Sunday, October 02, 2016

the golden hour

Every few months, I try to write a letter to Dash. They’re descriptive and mundane. This one came out as a kind of prose poem, and it captures my current mood.

Father G says heaven is the present. I repeat this to myself, which is an act of memory, which is to say: the past. This is the time of year when the future shakes its fist.

Late afternoons in Los Angeles are a Maxfield Parrish painting. As if your 20-month-old skin needed any help. It is the color of toast, smooth as flan. You look west and I spy on you from inches away, your legs against my hip, your face even with mine. In low light your irises and pupils blend to black, but here I see the clear brown ring.

You want to ride in your green plastic car, the one with the handle in back, for a grownup to push. I am shoeless, but you’ll cry if we go inside again, so I lap the block barefoot, feeling trashy and wrecked, which I am. Pods dropped from trees bite my soles. You have discovered the joy of dragging your feet against the pavement. I retaliate by popping a wheelie, which makes you squeal.

You point to silver cars and say “Mama!” as if any of them might hold her.


On a windy hilltop in Japan, a boy steps into a phone booth and calls his dead father from an unplugged rotary phone.


I used to console myself that if I died young, I would see my mom and the babies I lost when they were still the size of pea pods. But I’ve dug my roots deep in this world. Now it’s not just your Mama, Gramps and Aunt Cathy I’d miss—and I would, but they are finished humans. You are the size of a shrub.

You are a finished human. Heaven is now. And now. And now. Each present falling off the conveyor belt and into the ether. To try to hold on is to become Lucy Ricardo stuffing herself with chocolates.


A group of professionals gathered in a hotel conference room and watched a PowerPoint presentation. Discussed capital campaigns and hidden costs. Ate gluten-free pizza and cold asparagus spears. Then, “switching gears” said their leader, they finished a sentence on large neon sticky notes.

Before I die I want to __________.

There are only five things people want: time with their beloveds, a safer world, to create, to travel, to accept themselves. I wrote Before I die I want my son to know how loved he is (by me! And others too). I always suspect the universe of looking for a loophole.


Hold this lightly, Dashiell, but squirrel it away, too, for a dark day. You were someone’s heaven.

Monday, September 12, 2016

podcasts for my middle years

Lately I’ve been binge-listening to The Jackie and Laurie Show, a Nerdist-network podcast by comics Jackie Kashian and Laurie Kilmartin about women in comedy. I’ve seen Kashian perform locally a bunch of times, including once in someone’s backyard. A thing I love about both of them is that they love comedy so much, and are so eager to hone their material, that any shred of diva behavior goes out the window. At the same time, they’re both refreshingly honest about their envy, ambition and exhaustion, three major motifs in my life that are often swept under the rug by artists when they talk about their work.

"Standup is making fun of podium culture."
The general mood of the podcast is “I want to do gigs and learn things and think and make people think, and also goddamn it I’m tired and want to just sit in my favorite chair.” That’s how I feel pretty much all the time.

Kashian and Kilmartin are both about ten years older than me. As a pigeon mom/writer seeking viable role models for my middle years, I have big admiration crushes on these women. (Kashian talks about perimenopause sometimes, referring to it as “middle-aged lady time”; even though I ripped off the menopause band-aid a few years ago, I like that there are people making the next era in my life cool and funny instead of cringe-worthy.) They are scrappy. They are realists. They talk about what it was like to come up in comedy during a time when most lineups featured one woman, but they’re also sufficiently tuned in to the youngsters; their take on the Lena Dunham/Odell Beckham Jr. thing was the closest I’ve heard to my own. They’re open-minded, they question themselves, they’re too old to put up with shit and they are hilarious. I do a lot of literal lol-ing.

Their take: This is what it sounds like when you've always been told that everything you say is really special. I agree, although I also generally like Lena Dunham and think the overall backlash against her is weirdly hateful. She's talented and thoughtful and seems like a nice person who's willing to learn from her mistakes. So let's not act like she's Johnny Depp.
When I run out of episodes and return to my regularly scheduled programming, here is what I will listen to:

99% Invisible: Exquisitely produced, this is a podcast about “the built world” that folds ample doses of history and social justice into the realm of architecture, planning and design. From gentrification in East New York, to the woman who photographed the Bauhaus, to the man who designed “the worst smell in the world,” this podcast will give you lots of weird but relevant tidbits to talk about at parties. Plus host Roman Mars has a beautiful voice.

