My Favorite Things
Music is a major part of my creative process, and if I had to name the one recording I play most
often to tap into my soul, it would be Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert.
So many novels have influenced me, from Gone with the Wind when I was 12 to The Plague
when I was 16 and then 62. There is another book, though, that deserves mention. It’s kind of a
personal secret: The Ten Thousand Things, by Maria Dermoût. It’s been described as “at once a
lament and an ecstatic ode to nature and life.”
I would read and re-read almost anything by Janet Malcolm, and I’d die to be able to tackle
Susan Orleans’ subjects, but “Trial by Fire,” by David Grann, has to be a favorite work of
narrative journalism for its suspense, structure, and sheer importance.
Adrienne Rich was my first literary heroine and muse, but more recently volumes of collected
and selected poems by Derek Walcott, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and Louise Glück have
inspired my own writing. My favorite poet today? No contest: W. S. Merwin.
The language I most adore is Italian, even though I speak French and Spanish much more
competently. My favorite creole, of course, is what we call Pidgin English in Hawai‘i.
Do I have a preferred period in art? Well, you might have guessed, correctly, that it’s post-
Impressionism. And I love the post-post-posts: Richard Diebenkorn, Joan Mitchell, Alice Neel.
But my favorite work? Easy. I first saw Morris Louis’s Point of Tranquility as a young woman
visiting the Hirschhorn in Washington, DC, and I’ve never forgotten its power and mystery. I
mean, all those bleeding petals of vibrant color as tranquility?
Call it comfort food, call it secret pleasure, call it a weakness, call it an obsession, I can’t resist
pudding of any kind, whether coconut, vanilla caramel, butterscotch, or chocolate.
How can you pick one favorite movie? One I perpetually ponder, especially lately, because of
what it says about man’s inhumanity to man, and the complexity of moral integrity, is Breaker
Morant. In the Name of the Father was unforgettable for Pete Postlethwaite’s performance,
which I liked even better than Daniel Day-Lewis’. Roma was just unforgettable. But … then … I
just rewatched the color version of Black Orpheus and … well…
My favorite breakfast spot in the world is the Hau Tree Lanai at the Kaimana Beach Hotel, on
what is known as Waikīkī’s Gold Coast.
My favorite female politician of all time was Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan for her
“internal compass,” her eloquence and her unbelievable booming voice.
Nothing beats simple sensual pleasures. The sun on my face. The smell of Bengal Spice tea.
Someone running fingers through my hair. Hot coconut oil on cold skin. Caresses of all kinds.
My favorite recording of Hawaiian music might be the little-known Rabbit Island Music
Festival, featuring Gabby Pahinui, his sons, James "Bla,” Martin, Philip and Cyril, as well as
slack-key guitar masters Leland “Atta” Isaacs and Sonny Chillingworth. The best song on the
1973 album is a toss-up between Chillingworth’s “Makee Ailana” and the achingly slow “Kaua‘i
I love velvet, linen, and mohair but when it comes to a tea dress I’d have designed for a special
occasion, give me dupioni silk, preferably in iridescent plum or champagne pink.
My favorite restaurant is my own dining room table (an enormous, solid mahogany, erstwhile
library table with a drawer that goes right through the middle). I’m not the world’s best cook,
but there’s nothing I love more than setting a pretty table and sitting around it for hours
enjoying the fine art of conversation.