Eunice Steps themselves disappointing

Eunice cairn
a lovely gathering of cairns in front of a house

I realize that many of the steps and paths were created for strictly utilitarian use. But now that I’ve seen how lovely some of them are, it’s hard to settle for concrete steps and some railing. But, as they say, it’s all in the journey. And that was especially true of my walk to and from the Eunice Steps.

 

First of all, although the Eunice Steps are #19 on the list, they are nowhere near either #18 (the Barbara Path) or #20 (the Boynton Walk). In fact, in order to find them, I walked south  on Ensenada through new territory, discovering many pleasant sites as I zigzagged my way along, walking a few blocks on busy Marin Avenue before cutting further south on Colusa.

Eunice No. branch Berk. Lib

Then I turned east briefly on Monterey Avenue before walking down Fresno until I hit Sonoma, which brought me to the intersection of Hopkins St. and the Alameda, right before it turns into Martin Luther King Jr. Way. There sits the lovely North Branch of the Berkeley Public Library. In front of it, cars idled at traffic lights, a gaggle of middle-school girls swapped stories, bicyclists whizzed by, and two preschoolers played in and under a large tree next to the library while Mom watched. But I had not yet reached my destination, so I forged on.

Eunice dog signA dog lover had posted a sign on behalf of the neighborhood’s canine residents, although it was not particularly complimentary…

Continuing on Yolo Avenue put me behind the School of the Madeleine, a Catholic K-8, where children were enjoying the beautiful weather on the playground just on the other side of the chain-link fence.

Eunice Steps
the unmarked Eunice Steps

There was no marker of any kind, but it was clear that I’d found the Eunice Steps, so I took the obligatory photo and dutifully climbed them.

Eunice birdhouseI took parallel streets home just to enjoy different scenery, and I caught sight of a bird house, hung quite high in a tree.

I was delighted to find another Little Free Library, although I thought it somewhat odd that someone had placed inside it a program from a recent Shotgun Players’ production of Mousetrap. I suppose it was someone’s way of recommending the play?

Eunice gate with no fence

On the way home, I encountered a gate without a fence, the second such gate on my walks. I wonder: Was there once a fence that had been removed, but the owner liked the gate too much to get rid of it? Or was there never a fence, but the resident thought the gate was a nice decorative touch? Or is it some sort of statement about private property and community? Your thoughts? And considering his line about good fences making good neighbors, what would Robert Frost think?

A Book Acquisition Editor talks about Rejection

Some truths are hard to take. Here’s an honest and reasonable piece on rejection.

Ask the Agent

annaWriters spend a lot of time and energy fretting about and suffering over rejection. That’s understandable. As an agent, I get rejection letters every day for my clients’ submissions. It feels a little like going to the dentist. We have a lot of posts on “Ask the Agent” analyzing this painful subject. Today I want to repost   an article by a book  acquisition editor, Anna Leinberger, of Berrett-Koehler Books. It’s good to see what the other side has to say about this.

On Vulnerability and the Submissions Process

Submitting your written work to a publisher or an agent is one of the most terrifying things a writer experiences and, even worse, one that any writer must constantly repeat.  Vulnerability is an inextricable element of the publishing process, and it is not something that humans particularly like, and not one we do well. An author is virtually guaranteed to be rejected…

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An unexpected detour

IMG_1075It’s true that I have no sense of direction. I can have a GPS and a map in front of me and still get lost. This particular shortcoming also means that my brain doesn’t automatically record and connect all the places that I have been on some master map for later reference. For example, when I go someplace, I generally take the same route. But occasionally I discover a spot I’ve come across before from the other direction, and it kind of amazes me. I guess the world isn’t quite so big, after all, if I can just happen upon this place again. Or something like that.

So when I was returning from my path wandering the other day, I recognized my friend’s house. It’s hard to miss, in fact, because it’s painted with colors unlike any other house that I’ve ever seen–a sort of guacamole trimmed with papaya. But when I visited her, I was used to driving up San Luis from the Arlington. This time I was walking down San Luis toward the Arlington. So it sort of sneaked up on me.

I hadn’t been there since the day of her memorial service three and a half years ago–a day when, per her request, we all wore bright colors and left the black funeral clothes at home. I myself wore a skirt the color of a Dreamsicle in her honor.

It was too late when they diagnosed her cancer, and she slipped away pretty quickly. But she made it her mission to get her house painted in bright colors before she died. And it did indeed happen in time for her to see it.