Check out the episode about Floyd McKissick, the civil rights leader who built America's first (only?) city by and mostly-but-not-exclusively for Black people.
Keith and the Girl: One of the oldest podcasts out there, this one has a simple format. Keith Malley and his bestie/ex-girlfriend Chemda Khalili shoot the shit about current events and invite other New York comics on to do the same. Imagine a morning radio show that wasn’t sexist, racist and annoying, and you’d have Keith and the Girl. Chemda especially does an amazing job of calling out people’s ideas about gender, pulling no punches but never lacking humor. They’ve introduced me to a diverse group of up-and-coming comics that a West Coast girl who doesn’t get out much would never encounter otherwise.

Chanel Ali (top left) is one of the funny people I've discovered thanks to KATG.
The Longest Shortest Time: Hillary Frank’s This American Life-esque parenting podcast is going through some growing pains. Most notably, it spawned a huge Facebook group that proceeded to implode as an alleged casualty of the so-called Mommy Wars. You can Google it. The show switched networks and lately has been short on fascinating interviews with parents of all stripes (a multi-part series called “The Accidental Gay Parents” is one its best) and long on shows about placentas. I know I’m biased as an adoptive parent, but I really couldn’t care less about placentas. That said, I admire a show that takes risks, and the beauty of the world outside network television is that there is time and space for a show to find its way. I’m hanging in there to see what’s next. Oh, and check out the episode in which W. Kamau Bell interviews his mom about her dating life as a single parent.

Mom and Dad Are Fighting: Hosts Allison Benedikt and Dan Kois are both Slate editors; they are smart, thoughtful people who are not especially spectacular parents, nor do they express ambition to be the “best,” which is part of the show’s secret sauce. The show is one part journalism (I especially liked their interview with Nikole Hannah-Jones about school integration and gentrification) and one part real-time memoir. They open each episode with a parenting triumph or fail, from rescuing a daughter’s birthday cake from ants to fighting with a spouse in front of the kids. I especially like Dan, a book nerd dad of two daughters, whose blend of practicality and sensitivity is kind of aspirational for me.

Except in Dan's story, the ants weren't chocolate.
The Mental Illness Happy Hour: Paul Gilmartin’s deep dive into mental illness is my old friend. It’s gotten me through some tough times. As a host—interviewing fellow comics, celebrities and regular citizens like yours truly—Gilmartin is simultaneously gentle and sincere and also funny and dark. He’s had guests who have survived horrific abuse and others who struggle mundanely toward a sense of self-worth. On this show, they’re all equally deserving of love.

London "match girls" who went on strike in 1888.
Stuff You Missed in History Class: This show is the opposite of 99% Invisible in terms of production values. Its hosts are two women with non-radio-friendly voices who read their stories from the page. But the stories are great: Harriet Tubman’s career after the Underground Railroad; the British tradition of trashing brothels; a female serial killer who poisoned a series of husbands in the 19th century; an experiment with importing hippos. Periodically the hosts get emails from listeners complaining that they “only cover women,” to which they respond that no more than fifty percent of their episodes have ever centered on women, and thanks for the feedback, here’s another episode about a woman. The big takeaway from this podcast is the stuff you missed in history class was all the good parts.

What are your favorite podcasts?

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

house, work

1. tgif

A couple of Fridays ago, I came home from work, relieved AK of Dash duty, fed him, put him to bed and set to work cleaning the house while she caught her breath after a day of childcare. I picked up the remnants of the day’s Dash-nado: blocks, balls, plastic eggs, a floppy-limbed Angels monkey, a squeaky Lamb Chop that is actually a dog toy, multiple Wubbanub pacifiers, keys, clothes and so many books. He likes sitting in our laps while we read to him (and if I teach him to love reading my life’s purpose will more or less be fulfilled), but he also likes flinging the ones he’s not interested in from the shelves till he finds his favorites. He also likes stacking them on top his toy drum and occasionally drawing in them.

I changed the sheets on our bed and ran a Swiffer Wet cloth over the floors. I wiped down the sinks and toilets (it’s still weird to me to live in a house with toilets, plural) and did a couple of little extra things: dusted some floorboards and hung a picture. It gave me a high I can’t quite explain. First, cleaning on a Friday night meant I would get to wake up to a clean house on Saturday. When your child wakes you up every morning, you pretty much start each day running behind. I’ve tried to get up before him. I always fail. A clean house means you’re only a few paces behind instead of a mile.

