Saturday, December 31, 2005

i'd have sworn you were shelter

Terry Wolverton has a great poem, featuring Italy, betrayal and an 84-year-old alcoholic, at http://www.poetryrepairs.com/v06/009.html. It’s just below Marie Cartier's poem about gettin’ it on with Poetry, “the big dic packed with no pretense.”

Friday, December 30, 2005

on illiteracy

One day in sixth grade, I forgot how to read. I first noticed the problem during a school assembly in the cafeteria—maybe I was trying to read someone’s T-shirt or something, because the assembly itself wasn’t text-based. I saw letters and words, but they suddenly didn’t add up to anything. When we got back to class, I looked at the clock (as I often did in sixth grade, despite the sign Mrs. Graham had posted next to it saying, “Time passes. Will you?”) and it didn't make any sense either. By the end of the day, I had a full-blown flu, so I guess it just hit my brain first. Once I reached barf mode, camped out in front of the TV, I could read again, well enough to know that I should call 1-800-THE-LAW-2 if I needed legal advice.

My reading skills left me again, although not quite as profoundly, one evening last summer when I sort of got spontaneously drunk. My speech slowed and everything was a little fuzzy. Cathy told me it sounded like a migraine sans headache; apparently a friend of hers had experienced something similar.

For the past few weeks, I might as well have had the flu or a weird migraine-that-I-really-hope-isn’t-a-brain-tumor. There’s a Post-It note in the front of my planner that says: “To Read: Annette’s thing, Jane Smiley book, Steve Erickson book, Ms. Goldsmith’s book, Sunshine/Noir, Bronwyn’s book (due Jan. 17).” Some I’ve started, some I haven’t, but even though I’ve managed a little bit of writing, reading anything more complex than “Celebrities—They’re Just Like Us!” has eluded me.

Stressing, as usual, for all the wrong reasons, I thought, “Shit, my blog is supposed to kind of be about interesting artistic and cultural things. I haven’t read anything I can comment on. And now I don’t even have a TV.”

But little by little, I’m recovering from my emotional flu. I’m happy to say I’m 40 pages into Bronwyn’s manuscript. The girl can write. When her book finds its way into the world, I predict it will be not just blogged about but reviewed by really smart people in really smart newspapers. Or at least it should be—I should never try to predict the publishing world. Anyway, Bronwyn, here’s your first bit of critique: Your novel is way more interesting than Hilary Duff putting coins in parking meter. More to follow on January 17.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

the cutest little tornadoes ever

When B and I broke up, I had a sense that I was leaving my big, messy life (or rather, it was leaving me) for a small, neat one. I’d often felt pulled in too many directions—trying to spend time with B while she was in town, trying to maintain friendships and trying to keep the carpet reasonably free of cat litter. When the carpet remained stubbornly crunchy, I consoled myself with the fact that this was what a life full of love was like.

So, when some of that love said see-ya-later, I consoled myself with the fact that I would now have ample time to vacuum and return emails. But last night a little piece of my big, messy life came to join me in my new home: OC (right) and Temecula moved in.

Yeah, I got cat custody as my consolation prize. But it’s a really, really good consolation prize. Even though I felt evil taking them away from Bari in their little carriers. Even though it took about ten minutes for them to knock over a picture frame and dust my new apartment with a patina of orange-and-calico-ish hair. But sometimes that’s what it takes to make a
Shabby Funk apartment a home.

Monday, December 26, 2005

the saltiest pickle i know

There is something so savory about Alanna and Alanna’s blog. Um, I mean, Mindy and Mindy’s blog. She simultaneously inspires me to be better, and makes me feel good about being who I already am, and she uses phrases like, “He was the Son of God, and the Balls of Man” and, “Someone who is a pickle, should be a pickle.” She makes me think twice about stereotyping Christians, yet not feel guilty about weaseling out of church this Christmas Eve. Curious yet? http://mindychiu.blogspot.com/

girl's best friend

I spent a good chunk of my holiday hours with Rocket, an Australian shepherd/chow mix belonging to Ryan and Lori. I like almost all animals (I am completely, unfairly prejudiced against cockroaches, and I have to admit I was a slow sell on monkeys), but I come from a cat family, and I don’t quite get dogs. They don’t bend right. My dad has been known to look at dogs and say, “Purr. Come on, purr. How am I supposed to know if you’re happy?” While I’m hip to the tail-wagging thing, my own knowledge doesn’t go much farther.

