Save the Date: “Life After the MFA Panel” @ SMC 11/20/13

Interested in writing fellowships and residencies? Yours truly has been booked in advance to talk about recent fellowships at The MacDowell Colony and the International Retreat for Writers at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland UK for Saint Mary’s College of California’s MFA Creative Writing Program Panel: “Life After the MFA” Wednesday, 20 November, 2:35pm, location on campus TBA.

Hope to see you there!

1928 Saint Mary’s Road, Moraga, CA 94556 (925) 631-4000

Big Island Love 2012, Part II

Mamaloa Highway heading to Hilo

To read earlier parts of this adventure check out the posts: “Can I Wade in Your Waters, Kaua’i” and “Big Island Love 2012, Part I.”

The drive from Kona to Hilo/Volcano on the Big Island is a long stretch of country highway. The first leg winds through a volcanic moonscape. You’re surrounded by endless lava flows with a slice of ocean to your left. Along the Mamaloa Highway, we spotted three wild goats huddled together, posing for the sun. As you head makua, climbing the mountain slopes, the land changes on you, growing green and thick. Suddenly you find yourself in cattle country, and nothing works up an appetite more than sight-seeing ranches.

We stopped for lunch at the Hawaiian Style Cafe in Kamuela, which has blown all other mom & pop lunch plate diners out of the water. They’re special, kalua pork moco loco is enough to feed a family. It’s big flavor for big country. If you’re on the Big Island, there’s no point in visiting without stopping here. Really.

me and my aunties

Our real purpose and mission on the island of Hawai’i was to visit near and dear family. With two lovely aunts who live in and near Volcanoes National Park, and cousins who used to be Big Islanders, its really embarrassing to say we hadn’t been here before. Under the directive of our cousins, soon as we pulled into the little town of Honoka’a, we picked up a box of malasadas at Tex Drive In, who specialize in chocolate, lilikoi, strawberry, mango, and cherry filled malasadas. They are sweet doughy pillows of goodness though, again, nothing compares to Kauai’i Bakery in Lihue. Just sayin’.

We dropped down to Waipio Valley next, and when we say drop, we literally mean “drop.” The road to Waipio is steep, poorly paved, and full of twists and turns. In fact, its the U.S.’ longest, twistiest road, and you won’t, probably can’t, attempt it unless you have four wheel drive because even after you survive the wicked incline, you still have to face some monster pools of muddy water at the bottom to get to the beach. Technically, the park signs warn that visitors aren’t allowed into the valley unless they’ve been invited, but we figure with so many local family urging us to check it out, its invitation enough. The valley, like most lush, fresh-water filled hollows in Hawai’i was basically a metropolitan for the Hawaiians. There are many sacred sites to ponder and taro farms still thriving to this day. Tread this beautiful land with respect and care.

Before climbing up the volcano, we headed into Hilo to hunt for the ever elusive Tropical Dreams Ice Cream shop, which is supposed to have the best shaved ice on the island according to our trusted guide Hawai’i Big Island Revealed. We don’t go to the Hawai’i without the aid of Andrew Dougherty. Unfortunately, Hilo’s Tropical Dream had been converted into a center for Krishna devotees. Once we arrived at the address, we found a circle of dread-locked singers chanting praises to Krishna and shaking their tambourines. No frozen treats but plenty of samādhi to go around.

We stayed at Bamboo Orchid Cottages, a clean, cozy, and friendly B&B in Volcano. Our room had a little patio that overlooked the tropically wild backyard. Our hosts were friendly dog-lovers, who made a deliciously simply breakfast of fresh papaya boats filled with golden pineapple, dried coconut, and yogurt.

The Kilauea Iki Trail in Volcanoes National Park is part of the Kilauea volcano formed in 1959 (yes, the same year when Morrissey was born!). The crater’s rim, lush, filled with wild ginger and ferns, book ends this trail.  Riddled with deep cracks and fissures, the crater, like the rest of the Big Island, is a lunar landscape filled with volcanic rocks and formations. This trail ends at the Thurston Lava Tube, so you get to see the inner workings of a lava flow.

Never in my life did I ever think I’d see an active volcano, especially at night with a sky full of constellations wheeling above. Like a massive campfire, the Kilauea plume mesmerizes in the evening dark. Though the wind blows chilly, seeing this spectacular phenomenon reaches back to primordial existence.

