Friday, September 30, 2005
Her accent says she’s already left Somewhere
for these wrinkled foothills.
Hands me Lariam in an amber bottle,
the promise of strange dreams.
The other woman waiting
says, Where are you going?
Black cat tails of eyeliner over each lid.
Bring an extra suitcase.
The shopping is so good.
I’m moving to Dubai soon.
I freefall from Glendale, seeing downtown
out the wrong window, dismount on Hoover,
and Pete’s Burgers catches me.
98 Cents and Up, Ragazzi Room,
Arco and archaic architecture.
Sigh of recognition.
But I’m already wearing my traveler’s glasses:
This is shabby, this is
Novel-girl in the dark, on the lookout
for the eye-ends of question marks.
Flush toilet could suck you in
worse than the Carolina forest.
New-danger and old-safe
can look so similar.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
I have to write a poem
But what to write about?
My paper’s blank and so’s my head
Like all the thoughts fell out.
Or something. In my strolls through “Next Blog” territory, I’ve discovered a lot of online prose variations on that theme. Topics like “ugh” and “what to blog about” and “same old same old.” Which is funny because I doubt any of those people were blogging at gunpoint.
Nevertheless, I can relate in a sort of backward way. Lately there is so much to blog about. I have so many Important Things To Say about books (I Been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots by Susan Straight—so far, so beautiful) and TV (Everyone Hates Chris—warm and funny and pretty edgy for network) and people (a guy at Long’s this morning continued the trend of semi-flattering comments that ultimately imply I’m old: “Hey, that tattoo is trippy. I throw parties at my house, wanna come? Do you smoke bud? Or did you, like, back in the day?”).
I am a verbose blogger right now because, during my alleged creative writing time, all I do is reread passages and delete like two sentences an hour. So I’m not even writing, I’m un-writing. That’s the opposite of creation. And yeah, yeah, while it’s an important part of the process, maybe, it is soooo boring. But the two projects I’m working on both require a lot of this staring/deleting process. I have a very full deletion plate at the moment.
In college, when it was time to study for finals, I would itch to write short stories with an intensity that creative writing class never provoked. (I would also watch a lot of Real World marathons.) Now that I’m actually “required” to write, all I want to do is write something else. If I were a professional chocolate taster, I would start craving broccoli. Human nature is lame.
Anyway, if you’ve read this far, you should be rewarded with a real piece o’ writing, like my friend Noel Alumit’s story “Guest List Girls” in Lodestar Quarterly. My undergrad creative writing teacher once told me I wrote “sorority stories,” and Noel proves that that’s not an insult. Although my professor definitely meant it as such.
Monday, September 26, 2005
Eighteen years later, I still haven’t. Instead I have a girlfriend who would rather put all that cash toward a down payment on a house (and I can’t say I disagree), but there’s something about being a girl, at a wedding, that brings out my inner wedding planner. Or at least, my inner wedding critic. Weddings seem to be 90 percent logistics, and I hate logistics, so I don’t think my fairytale wedding could ever come to life unless my fairy godmother did all the planning and never sent me a bill.
But as don’t-have-to-deal-with-the-grunt-work wedding critic, I’m getting pretty good. I had a great time at Cara and Jeff’s wedding this weekend—which is saying a lot since I’m not a fan of Christianity or heavy metal, both of which played a prominent role in the evening’s festivities—and I made some mental notes.
1) Make it personal. In this case, that meant walking down the aisle to an orchestral cover of a Metallica song. It actually worked really well, almost to the point of making me reconsider Metallica. Almost.
2) Use your talents. Jeff is a film and TV editor, and he put together a funny and sweet video/slideshow of his and Cara’s lives til now, complete with Jeopardy!-style cards separating each section, like “That School” and “That Other School” to describe their college years at USC and UCLA, and “Do You Yahoo?” for the part where they met online.
The program said that the pre-processional music was performed by Cara, and I had this vision of her sitting backstage in her white dress, pounding away at the piano. But I think it was a recording.
3) Use the talents of your friends and family, even if they’re not living. Cara’s late uncle kicked off the ceremony with a lovely rendition of “The Wedding Song.” My mom was an awful singer, but maybe she can help out with the programs.
4) Reign in the DJ. This observation isn’t particular to Cara and Jeff’s wedding (though their emcee was all about the icebreaker games), just weddings in general. I’ve attended weddings of couples who I know aren’t, say, Nelly fans. But somehow strains of “It’s gettin’ hot in here…” find their way onto the dance floor. Who knows, maybe Cousin Jim begged to hear his favorite hip-hop artist. Maybe other people are just more accommodating than I am.