Dusting floorboards and hanging pictures also communicated a couple of untrue but satisfying things to me.

1) Surely a person who was taking care of details like this must really have her shit together.

2) Maybe I hadn’t earned the money that paid for the house I now pseudo-owned, but look at me caring for it—I would earn this house I didn’t deserve one strip of moulding at a time.

Cleaning and organizing my physical surroundings makes my scattered brain feel more orderly. My mom cleaned the house when she was stressed out, and I am very much her child. I’ve been cleaning a lot lately because of the new house—because of the false moral equation in my head, but also because it cleans up a lot prettier than a bare-bones duplex with nine years worth of dust in the corners and a splotchy wall where the handyman didn’t match the paint right.

2. master of none

As I’ve cleaned, I’ve thought about cleaning. It’s something I spend a lot of time doing. You wouldn’t necessarily know this to look at our house. It’s a beautiful place, but mostly for reasons that have very little to do with me. I’m certainly no decorator (except on Polyvore, which is basically Fantasy Football for femmes). And while things are generally sanitary, generally orderly, it’s not hard to find boxes full of completely random objects—computer cords, vases, bundles of AK’s business cards, probably Dash’s toothbrush—and there are small tumbleweeds of cat hair under most of the furniture.

And yet I spend so much fucking time cleaning. I don’t hate it, but I certainly don’t love it—not like writing, or talking to my friends, or sex, or painting, or cooking. Or even exercise, which I don’t like all that much. But cleaning takes up more hours of my week than any of those things. If we could afford a house cleaner, it would probably make sense to hire one, but I take a certain amount of pride in doing what most healthy mammals and birds manage to do, which is maintain my little nest.

Does this mean that I’m more of an expert on cleaning than I am on writing? Have I logged the 10,000 hours necessary to achieve mastery? I still think I’m a better writer than housekeeper, for the simple fact that you can build on a piece of writing, and you can build on that skill, whereas cleaning is the same damn thing over and over. A woman’s work is never done, right? And when all the males in your house are either under the age of two or lack opposable thumbs (not to mention a work ethic), cleaning is a woman’s work.

There was a time when I would have said—with a mix of bitterness, pride and martyrdom—that I did more of the housework than AK, although she always took care of the yard. This hasn’t been true for a while. She still leads the charge in the yard, plus she does more of the laundry, mops the floors, takes out the trash, makes sure we’re stocked with toilet paper and paper towels, and probably some things I’m forgetting.

I imagine most middle class households have some variation of this life (rich people have help, poor people often have multiple jobs and probably don’t have much time to clean, although some make it a priority). But people don’t seem to talk about cleaning a lot. Because it’s boring? But we live in a world where people Instagram every meal, so “interesting” doesn’t seem to be a high priority for sharing.

I do see a few proud before-and-after pictures in my feed from friends who’ve tackled a particularly arduous garage or neglected basement. But it’s worth noting that these achievements more often fall under the banner of “home improvement” than “cleaning,” even if significant cleaning is involved. And home improvement is cool, right? It’s manly, sometimes glamorous. There are channels devoted to it. It takes money and strategy, and there is a reveal. Cleaning is just maintenance, and maintenance isn’t sexy.

3. “housework, if you do it right, will kill you.” –erma bombeck

Cleaning is part of the domestic sphere along with childcare, but while there is mommy literature and mommy blogs and mommy comedy, and all of the above may contain jokes about cleaning up after kids, there is no such genre as housework lit or housework blogs (unless you count those hack videos that show you how to make a phone charger out of a dish detergent bottle). Erma Bombeck, maybe?

Obviously raising children is more important and more interesting than keeping a tidy house, but since the two acts often inhabit the same physical space, I can’t help but think of them as competing for attention. I certainly feel the tension between the two. Lately I’ve been a little paranoid that I’m taking Dash for granted, letting him do his thing (throw his toy cars off the porch) while I do mine (pick up his toy cars). I have to remind myself that he is not dessert, to be enjoyed only when the broccoli that is laundry is done. He is the meal.

