author?

As I work on my next memoir I'm making a list of all my middle school friends who will need to read this manuscript before I publish. It is my book, but it is a story we all share. I want them to tell me if they want names changed or details removed. I want them to be able to read the book and say, yes, this is true to those years and to my experiences with Nori. 

I enjoyed The Help and appreciate that Stockett decided to "go big or go home" as my friend Amy put it, but I also think writers are required to respect the people they characterize in whatever story they choose tell.


20 Works of Creative Nonfiction Worth Reading

I don't get why creative nonfiction has such a bad name. Maybe it's because the name itself is confusing and contradictory, but in a genre which encompasses so much, why the hate? While working on my mfa, I wrote both fiction and creative nonfiction. Many of my colleagues and mentors asked, why write memoirs or essays rather than novels and short stories? In a fiction workshop, the leader asked about my favorite books and when all my top picks were fiction he asked, "So, why are you studying creative nonfiction?" All I know is that cnf works for many of the stories I have to tell. Looking back at a previous post, 10 Books That Influenced Me... I mention several few works of creative nonfiction, but there are many others so, if you've turned your back on memoirs, or have been burned by a few bad essay collections, here are 20 works of creative nonfiction I recommend.
  1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  2. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  3. In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences by Truman Capote
  4. A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers 
  5. Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand
  6. An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison
  7. The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn
  8. On Writing by Stephen King
  9. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
  10. American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center by William Langewiesche
  11. Blackbird: A Childhood Lost and Found by Jennifer Lauck
  12. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt 
  13. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson
  14. Dreams of My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barrack Obama
  15. Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
  16. True Notebooks: A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall by Mark Salzman
  17. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  18. Lucky by Alice Sebold
  19. The Complete Maus by Art Speigleman 
  20. Night by Elie Wiesel
What great nonfiction have I missed?


Neko Cats of Mar Vista

I've always loved how many of the neighborhood businesses in Mar Vista display a Neko cat. If you don't know much about these Japanese felines, they are good luck charms for businesses welcoming customers.  When I was a kid we had a troublesome cat named Neko but these ceramic ones are pretty low-maintenance.
Marilyn's Beauty Salon Nekos.
Venice Grind Neko.
Tattoo Lounge Nekos.
Mechie Neko.
L & R Barber Shop Neko.