Weddings are all about making concessions to your loved ones. My mom chose blue as one of her colors because my aunt had a blue dress she wanted to wear. But B and I are control freaks. If we ever decide to throw ourselves a Big Gay Wedding, we’ll want to handpick every song. We’ll want wedding cupcakes in 14 different flavors. B will call every guest individually to make sure he/she takes the most efficient freeway route to the wedding. I’ll throw out invitations if I don’t like the way my handwriting looks on the address line. We’ll be very picky about the work of well-meaning and unpaid family members. We’ll be Bridezilla times two.
So mark your calendars for 2014, folks!
Thursday, September 22, 2005
I’m not the only one who’s worried. Jennifer Egan sums up Ariel Levy’s take on the Uncle Tom quality of “female chauvinist pigs” in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/18/books/review/18egan.html.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
On Sunday I had lunch with my former WriteGirl mentee, a kick-ass 19-year-old named Jenn. In the year-and-a-few-months since I’d seen her, she’d saved coral reefs in Australia, investigated ancient ruins in Ecuador and become a certified lifeguard. Next up: Israeli army training and a month of work in an AIDS clinic in Tanzania. I have no doubt that she’ll discover a cure for AIDS while she’s there.
I was feeling both inspired an exhausted just hearing about her plans. I told her I was going to Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia in October, and suddenly it sounded like I said, “I’m going to Burbank in October!”
“Oh, you’ll love Hong Kong,” Jenn assured me.
Anyway, the exhaustion was a reminder that, while the travel bug does bite once every couple of years (and the travel bug looks a lot like B, who is a way better traveler and planner than I am), I really, really like to hang out at coffee shops with a book in hand. But hey, I mix it up. This afternoon I plan to be at the Coffee Table in Silver Lake, and I might order something besides the veggie burrito. Although the veggie burrito is pretty irresistible. They put white rice in it, which you wouldn’t think would work, but it does.
So, at the Westwood-and-Missouri Starbucks—which tends to attract a wilder crowd than the Westwood-and-Olympic Starbucks—this Rastafarian skater dude sits down at the table behind me.
“Hey,” he says. I turn around. “Do you like reggae music?”
I am reminded of the time in seventh grade when I wrapped my hair in red, yellow, green and black thread and was asked what reggae bands I listened to and had to admit that I was poseur; I just thought thread-wrapped braids looked cool on my white-girl head. That was also the year that I wore three pairs of socks at a time erupting out of my generic brand Keds.
“Yeah, I like reggae,” I said, “but I don’t, like, know it.”
“You should come to this club on Saturday.” He handed me a bright yellow postcard with some funky calligraphy on it.
“Thanks,” I said. I knew I would be at my friend Cara’s wedding on Saturday, rockin’ out at the West Hills Sheraton, but I congratulated myself on at least looking like the kind of person a DJ might want at his club.
I went back to my reading and, a few minutes later, the guy psst-ed me again. “Hey,” he said, “You should really come. We’re trying to get some older people there.”
Monday, September 19, 2005
Sunday, September 18, 2005
I decided it would be an interesting couple of days.
Over dim sum, Alan and Frank talked about their respective towns of residence. Alan lives in Stockton, and one of his favorite pastimes is describing the guns and drugs and stupidity he believes are rampant there. Only “describing” isn’t even the right word, because it’s more of a stream-of-consciousness spew: “Guns! Drugs! Stupidity! Looks like the Gap threw up on it!” Frank is somewhat more forgiving of Lodi, where he lives with his mother and brother, but he’s quick to recount his first visit to a bar there, where football fans could be found railing against those “Forty-niners faggots.” But I don’t think Frank is capable of mustering real malice for anything. He’s just too much a sweetheart, too busy being in love with France and ancient alchemists and tarot cards and Baudelaire.
One might ask why, if these two adult men are so chafed by their hometowns, don’t they move elsewhere? I don’t know their answers, because I didn’t ask, but I expect it has something to do with how expensive even cities like Sacramento are getting. If you have a day job, it’s doable, but the new true bohemians are living in Lodi and hitching rides into Sacto for poetry readings and house-sitting gigs.
We stopped by the Book Collector, where I bought Steve Erickson’s Arc d'X and Frank chatted with the owner. Her husband publishes these great little miniature books with covers the size of folded business cards, containing one poem each. Today she was happy because she and her husband had moved recently, and they’d finally gotten a check for their old security deposit.