To parent a toddler is to surrender to chaos over and over. To clean the house is to swim against that current. I don’t think I’ve neglected Dash (so far) in any way that he’ll bring up to his therapist later in life, but I’d fare better if I could tell myself, Cool, we’re just gonna be covered in yogurt for a while. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Note: Contains spoilers, so if you’re an even slower viewer than me, move along.

Pop culture has an unfortunate history of killing off both Black characters and lesbians as plot devices. So how did Orange is the New Black manage to violently kill a Black lesbian and make it the complete opposite of gratuitous? Which is to say devastating, and a tragedy in the true Aristotelian sense.

I took some mental notes as I was watching/sobbing, and I’m writing them down because I think they’re relevant to anyone who cares about narrative and social justice, and narratives that advocate for social justice without feeling like a Very Special Episode (see: The L Word, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman).

Here’s what OITNB did right in the episodes leading up to and following the one in which Bayley, a young, gullible white guard, accidentally strangles Poussey while fighting off Suzanne, aka Crazy Eyes:
  • The show doesn’t introduce a character solely for the purpose of killing her. We got to know Poussey over the course of fifty episodes. We witnessed her hilarious and complicated friendship with Taystee, her overreliance on some nasty-looking hooch and her unexpected romance with Brook Soso. Thus Black lives matter, not just Black death.
  • The system is the bad guy, not Bayley. The lawyers that the prison brings in to sweep the crime under the rug are slick and ruthless, straight out of an episode of Nip/Tuck. But everyone else, all the way up the chain of command, is pretty human (minus that one psychopath guard…but I guess we’ll be dealing with him in Season 4). OITNB is not the first work of pop culture to effectively convey this idea, but when Caputo throws Poussey under the bus to save Bayley, it drives home the personal fallout of such a system. “White privilege” is rapidly on its way to becoming an overused phrase, although that’s largely due to the fact that it’s an overly pervasive reality—but this event is a perfect example of it, with some hetero privilege thrown in. Bayley and Poussey had different childhoods—hers global, his provincial—but they both did okay. They were both essentially nice people. Poussey’s race and sexuality made her a target, though, and Bayley’s gave him power. 

  • We have to watch Taystee and Soso mourn. In Ghettoside, Jill Leovy writes about the chronic, deep-rooted grief that pervades communities in which violence is the norm. But if the people on the news who get killed don’t look like your loved ones, it’s easy to forget that they’ve left people behind (and here queer invisibility is relevant; consider all the generations of men and women who couldn’t attend their partners’ funerals, or had to do so as a “friend” or “roommate”). Taystee’s devastation is particularly palpable. “People keep saying ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ but she wasn’t my 80-year-old granny,” she says. (Someone give Danielle Brooks an Emmy, please.) 

  • The final episode flashes back to a magical night in which Poussey wanders New York, sharing cigarettes with drag queens and a bike ride with apparent monks, the city twinkling into infinity. It’s a beautiful visual poem, capturing how a life is created through a mix of randomness and connection. And those same factors can eventually beget death. But at least we got to send Poussey off with dignity. She’s not a martyr for a cause. She’s a person.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

planting acorns: #parklit hashtag book festival free-write

At this very minute, my innovative writer friend Bronwyn is hosting a "hashtag book festival" about parks. What does this mean? It means that if you go here, you can encounter interesting things to read about parks, and post your own thoughts, writing, pictures and recommendations, all from the comfort of your phone or computer. A genius locale for a book festival in the middle of August.

I'm taking this as a call to jot down a few of my own #ParkLit thoughts; I was inspired by a photo Bronwyn posted of Mesa Verde, the national park where she just did a writing residency. I doubt she was housed in an actual cliff dwelling, but that's how I like to picture her: sitting inside an adobe house, laptop on her knees, gazing at the valley below.

Great view. Tough commute.
My family took one kind of vacation when I was a kid: We visited state and national parks in our 1979 Dodge Four Star motor home. We always left no later than 5:30 am. My sister and I rolled out our sleeping bags in the back of the cabin while my mom heated Costco muffins the size of our heads in an oven the size of a shoe box and my dad drove.

Sometimes we went places that were only impressive to adult palettes, places with a lot of trees but nothing my sister and I considered exciting. Things we considered exciting: rivers and lakes you could swim in, deer, gift shops, ice cream. The trip--to somewhere hot, I don't remember where--on which we discovered Pudding Pops was especially magical. We found them again in the freezer section of the grocery store when we got home, but they never tasted as delicious as they did from a vendor's cart by the side of the trail.