We couldn’t have asked for better guides to the Volcano, my aunt who works at Volcano’s elementary school and her partner, a former educator and local. They met us for breakfast at the Kilauea Lodge, which serves guava and taro pancakes and some tasty eggs benedict. The Lodge also has an impressive gift shop, and the restaurant features all local artists’ work. When we were there, halfway through our breakfast, a mighty wind storm cut the power lines, which made for a real adventure.

Lucky enough to get a glimpse of local life, my aunt took us to her ukelele group’s potluck hosted by a wonderful couple who share a rich history on the Hawaiian islands. The uke group, comprised of thirty players, not only made some mean BBQ, macaroni salad, coffee cake and chocolate brownies, but hearing them play was an extra special treat.

Our guides took us on the Chain of Craters drive, which follows the different lava flows of the volcano reaching all the way down to the coast, where the lava continues to gently build earth. Honestly, you could spend weeks or months exploring all the different sites, trekking the many hikes offered on this road, but some of the highlights are the Lava Tree Formations, Devil’s Throat, a spectacularly dangerous crater that is not for the foolish or weak at heart, and the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs. The hike to this plateau that contains about 20,000 petroglyphs is scorched by the sun and chafed by the wind, but well worth the effort since you get to meander and mull over an ancient place where native Hawaiians made offerings to the legacy of their family and their homeland.

The end of the road leads to Holei Sea Arch, where the coast clashes against a wall of lava, and, if you hoof it, about 11 miles, you meet with an active flow. Despite the ocean raging just below the cliffs, it can feel like you’re walking through a furnace, a strange sensation.

Later that evening, we enjoyed the special treat of meeting with my nina, who works for the National Park, in her hometown Pahoa, which must be the sister city of Berkeley, at least in spirit, since there’s a raw earthiness to this funky place.

As expected, time flew by, and we wish we could have enjoyed more days with family in this mystical spot. Ever grateful for the chance to explore and eager to visit again, soon, big thanks Auntie L, Auntie M, and Uncle G, who served as our Virgils on this otherworldly journey. Much appreciation to our cousins T&M who shared their great knowledge of their island, and ever grateful to Vince & Vangie for their sage counsel on this trip.

Here’s our official “Next Time Wish List,” which we hope we can tackle someday soon:

  • Akaka Falls (Volcano/Hilo)
  • Hilo and Puna sights (tide pools/waterfalls/towns)
  • Blaine’s (Volcano)
  • Hilo Farmer’s Market ~ Saturdays & Wednesdays
  • Maku’u Farmer’s Market  ~  Sundays…towards Pahoa

Kona

  • Pawai Bay- snorkeling (Kona)
  • Golden Pools of Ke-awa-i

Along with cousins’ suggestions for next time. Thanks T!:

  • Flea market downtown on Wednesdays and Saturdays, lots of good snacks and a good day to visit Old Hilo Bayfront. Be sure to take a look in Dragon Mama, its a Japanese textile shop, mad handmade goods.

And once again, a big mahalo to our family for their love and guidance. We dedicate this song to you.

Aloha!

Big Island Love 2012, Part I

To read more on this adventure check out the posts: “Can I Wade in Your Waters, Kaua’i” and “Big Island Love 2012, Part II.”

While all the other islands in the chain are shrinking the Big Island, named Hawai’i but called the Big Island to avoid confusion, is growing, and evidence of its continual expansion is all around you, especially when you realize you have to drive three hours to get from one end of the island, Kona-Kailua to the other, Hilo. Both of these cities will remind you of something like San Diego or Honolulu, compared to the small towns of Kapa’a, Kaua’i or even Maui’s Lahaina. We’re talking big and built up. The locals were excited to have a Pier One Imports opening in Kona. Pier One Imports! Compared to the older islands, the baby of the archipelago is quite a shock to the senses if you’ve just spent time in slow paced Koloa or stepped out of the jungles of Hana.

We stayed at the Kamehameha Courtyard Marriott right at the corner of Kona Beach, and in the thick of downtown Kona. If you’ve ever been to Pacific Beach in San Diego or Weymouth in South England, you might find Kona-Kailua familiar. Think urban meets beach. Hordes of tourists promenading the waterfront, scads of local teens rolling by on skates or hanging out at the pier, and plenty of traffic to keep the night busy all evening long.