Frank and Alan dropped me off at the Vagabond Inn, where I read a few of the brilliant and inspiring essays in Susan Orlean’s The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup. She’s one of those writers who, like Michael Cunningham, completely changes the way I see the world for at least a few weeks. Lately I spend a lot of time thinking how, if I wrote like Susan Orlean, I would describe things, and how, if Susan Orlean were writing about me, she would describe me. Here is her perfect description of a prize-winning boxer: “[He has] the earnest and slightly careworn expression of a small-town mayor.”
I flipped on the TV and was disappointed to find George W. Bush on almost every channel, throwing out Biblical-sounding words. Sometimes I just can’t deal with the sound of his voice, and since I was sort of on vacation, I searched out a rerun of America’s Next Top Model.
Then onto Luna’s Café, where I was to give my first reading ever as The Featured Reader. Frank introduced me to some of the regulars. Nice, funky folks, plus one guy who told me he hadn’t finished his MFA because one of his male professors had sexually harassed him and he “wasn’t about to suck some guy’s dick for a creative writing degree.” If that’s true, that’s awful, but I don’t know—the fact that he told me this one minute after meeting me seemed kind of angry and braggy and homophobic and defensive all at the same time.
It’s been a while since I’ve attended an event with an open mic. People in the poetry world love to complain about open mics, the teen angst and the people who love the sound of their own voices. And sure, there’s always some of that, but when you’re a teenager you need to fall in love with your own voice in order to figure out what that voice is. And there are always some great moments that feel like discoveries. Like Bebe, the woman who was taking out her garbage when someone hanging out in front of the café told her about the reading. She got up and recited a series of rhymed couplets she’d written years ago about her sister going through menopause. A definite crowd-pleaser.
And then there are people like Indigo Moor, who opened with the line (and I’m paraphrasing), “There is an extra star in Orion’s belt tonight”—it turns out to be a firefly in this beautiful poem that glowed like a firefly.
My main goal, when it came time for me to read, was to get through my story without lapsing into a coughing fit. I have been reliving my college years lately, meaning that I caught a cold and then proceeded to deprive myself of sleep and good nutrition and draw it out into a multi-week event.
I didn’t cough, and I didn’t spill the glass of water that I balanced precariously on a chair on stage, and I maybe even did a pretty good job of reading, because I found myself actively engaged with the story (“Stop Signs”—if you want to read it, it’s on the Blithe House Quarterly link to the right). I thought about the times I’ve seen Alanna perform, how she’s so present (which sounds kind of New Agey or something, but that’s the best word I can think of). Like she and the audience are hanging out together and having a great conversation at this quiet little party that is the song. That is my real goal, even though I’m not even sure it’s possible to achieve without music, but that’s what I want to do once I have this whole not-coughing thing down.
Afterward I went to Frank’s apartment-til-Tuesday with two other poets, Gene Bloom and a guy named Lob. Someone said that stands for Lots of Beer. He’s from Orange County, and was the only one to get the Medieval Times reference in my story. Gene read two poems at the open mic that night, one about his ex-girlfriend and one about things he likes to put on hot dogs, like cream cheese. Frank has been calling him Creamdog lately.
It’s been a while since I’ve had one of those nights, where I just say, “I’m going wherever my ride is going.” I need more of them. We formed our own little circle next to the teddy bears. Someone put on one of those Yule log videos. I drank tea and the guys smoked and the fake fire crackled. Frank told stories about doing drugs and poetry with Kurt Cobain in the old days. Lob complained about people who’d dropped out of the poetry scene. I felt like such a soccer-mom-in-training compared to them.
I thought about how almost everyone who I know who is over 36 had a crazy life when they were young. Did drugs with Kurt Cobain or played in a punk band at pro-choice rallies or ran around Mexico with Kathy Acker or led c-r workshops or did guerilla theater in Brazil. None of them spent their early 20s the way I spent my earl 20s, at a dot-com and in grad school.
But it’s not like I just know really hardcore people, because my under-36 friends are getting married and starting marketing consulting businesses and diligently mailing out their manuscripts. You could say this is a product of growing up in the ‘80s versus the ‘60s or ‘70s, but I don’t think that’s it. My parents certainly never did guerilla theater—in Brazil or elsewhere. I think it says more about the kind of person I am and the kind of person I look up to. I think it has something to do with how I always like musicians’ sophomore albums, how I’m not the one to discover them, but I stick around for their more experimental work that everyone else dislikes. I think maybe I need to read Everybody Into the Pool very soon.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
She just reported to me that she was having dinner with a director friend the other day who responded, “Are you kidding me?”