Here is a short list of my favorite non-natural memories from parks:
  • googly-eyed neon rubber animals from the Big Sur gift store
  • The Phoenix Shop at Nepenthe, the high-end hippie gift store just outside Big Sur
  • butterscotch pudding in tin cans
  • Junior Rangers badges
  • bringing my pet rat, Rosie, who liked to eat the crumbling rust-colored motorhome curtains
Do you need a rain stick? Turquoise jewelry? A CD of flute music? The Phoenix Shop is your place.
Sometimes we went places that even my parents admitted were duds. The Loneliest Highway in America and Dead Horse State Park became the stuff of family legend. Sometimes our motor home broke down, and my dad would swear and tinker by the side of the road. Eventually he started bringing a spare alternator wherever we went. My mom did as much cooking and cleaning as she did at home, making the concept of "vacation" somewhat dubious. She naturally woke up at 5:30 am, for the apparent purpose of loudly banging pots and pans and sorting through her underwear drawer, which was just below my head on the bench where I slept.

Sometimes we went places that were so spectacular they broke through my desire to go somewhere more "normal" and kid-centric (i.e., Disneyworld). Mesa Verde was one of those places.

Traipsing through Anasazi ghost towns, I was filled with fascination and envy. There was a part where you had to crawl through a very small tunnel, and another part where you had to walk on a very narrow cliff-side trail. My parents patiently talked me through my claustrophobia and my fear of heights, and it was worth it. The part of me that loved Sunset Magazine spreads about spectacular tree houses and cool little play-nooks you could build beneath stairs fell in love with cliff dwellings. (Never mind that my dad actually built us an amazing play house, complete with a linoleum floor, a loft and running water that we almost never played in.)

These lucky kids have a dog and a tree house! I only had cats and a playhouse. #HardKnockLife
I invented an Anasazi family with two daughters, Kachina and Mazli, and wrote stories about them. Typical plot: Mazli finds an injured deer and adopts it as her pet. They weren't very good plots, and they probably weren't culturally sensitive or accurate, given that the names I gave my characters were just imagined Indian gibberish. (Kachinas are real. But I don't think they're Anasazi.)

When I started fourth grade in the fall, we studied California history and were tasked with writing about Native Americans. Most kids wrote stuff like "The Chumash rowed very far in their canoes. They ate many fish." I pounded out a Mazli-and-Kachina story and volunteered to read it before I realized what I was doing. I was the only kid who'd written fiction about something completely unrelated to the assignment. By eighth grade, I would happily write "personal essays" about a huge network of cool cousins I didn't actually have, and now I can look back on my small rebellion with pride, but in the moment I wanted to sink into the floor.

Hopi kachinas.
Here is a short list of my favorite nature-involving memories from parks:
  • the rock water slide and swimming hole at Cuyamaca State Park
  • the big red rocks somewhere in the desert that I climbed and got stuck on for a while 
  • anything climbable, really
  • the sulfur stink of Yellowstone, and the bison traffic jams
  • singing loudly and badly at the mouth of the Grand Canyon
  • rafting in Yosemite during a drought, the water so low I could pop into the river and pull our boat on foot 
  • the mountain lion my mom spotted on one of her solo morning walks, proving that there was something to do at 5:30 am other than clang pots and pans
  • the time my dad--who likes water about as much as your average house cat--waded up to his neck in Lake Havasu; it was so hot that we were actually allowed to use the air conditioning in our motor home
  • the acorns we collected and discarded in the back yard when we got home; they're huge oak trees now

Thursday, August 04, 2016

planning, not-planning and recalibrating

I’m doing a few unusual things right now.

1) I am writing (an uncommon enough occurrence in itself) in our home office. This is notable because a) we have a home office—at our old place, half of the office was Dash’s bedroom and the other half was packed too tightly to do much in—and b) I am writing in it. Long before Dash set up his crib where our file cabinets used to be, I was a coffee shop kind of writer. Home was both too quiet and too distracting. Even now, I hear the siren call of a dishwasher that needs unloading. But new house = new habits, so I’m trying to start one today. Don’t worry, I’ll still spend approximately 73 percent of my disposable income on lattes, but I am determined not to let our lovely, light-filled office become a storage room.