Upon arriving, our first order of business was to hunt down the best snorkeling spots, and Kahaluu Beach Park was the perfect introduction to the Big Island. A cozy cove with a small strip of beach but plenty of clear waters to share with the masses, the honu here are in such abundance, its really difficult to avoid tripping on them, but we made every effort not to since the sea turtles are protected. The snorkeling can get cloudy in some parts, but we were able to find some open spaces for good picture-taking. The beach is tourist friendly, complete with a food truck that rents out locker spaces, and there’s an environmental awareness advocacy group who are available for any questions about the area’s restoration. These volunteer naturalists aren’t the friendliest bunch, and they’re not shy about telling you what you should and should not do in the water to protect its natural beauty whether you ask for their guidance or not.

The best snorkeling we found on the Kona side was Two Step, located just across from Pu`uhonua o Honaunau National Park. Parking can be a pain, unless you’re willing to pay the park fee and walk about five minutes. A tide pool area, there’s little to no sand to sun-bathe in but the snorkeling is extraordinary. Thirty feet deep coral jungles with cold water rising from the sea floor, swimming through here is unearthly.

For land-based activity Pu`uhonua o Honaunau National Park is a must. Here they’ve recreated some of the buildings the native Hawai’ans lived in, performed their rituals, and practiced their customs. Known as The Place of Refuge, anyone who had broken a kapu, or Hawaiian law, could find refuge only if they succeeded in reaching the area, which was difficult to access. A sacred site where chiefs were buried, elaborate fish ponds, and ki’i wood carvings make this park a national treasure full of beauty and history.

Above Kona-Kailua, on the lush slopes of the mountain is the Kona coffee belt. Here the roads wind through coffee plantations and houses that boast endless mango, papaya, and banana groves. You can see the ocean just below the hillsides, and gape at tropical fruit so bountiful, they’re often left to rot on the street. Up in the thick of jungle, we took a peek at The Painted Church erected in 1899 by Father John Veghle. Saint Benedict’s Catholic Church is filled with Father John’s original art paintings, which helped him to teach his parishioners, many of whom could not read. Most of the Kona Coffee tours are free though Kona Joe’s isn’t. We stopped at Greenwell Farms, one of the historic plantations where the first coffee trees planted are still thriving even after almost hundred years have passed since the owner started their coffee-growing business. Comparing the two places we tasted, Kona Joe’s has Greenwell beat.

On the other side of Kailua-Kona, close to the airport, is Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park. The hike through this park can be brutal on a hot summer day, but the trek is worth it to reach A’opio Beach, which has calm waters and a dreamy white sand beach that begs to be enjoyed. The beach was an ancient fishing trap, and now offers utter tranquility and refreshing waters to wade and enjoy. Best bet is to get an early start to avoid the merciless afternoon sun and bring plenty of water. Then picnic at the Kaloko Fishpond, which serves as another serene setting where the state park is slowly reconstructing an ancient and massive stone wall to recreate the impressive fish traps once used here.

Another serene setting along the Mamaloa Highway is Mauna Kea Beach in the gated, ultra ritzy Prince Resort. All of Hawai’i’s beaches are accessible by public, but can sometimes be quite a feat to reach them. Mauna Kea is no exception. They only allow a certain number of public beach-goers to enter, and we had to collect a pass at the kiosk but, once we got to the beach, we enjoyed a full afternoon of blissful fun in the sun. No snorkeling here, the white sands of this beach and the waters are what make Hawai’i an absolute paradise. There’s a picture perfect cove at the public end of the beach complete with gorgeous trees and rocks, a most romantic spot for lovers.

Some of the good eats spots we found Kona side includes:
Manago Hotel serves traditional lunch plates in a historic setting. The hotel was built in 1917 and feels like it when you step inside. The food’s greasy spoon-style, tasty side dishes of macaroni salad, corn and shoyu green beans, but the loco moco was surprisingly dry and the buttered fish bony. You definitely get a taste of Old Hawai’i when you wander through the lobby and the recreation room. Its worth a stop.

Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill – Come for the happy hour specials but no need to stay for dessert. Their kalua egg roll is mouthwatering, and their beer selection is a perfect way to end the day.

We splurged for a one-time celebration to watch the sunset at the Four Seasons’s Pahu’ia right on the beach boardwalk. The cocktail menu was displayed on iPads, and, as impressive as the listing was, the drinks didn’t quite match up. The food, however, was every bit as divine as the setting. We shared the opah, moonfish, drenched in a orange shoyu sauce and plated on top of a edamame and mushroom salad. Exquisite dining.

Getting out of Kona was an adventure. The day before we left, we learned that the King Kamehmeha Parade was scheduled for the morning of our checkout. Sounds all fine and good until you learn that the parade passes by the main road in front of the hotel, which was to be closed from 8am-12noon. Not good if you have family you want to see on the other side of da island. We had to do some scrambling, but still had minutes enough to catch the parade set up where we watched paniolos trot by.