Steph thought he meant, “Why are you asking me such a bizarre question?” But when Steph assured him that she was not kidding, he said, “Of course I know Ducky—I’ve known him since we were 16. Anyone who was in the LA goth scene in the ‘90s knows Ducky.”
I was not in said scene, and neither was Steph, but I like just knowing that I sort of know someone who was famous in such a scene. I’ve always had subcultural aspirations, but I also want people to like me, which prevents me from being a true rebel. Plus the flip side of subculture is often schtickiness, which I try to avoid. It’s a fine line between being distinctive and being a parody of yourself. Or so I tell myself when settling in for a night of Friends and frozen yogurt.
Anyway, speaking of subcultures, Stephanie is going to be in a theatrical LARP this weekend. LARP stands for Live Action Role Play; it’s sort of like Dungeons and Dragons for people who want to go beyond Tolkien-esque imagery. Everyone is given a character, a goal and a set of skills, which they play out against semi-imagined backdrops, such as “zombie roller derby.” Wackiness ensues.
I participated in one of the LARPs she and her friends staged in college. The theme was “plantation.” Her friends are not very PC. It really wasn’t as bad as it sounds, but I don’t think I would be successful in convincing anyone of that, so I’m not going to try. Better to check out Steph and her fellow crazy, funny thespian friends in Friday's LARP, which they’re doing for an audience—attention whores that they are—a sort of play/happening/geekfest/improv game/anarchic party.
- Mr. Mojito's Voodoo Review, co-starring Luis Reyes' funkironic band Jacaranda * Sept. 16th, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. (game ends at 11 p.m.; after that it's all party) * Club Fais Do Do, 5257 West Adams Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90016 * $25 ($20 for the poor, $15 for the really poor, $10 for children under 12 and free for designated drivers who bring lots of people)
Monday, September 12, 2005
I’m pretty sure that five of my eight Bread and Bread readers live in LA, and the other three are in SF and Seattle, but just in case there are any Sacramento folks out there, I’ll be in town this Thursday night. I’m reading as part of the Poetry Unplugged series at Luna’s Café. I’m not a poet (well, not one who should be encouraged to read her work in public), but Frank Andrick, one of the series coordinators, is letting me bend the rules and read a short story. Frank is wonderful, this human exclamation mark with the heart of a teddy bear, the soul of a riotgrrl, the brain of a French Romantic poet and the ponytail of a Metallica fan. The crowd at Luna’s is equally diverse and fascinating.
- Cheryl Klein reads from her forthcoming story collection, The Commuters
Thursday, Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. at Luna’s Café
1414 16th Street, Sacramento, CA
No cover, all ages
Open mic precedes and follows the feature
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Yep, Jamie did my numerology. It’s totally addictive, and a good chunk of it is right on. I’m just lamenting that I don’t know my cats’ exact birthdays. Oh well, I’ll have to amuse myself by weaving a coat instead.
Ahem. I’m pretty sure that refugees from Afghanistan and Rwanda don’t want to be poor and dirty and displaced either. But rather than consider the uncomfortable notion that those-refugees-over-there are intelligent, feeling people who are seeking refuge from a sucky situation, it’s easier to distance ourselves from them. Americans cannot be refugees because that might mean that refugees are human.
So I’m putting a call out from some refugee pride. I would love to see poor-and-proud folks from Louisiana and Mississippi rise up, demand what they deserve and, while they’re at it, mention that there are a lot of people around the world who are also living in tents for reasons other than their love of camping. There could even be a parade. It seems like New Orleans should know how to put on a good one, but just in case, check out Eli Sanders’ wise advise for a righteous pride parade in The Stranger: http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Content?oid=22162. Don’t let viewers ignore history or poverty, and skip the Absolut Vodka float.
Monday, September 05, 2005
Saturday, back when it was still summer, one half of The Erins visited us (Erin’s wife, Erin, opted for a mellow solo weekend at home in Berkeley). Like Daisye and Yoshiko, The Erins are one of those great couples who’ve been together a really long time and have certain personality parallels with B and I—although The Erins make it to the gym a lot more than B and I, and have more friends—so I look to them as role models/relationship barometers. Pressure’s on, ladies.
Last time B was in the Bay Area, she and Erin went to SFMOMA, so we had to prove LA had art too, even if it wasn’t in the shiny silver building that Erin naturally gravitated to. After empanadas and fish tacos at Grand Central Market, we hiked up the hill and around the construction, bypassing Disney Hall, to the Basquiat exhibit at MOCA.