Right now I’m enjoying a truly idyllic view: front porch, little yard with drought-resistant greenery, quiet street, small teal house belonging to the second neighbor we met, a filmmaker named Diane, who brought us a giant bag of oranges and gave us a few tips on dealing with the first neighbor we met, a mentally challenged woman who likes to abscond with our trash cans for several days at a time.

I just posted a picture of my blog on my blog. So meta!
2) I’m taking a mental health/self care day. Dash has been going through an 18-month sleep regression for the past couple of weeks. Google “18-month sleep regression” and the first thing that comes up is an article called something like “Why the 18-month sleep regression is worse than all the others.” Oh good.

It’s not actually worse; it’s just that his sleep is effed up because he’s going through some sort of developmental leap that is yet to be revealed and he is also simultaneously being a toddler.

Earlier this week my boss gave me some constructive criticism that really stung because it was accurate, and while my long-term response needs to be to work harder/better, I guess, in the short term I felt like I just really needed a nap. So I took a long one this morning after dropping Dash off at daycare. It was glorious.

3) I made a plan.

Longtime Bread and Bread readers will know that the last time I made a Big Life Plan it was shot to hell, and in recent years, I’ve really become an advocate of not-planning, at least if you’re a person who, by disposition and upbringing, tends to believe that planning will save your life and your soul. It won’t. I learned that the hard way.

As a parent, not planning is one of my greatest triumphs and anti-strategies. I don’t mean that, if we’re going to the beach, I don’t pack sunscreen and six changes of clothes. I do. (Between you and me, going to the beach with small children isn’t the funnest.) I mean that for reasons having to do with both privilege and its jaded opposite, I don’t spend a lot of time obsessing about developmental milestones or preschools or organic food or college.

This is good sun protection right here. If the Trumpocalypse doesn't get us, we're gonna need to prevent skin cancer.
I really believe that the best thing I can give Dash is my presence in the present. If I pay attention to him and love him and protect him from large pointy objects, the rest will fall in line. And if it doesn’t we’ll cross those rickety bridges when we get to them. And if we fall into the rushing waters below those bridges, we will do our best to climb out and dry off. And if we can’t climb out and dry off….

See, it doesn’t take long for me to get to a place of catastrophizing, even in metaphor. I’m superstitious that even writing about my impressive go-with-the-flow mothering will ensure that I’ll find out tomorrow that Cheerios (54% of Dash’s diet) cause brain tumors.

All of which is to say that not-planning doesn’t come easy, but neither does planning, anymore. I highly recommend not-planning to Cheryl types. Or rather, plan your day, but not your year. And expect that you’ll have to recalibrate about ten times a day. But like actual GPS maps, I’m getting faster at doing that.

Been there, driven that.
The other day, though, I made a veeeerrrrrryyyy tentative three- to four-year plan in my head. I was thinking about the things one considers: work, family, creative life. How to make sure that I prioritize the right pieces at the right times.

The only piece of acting advice I ever got, right before going on stage in a Cal Arts production in which I played a duck, a bartender and a transwoman, was: Don’t rush things, and don’t be lazy. When it comes to planning, I always want to rush things. If I really want something (a second child, for example; although I still don’t know if/how much I want this), I must want it right now, right? Sometimes this impatience has paid off. Other times it has led to sloppiness, settling and disappointment.

This duck's all "Rub mah belly. Bring me a beer."
In the microclimate of a day, I can be lazy. I don’t want to work out. I don’t want to initiate a meeting. I don’t want to read hard things. I procrastinate by telling myself that I will be my true, amazing, over-achieving self tomorrow. A healthier and realer statement would be As a regular human, I need both rest and challenges. How about I do one challenging thing and then one resty thing? (Ugh, who wants to even hang out with a person who is so well adjusted as to have that for an interior monologue?)

Today I did a resty thing. Now I’m doing a blog thing, which is, okay, maybe not a huge challenge, but it’s helping me think through some stuff. Thank you for bearing with today’s navel-gazing.

I just wrote and deleted a paragraph about Donald Trump. I was going to say something about how the demographic he appeals to most is blamers. People who like to watch other people get fired on TV. That’s a lot of people, myself not necessarily excluded—I just also check myself before I wreck myself/the country. But then I realized that the fact of a psychopath holding up scapegoats unconvincingly is not exactly new.