That’s the Kona adventure. Up next is Hilo, a completely different and unexpected side of Hawai’i. Stay tuned.

Summertime Rolling: Bay Area & Central Coast Beaches

A friend and new California transplant asked about beaches in the Bay Area. Though the coastline doesn’t compare to the sunny, warm, and fog-free paradise of Southern Cali, here in the northerly reaches of the golden state,  sun-worshipping on the coast is hard to come by but the views are gob-smacking gorgeous. From Morro Bay all the way up to the national border, the land literally falls off steep jagged cliffs. Cypress pines or towering redwoods cling to the last bit of earth before the Pacific comes roaring in with constant crashes and booms. Though the sea-scape is breath-taking, there’s only a certain window of time, where an admirer can gape at the horizon before the wind kicks up and chases you away.

Be warned, because of the cold clime, rough rip currents, a shelf that drops away suddenly, and the threat of great whites, make swimming a dare devil act. With that said, here’s a list of rough and ragged corners of heaven on earth:

San Francisco (these beaches are likely to be foggy and cold year round save for autumn)

  • Ocean Beach
  • Crissy Field


Marin

2-3 hour drive south (the further south the better swimming)

4-5 hour drive south

And no trip along the California coastline would be complete with a jiving soundtrack:

http://www.kcrw.com/music/programs/bh/branches/embed-audio

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How it went down at this year’s ACTC 2012: “Preparing for and Living in the Real World through Core Texts”

This year’s 18th Annual Associated Core Texts & Courses Conference, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sponsored by Carthage College, and focusing on the theme: “Liberal Arts Education and the World: Inquiring into, Preparing for, and Living in the Real World through Core Texts” took place 29 March through 1 April at The Hilton Milwaukee City Center Hotel, where I presented with the following panel

“Conrad, Ellison, and Narrative Structure:

Blending Critical Thought and Student Engagement”

Aaron P. Smith, Marian University of Fond du Lac, “Authentic Self-Existence for the Visibly Marginalized;” Lamiaa Youssef, Norfolk State University, “Narrative Lenses and the Journey toward Self-Knowledge;” Justin Ponder, Marian University, “A Walking Personification of the Negative: Listening to Stories in Invisible Man;” Rashaan Meneses, Saint Mary’s College of California, “We’re All ‘Others’ Now: Revisiting Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in the Age of Post-post-colonialism.”

Chair: Jean-Marie Kauth, Benedictine University

Some of the speakers and panels that caught my attention were the following:

Robert Gurval, Department of Classics, University of California, Los Angeles: “Harmony and Homer on the Pearl River Delta: The Foundations of a New Liberal Arts in China”-

  • China is looking at Western liberal arts colleges to help shape their higher education though instead of calling their undergraduate core curriculum “general education” they’ve opted to use the term “gateway education” to indicate that students are beginning the path to learning
  • self in search of self
  • self as social institutions
  • Liberal Studies as training for life
  • introduce poetry first as foundation to politics, which is the gateway to political and economic theory

From the panel, “The Function of Core Texts and Their Programs,” Nicholas D. Leither, Saint Mary’s College of California, “Skepticism Destroyed Their Paradise: Generative Thinking and and ‘Believing’ in the Text”-

  • argues that students lose innocence in college when they’re taught to become the skeptic
  • more often than not in the classroom creative thinking isn’t valued, nor seeing several POV’s simultaneously
  • Rational thinking limits
  • “When we take a critical approach, we forget to believe.”
  • Critical versus generative, students need to take a leap of faith

From the panel, “Concepts of the Self in East and West,” Yaqun Zhang, Xiamen University “Confucius’ Gentleman Personality and Its Influence on Academic Education”

  • education as a cultural mission
  • educating students to let them know they are part of a a social and civic commitment
  • seeking harmony not sameness
  • having a sense of appropriate conduct

From my own panel on Conrad and Ellison, Aaron P. Smith Marian University of Fond du Lac, “Authentic Self-Existence for the Visibly Marginalized” (concerning Ellison’s Invisible Man)

  • one must have existence to become authentic, meta-alienation
  • alienation requires confrontation
  • those who create new values need an audience to receive

This year’s conference not only emphasized true and vigorous cultural exchange between the U.S. and China since ACTC has been collaborating with Chinese universities to help shape their curriculum, but another important theme emphasized again and again was inter-disciplinary exchange and pairing texts that weren’t so obvious on the surface, but in comparing say Machiavelli to Lao Tzu, professors made profound connections and demonstrated an exchange of ideas and values that spanned time and geography.