Sometimes I feel like I’m supposed to look at art in a certain way, even though I know the world is full of artists making art that challenges the way we look at art, etc., etc. MOCA was full of these types of creatively dressed people, whispering little Basquiat facts to each other. But Erin wanted to know just what drugs Jean-Michel was on when he did some of his paintings, a legitimate question in my opinion, and when I watched the video footage of him lamenting the cult of personality in the art world, I couldn’t help thinking what a hottie he was. So sweet and articulate, with crazy cartoon hair that looked sort of like Disney Hall.
I had a lot of questions about process; I felt like those were more legit, though they mostly went unanswered. Like, did he do tiny little sketches knowing he would photocopy them and use them as wallpaper for a big painting of a crown and a guy who looked like Homer Simpson? Or did he just sketch to sketch and take it from there? I found myself wanting to go home and paint or draw or glue, which might be an egotistical thing to think, or it might be exactly what all those creatively dressed artists want to inspire.
When Erin stood in front of an aqua-blue painting of six dudes with spiky hair and haloes, in her exact-same-aqua-blue T-shirt, we decided we needed to find her a halo and punk out her hair and do some kind of, like, meta-art.
I’m sort of blind, and while Basquiat painted nice and big, I kept getting in trouble for standing too close when I tried to read the captions on the walls. B sweetly defended my honor to the security guards: “I think you know she’s not trying to cause any trouble.”
There was a computer where you could make your own art and save it for other museum visitors to see. Really it was just the “paint” program you find in the “accessories” menu of every computer. I was inspired by Basquiat’s use of fried eggs (as content, not medium), so I drew a scribbley picture of fried eggs with the mouse. I couldn’t figure out how to save it, so I inadvertently made a commentary on the fleeting nature of fried eggs and, of course, life itself.
We finished the day at Roscoe’s House of Chicken n Waffles, where we ate next to a print of a shirtless black man in a stylish hat, leaning on a strapping black horse in a lush forest. It made me think about how oddly non-sexual Basquiat’s work can be, even when he paints words like “clitoris” and “eroica” (I’m not sure what the latter means, but it sounds sexual). Then we watched the DVD of the movie Roscoe’s House of Chicken n Waffles; when we bought it (I know, but it was on sale, and we love waffles), we hoped it would be so-bad-it’s-good, but it was just regular old bad. Way too many characters, no real plot, gags that had nothing to do with what little plot there was—all narrative crimes I’ve committed myself, but I wasn’t feeling sympathetic.
The next morning Erin and I went jogging. I gave her a tour of the neighborhood: Wendy’s, Starbucks, lavanderia, campus, unexpected street fair. She kept an eye on her stopwatch and intuitively monitored her heart rate. The Erins know about things like heart rate. After explaining the mechanics of a beer bong to nerdy B and me, she went off to a real party with one of her grad school friends. A good weekend, and now it’s fall.
Friday, September 02, 2005
I frequently run into these sorts of dilemmas when trying to be a good citizen. But the main point is to do something, whether that’s heading down to New Orleans with a rowboat and a pair of rubber gloves or clicking on the Red Cross link or continuing your monthly donations to California arts groups because California still needs art. Personally, I donated to the Louisiana SPCA, because I literally root for the underdog. Network for Good has a ton of links for every denomination and species.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
This is a man who, according to NPR rumor, took money that was supposed to go toward renovating the pre-Katrina levees and put it toward the war in Iraq. Now both Iraq and New Orleans are full of looting, violence and unsanitary water. But at least George W. is on hand to make useful and comforting statements along the lines of, “We didn’t think the levees would break. But then they broke,” and “People want to go back to their homes, but they can’t go back to their homes now.”
2. My neighbor, whom I will call George W. Bush At Age 26
He happens to be a loud, gross, frat boy-esque grad student, and I suppose that’s his right. As I was leaving for work this morning, George W. Bush At Age 26 asked, “Will you drop me off closer to campus?” I said, “No, sorry, I’m not going that direction.” He just nodded like, Okay, bitch. I felt bad for a few minutes, as is my tendency. Then I thought about the time he and his friends got drunk and peed on our doorstep and I felt less bad. It’s the sense of entitlement that bugs me more than anything, the way he thinks, I can totally pee on someone’s house and then ask her to schlep me around. I also thought about how I had to write a scene in my novel where a jerky guy assaults a woman, and I based it on him, and wondered if anyone would buy such a stereotypical character. The real reason I didn’t give him a ride, though, is I just can’t imagine what we would talk about for eight agonizing minutes.
Sometimes, when people learn what neighborhood I live in, they get this certain micro-expression on their faces, which I know has to do with the high percentage of people of color and poor people who live there. Let me just say that the many people who go through our recycling bins make way better neighbors than George W. Bush at any age.