I really don't understand why Hillary is the one with the "likability" problem. Because screaming Cheetos are so charming?
So I’ll spare you a predictable rant. Even my own head is a more interesting and hopeful place to be than Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Amy Poehler for VP!
Needless to say, I’m With Her—a person who has been both patient and ambitious, and who has seen her plans shit upon periodically and who has recalibrated accordingly. Beyond the fact that she has the chops, sanity and compassion for the job, it would also be pretty sweet to see her hard work pay off. That’s not to say that our political system is even remotely a meritocracy. But the part of Hillary Clinton’s personality I love most is the part Amy Poehler has played up on SNL—the hair-tearing, un-concealable ambition of the smartest girl in class. And even though I don’t believe in a world where hard work, patience, impatience and flexibility always pay off, it’s the world I want to live in.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

the dream of the 1890s

Laterblog, from a July 18 journal entry.

As I write this, I'm watching mist filter through pines and redwoods and trees I have no name for. I'm staying with my aunt and cousin and their respective husbands on the outskirts of Loleta, which is on the outskirts of Eureka. "Behind the Redwood Curtain" is a thing people say up here when they're talking about how there are no good jobs or doctors.

Dash just woke up from his nap for a minute. I soothed him by taking him to the window and pointing out the trees, the mist, the propane tank, the cars on the highway, the billboard for Cheech and Chong's appearance at the local casino.

Maria and Al's little house in the big woods.
Aunt Vanessa has lived here since the seventies, when she moved here to be with Richard, her second husband. My grandmother joined her when her house was taken by eminent domain to make room for the Santa Ana City College parking lot.

I learned all these details from my cousin Maria a couple of days ago. She's been doing a ton of research on our family's history, for which I'm hugely grateful. She and her husband Al joined Vanessa and Linus up here a couple of years ago when Maria got a job at Humboldt State.

Country life seems to have been good for Maria and Al, who were the kind of people who maybe needed their lives to be a little less interesting. The first time AK met them, we were on our second or third date, and we ran into them at a Hollywood bus stop. They were wearing matching camo pants and bright yellow T-shirts. The family narrative has always been that Vanessa and Maria are fun, and Valerie (my mom), Cheryl and Cathy (my sister) are responsible. I hope that by now we're meeting somewhere in the middle.

Al and Maria at Centerville Beach.
There's nothing like spending time with family to remind you who you are, for better and worse. We are chronic apologizers, too self-aware for our own good, funny, nutty, creative. My aunt says things like "Whoever invented the term 'golden years' should be shot. It's more like pot metal--you know the stuff they make carnival prizes out of?" Linus has a green-and-yellow parrot named Baby, who eats at the dinner table and only has eyes for Linus. Vanessa said, "If I ever find an egg around here, and it hatches, and the baby bird looks like Linus...."

Family breakfast at Poppa Joe's in Ferndale. Baby couldn't make it.
Maria's agenda for us included dressing up in an old family prairie dress and taking photos at the cemetery down the road.

The dress fit both Cathy and me extraordinarily well. Tailored for Taylors! (Okay, wrong side of the family, but I couldn't resist.)
We drove some of the back roads through Ferndale. I felt jumpy because people are not used to seeing strange cars, perhaps especially ones being driven by black men. One guy pointed a shovel at us in a way I interpreted to mean "Stay off my land or I'll shoot," but soon he, Al and Maria were reminiscing about mutual friends and old times. I am so much better at urban anonymity than country friendliness.

We bummed around Ferndale, which is still the preserved-in-amber 1890s logging town that it was in the 1980s. It still has the same musty smell and some of the same stores, including Golden Gait Mercantile, whose second floor is a collection of creepy mannequins in old-timey clothing. But now there's a WiFi network called Ferndale Free Cozy WiFi.

Upstairs at the Mercantile. You know at night they come alive.
Linus comes from one of the early Danish families that founded the town. All the elders seem to be millionaire hoarders, like a West Coast Grey Gardens. There was talk of stopping by Cousin Willie's; he'd recently been arrested for dumping hazardous materials on his own land. We haven't done that yet and I feel okay about that.

Cowboy Dash. Seriously, I feel so lucky to have such a sweet family, who welcomed him with open arms, slices of watermelon and free-ranging cows.