The unapologetic cheerful statement made by her color palette brought a smile to my face, even though I was sad that I couldn’t go inside and hang out with her. A lot of happiness, creativity, music, and laughter happened in that house when Deb lived there, and I imagine it still does. Her husband, sons, and grandchildren may not get to spend their days with her any more, but they are surely creating all sorts of new memories on the other side of those incredibly bright walls.

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Deb

I mean, really. How could anyone live there and not feel Deb’s presence in the very walls urging them to have fun and be happy?

Santa Barbara Path (#18) & Indian Trail (#17): The worst and best

IMG_1072I have to say that Santa Barbara Path is the least scenic I’ve traversed so far, with very little in the way of greenery. It’s also possible that the trail being book-ended as it was by huge waste bins (it must have been trash pick-up day) colored my opinion. It was well maintained and easy to walk, but I would call it strictly utilitarian.

Indian Trail
bottom of Indian Trail
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top of Indian Trail

 

 

 

 

I took the Indian Trail on the way home, which I think is my favorite path so far. In great contrast to the Santa Barbara Path, Indian Trail could have been part of a mountain hike. Rocky and shaded by leaning trees, its path is dictated by its natural surroundings, including the occasional boulder. And nary a railing or fence is in sight, even at the bottom of the path, which is steeper and was a bit muddy when I was coming down it. Although I was traveling between houses, it didn’t feel like I was in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

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IMG_1064During my fairly short walk, I came across not one but two little free libraries–which is either a comment on the beloved status of the book in Berkeley or reveals the generous, trusting attitude of Thousand Oaks residents. Or both.

Within a block of my home on Capistrano, I happened upon a small table bordering the sidewalk with a bowl of lemons and a small sign offering them free for the taking. I pocketed one with a smile and decided that I live in the best place in the world.

 

 

Map My Walk fails again, but I got some fun pics

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For a change of pace, I headed southwest on Capistrano this time to take Peralta Avenue, where I encountered a colorfully decorated mailbox and some January snowflakes (the only kind we’re ever going to get in Berkeley).

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I took the windy portion of Thousand Oaks Boulevard up to San Fernando Ave. Along the way I saw vintage cars, a family of gnomes, and a few horses enjoying the sunny afternoon.

 

I madIMG_1063e my way up the busy thoroughfare of the Arlington, where I noticed an abandoned building that was quite large. How can such prime real estate be uninhabited and in falling apart? There’s a mystery to be solved there, to be sure. But my mission was to walk the paths in the furthest north reaches of Berkeley, so I had no time to investigate.

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Boynton Walk

Directly east of the last bit of the Arlington that is still in Berkeley City limits is the Boynton Walk, which ends on Boynton Avenue. It was short, shady, and had a nice steady rhythm to it (3 steps, short landing, 3 steps, short landing, etc.).

A few steps further on the quiet, residential street, and I was at the bottom of Maryland Walk, which was different from most other paths I’ve taken so far in that it had sturdy aluminum railing. As I trod along the steep and somewhat crooked steps, I decided that I certainly benefited from the banister and was glad it was there.

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Maryland Walk

It was not a particularly scenic path, but it was definitely the most direct route from Boynton to Maryland Avenue. The streets up in that neighborhood are curvy and are laid out in a rather random fashion, possibly due to all those rocks and hills.

At the end of my trek, I checked the Map My Walk app. It had recorded a few portions of my walk and then connected those parts with straight lines to make up for those portions that it didn’t record. I’m deleting it NOW!

 

 

 

El Paseo, Vincente Walk & the Visalia Steps

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 a miniature dinosaur with its friend and protector, the goose
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A feral rabbit hiding in its burrow

Visalia

El Paseo

 

 

 

I think one of the reasons I have so much fun walking around Berkeley is because I enjoy the variety of creatures I meet en route to the paths, from plastic dinosaurs to camouflaged Rabbits.

Today’s paths were in the northwest corner of Berkeley, near the Albany border to the west and the Kensington border to the north.

On this particular day, I brought along a companion, our foster dog, Joaquin, who was eager to climb every set of stairs he encountered. And there were many of those opportunities before we ever reached the Visalia Steps (#16), which was stop one on our tour. So he got a lot more exercise than I did because he took several side trips only to have to retrace them when I didn’t let him go onto properties all along Capistrano, San Lorenzo, and Visalia Avenues.

Visalia and Joaquin
Joaquin on the Visalia Steps

I think the Visalia Steps may be the steepest I’ve encountered so far. Some of the steps were nine inches tall! (I didn’t take my tape measure with me, but I used my arm to mentally mark the height and then measured the distance on my arm when we returned.) Now nine-inch steps are plenty high for a human, but somehow my tiny companion leaped each step effortlessly, despite his legs being significantly shorter than nine inches. I’m sure he thought I was a wuss when I had to stop halfway up to catch my breath.