Summertime Rolling with Central and Nor Cal Camping

My aunt asked for camping suggestions between Los Angeles and San Francisco, preferably along the coast, and, for now, California is under no short supply of beautiful spots to pitch a tent however at least seventy state parks are currently under threat of being shuttered permanently.

Though summer may not feel as fierce and fiery as we’d wish, there’s no time like the present to soak up all the golden state has to offer. Below is a list of the parks that I’ve been hankering to visit or enjoyed the pleasure of their beauty during past jaunts.

Central Coast

Big Basin, Santa Cruz, everyone says this is the place to go, but we’ve yet to visit.

Henry Cowell, Santa Cruz, we stayed here two years ago. Very nice facility with trails right next to the campsites

Half Moon Bay State Beach

Henry Coe State Park– haven’t camped here but have hiked. Huge park, great trails, a relative short drive off the 5, near Gilroy. I’d love to go back and trek the wilderness here.

San Simeon State Park

Morro State Park

Morro Strand State Beach– we stayed here ages ago. It’s right on the beach. Beautiful area.

Lake Nacimiento


Big Sur

Pfieffer State Park– on the eastern side of the highway, so all beach access requires a car, huge park that runs alongside a creek. Great facility. We stayed here three years ago and are going back this September.

Riverside Campground- We stayed here last year, park runs along the Big Sur river and they provide tubes if you want to go tubing down the river. No trails from the park, so you have to drive, and the site is right off the highway, so you can hear cars drive by, but the traffic stops by 10pm.

Limekiln and Kirk Creek– right on the headlands next to the Pacific, these sites are at the very southern foot of Big Sur. We went hiking on some of the trails last year, its relatively flat but absolutely gorgeous views of the ocean.

Bay Area

Samuel P. Taylor, Central Marin- inland park in the middle of redwoods with a creek throughout.

**Some of these parks may be closing by this fall. Check the California State Park Foundation for a complete list of closures and consider taking some action to keep our gems open to the public.

For kicks, take a virtual tour of our favorite haunt, our home away from home, Big Sur:

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“Collecting Clouds”: more on Munich & London Pilgrimage

“A cloud collection is more honest than any other collection,” so says Gavin Pretor-Pinney founder of The Cloud Appreciation Society in his breathtaking interactive article from The Guardian’s, “Heavenly Clouds” featuring his new book The Cloud Collector’s Handbook. From the society’s manifesto, “[Clouds] are Nature’s poetry, and the most egalitarian of her displays, since everyone can have a fantastic view of them.” During the Munich & London pilgrimage, clouds made the sky their canvas.

In the Bavarian Alps, the clouds literally hovered in place and couldn’t be budged for anything. They seemed set in stone, as timeless and immovable as the mountains:

Garmisch

above Garmisch Olympik Stadium

DSCN1543

Above London, the clouds set the pace for the chaotic traffic below. They were constantly on the move, shifting, restless bodies of action and flight:

Underground Station at Piccadilly Square

London Clouds on Thames River Cruise

More on the Munich & London pilgrimage…click here

William Boyd on London’s Parks

From Sunday, June 21, 2009 The Guardian | Culture | Books | Fiction, Boyd “takes an A-Z literary tour of London’s Parks” in his article “‘Its all too Beautiful'”. Brilliant method of organizing a stream-of-conscious essay!

Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, in the pantheon of English literature, perhaps best illustrate the split between the “town” writer as opposed to the “country” one. It is a very 19th-century juxtaposition, made particularly acute and particularly obvious as the industrial revolution took its remorseless grip on the nation. The widespread development of the city park, in turn, was largely a 19th-century phenomenon. The filth and foetor of the Victorian metropolis made the green spaces all the more important. I have a history of London composed solely by its maps, and one can see the exponential growth of the city over the centuries reflected by the steady appearance of its parks, like green islands in the burgeoning, cross-hatched grid of London’s streets – not so much the city’s “lungs” as the city’s verdant archipelago in its dark and grimy sea.

Definition of a park. It’s time to establish precisely what we mean by a “park”. I’m thinking principally of London, but I feel this definition will fit all parks in all cities of the world. There are certain determining characteristics, necessary conditions, for park status. First, there must be tall, mature trees, the older and taller the better. Second, the majority of the trees in the park must give the impression of random planting…Read more