 

 

Vincente Walk
Vincente Walk

Then it was a short walk on Menlo Place and up the Alameda until we reached Vincente Walk (#15), which was almost as steep, but since we were going down this time, it wasn’t as hard. Vincente Walk brought us right back to Vincente Avenue, where we wandered around looking for El Paseo. Which is to say, we did not take the most direct route, despite the path entrance being on the same street that Vincente Walk ended. I’d like to say that we were interested in taking in more scenery, but the truth is that I can get lost walking in a straight line…

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one of the garden peacocks we met

 

During our, shall we say, detour, we saw a beautiful garden decorated with two metal peacocks and met another dog, whose owner confirmed that we were actually heading in the right direction.

I am beginning to realize how many boulders make their home in North Berkeley.

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El Paseo Path

Before I started walking the paths, I thought Indian Rock was the only site one would come face to face with a rock that wasn’t purchased at American Soil for an arm and a leg. But today I saw one boulder on the edge of the Visalia Steps and another protruding halfway across El Paseo Path that looked as if a giant had just dropped it there.

Oh, and I received a survey from Map My Walk asking how I was enjoying their app. Ignoring my inner rage and frustration, I decided to give it one more try before giving up and writing up a scathing review.

 

 

 

 

 

The Nether takes you to a scary virtual place

Matilda Holtz in The Nether
Matilda Holtz and Warren David Keith in The Nether

Note: Becoming the urban hiker has not at all curtailed my appreciation of theater. I probably should have two blogs, but I just can’t face the added responsibility right now. Is it schizo to include walking and drama on the same blog? Let’s reframe…

In walking up two flights of stairs to reach SF Playhouse, I may have only covered a tiny portion of my 10,000-step goal; but once I experienced The Nether, by Jennifer Haley, I traveled an immense virtual distance.

Set in the possibly near future, the Nether is the descendant of the Internet, a world to which humans can retreat for brief visits. Or they may cross over to become “shades,” permanent residents of this alternate reality. Earth has lost so much of its greenery that a tree is a rare and prized commodity, and set designer Nina Ball reflects this in the opening scene, where reality is a cold, steely place.

In great contrast, the Hideaway is a Victorian dream world of flower-filled vases and genteel manners, inhabited by its creator, Papa, and an unknown number of quite young girls in prim, frilly dresses with full white petticoats.

The play opens in the middle of a heated interrogation that is meant to rattle the calm and cardiganed Mr. Sims, aka Papa, and find out if any of the activity in the Hideaway is illegal, or, more pointedly, immoral. Sims puts up a thoughtful and reasonable defense that is difficult to argue against, but the investigator has her own baggage pushing her to get the information she wants.

Thus, the central question posed by Haley’s provocative drama: when does a virtual crime become real? Several times during the play, I thought of 1984. Of course, my freedom-loving side abhors the concept of thought policing. Yet The Nether takes us into that ultra-creepy place of pedophilia where even card-carrying ACLU members are unlikely to jump to the defense of those free thinkers.

Watching this play caused me to examine the conflict between two of my deeply held beliefs: I believe that one has the right to think and act freely, so long as it doesn’t negatively affect anyone else. I also believe that men who want to have sex with little girls are depraved and unfit for civil society. But the Hideaway is specifically designed to be outside of civil society. Despite the advances in the Nether’s sensory technology, all acts inside a virtual world are still virtual.

Although there is no graphic depiction onstage of either the sex or violence that occurs behind the scenes, the hints of both make viewing the play a decidedly uncomfortable experience at times. But I think it should make one uncomfortable, and I’m willing to bet that Haley was counting on this reaction. Theater at its best is after all not only entertaining but thought-provoking.

Of course to compound the ick factor, the actresses that alternately play the 11-year-old Iris are not women dressed as girls. The night I went, 8th-grader Matilda Holtz portrayed Iris. And even though I know she was representing a virtual entity, Matilda is a living, breathing middle-school student. As a mother, I couldn’t help but wonder how embodying these roles might affect the young actresses. (The other Iris is a 6th-grader.) But as an audience member, I appreciated Matilda’s amazingly believable performance.

I commend director Bill English (who also serves as the company’s artistic director) for boldly staging a play that would have seemed like complete science fiction 20 years ago but is now a harbinger of what is probably just around the corner.

So despite Nether giving me occasional but serious shudders that made me want to shower, I’m still thinking about this play a week afterward. And I think it’s really good.