Rocket doesn’t purr, and he’s not really a licker (fine with me) or a cuddler. When I unlocked Ryan and Lori’s front door on my first night of house- and dog-sitting, I entered very carefully, with the story of how Rocket tried to bite the exterminator fresh in my mind. He barked a couple of times, and issued a half-hearted growl, then just stood in the living room and stared at me.

This was our M.O. for the first evening. I patted him on the head periodically and talked cheerfully about Ryan and Lori in an attempt to prove I really did know his people and had not just broken in to steal the stereo, but I think Rocket knew I was faking this Dog Person thing.

But by the next morning, when Rocket and I set out for a stroll around Mar Vista, we were beginning to form a gentle, respectful friendship. Ryan had described the act of sniffing shrubs and telephone poles as the canine equivalent of reading the community newspaper: who’s been where, who’s in heat, who’s switched to Purina Healthy Weight Formula. I quickly discovered that Rocket was not just an avid reader of the Mar Vista Who-Peed-On-This Times, he was a regular columnist.

I enjoyed watching him click along ahead of me, brown ears bouncing. Sometimes a dog behind a fence would start barking and yowling, but Rocket was fairly oblivious, even to other dogs out for their morning walks. He was much more interested in the historical, spending minutes at a time with his nose buried in a tangle of ivy or a discarded cardboard box.

I wondered if we were alike in that way—sometimes we’d rather observe from afar than deal face to face with our peers.

Christmas Eve and Day, I braced myself for my relatives’ breakup consolations. There were a few whose mere presence made me want to lay down on the couch and pour my heart out, but with others, I wished we could just forgo the mutual awkwardness. Couldn’t we somehow silently acknowledge the fact that they barely know me, let alone B, and that I’d be just as well off without the words of wisdom they found so difficult to compose?

That was what I braced myself for, but of course I spent most of Christmas coasting semi-happily under the radar: one of those two interchangeable sisters who eat a lot of dessert.

This morning I took Rocket on my second-to-last walk before heading off to work. The morning was rainy-misty, and he left fat wet paw prints on the sidewalk. A few neighbors called, “Hi, Rocket!” from across the street. Rocket didn’t say hi back. He just walked and sniffed, and I moved through the fog like a ghost.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

the world of things

To look around my new apartment, you would never know that I just moved in Saturday. Books are on shelves, pictures are on walls and food is in the fridge. I was able to accomplish this thanks to help with heavy lifting from my dad, my dad’s girlfriend Susan, my sister, my sister’s boyfriend Marvin and my sister’s roommate Kelli, who just volunteered out of the blue, I think because she had a breakup a few years ago that followed very similar patterns to mine and B’s. Pity is way underestimated.

I went on a 48-hour move-in frenzy, unpacking boxes, stocking up at Ikea and assembling furniture until the wee hours of the morning.

“My fingers are sore from all the screwing,” I told Cathy the next morning. “I’m really tempted to make a bad joke about how that’s the only kind of screwing I’ll be doing for a long time, but I won’t because that’s just the sort of ‘I’m a pathetic old maid’ humor I’ve vowed to avoid in an attempt to convince myself I’m both a feminist and dateable.”

“Good thing you didn’t make that joke,” Cathy said.

“Also, the pun is just lame.”

I’m really quite happy with my new place. I’ve achieved a certain look that can’t be found in decorating magazines, which are always full of sleek open spaces and butcher block tables. I’m trying to come up with a name for a look that is neat, colorful and very crowded. That is urban but not in a loft kind of way. Maybe Shabby Funk? Like Shabby Chic but with less white-washed wood.

All this is to say that my World of Things is in order. My brain is a messy place right now—we’re talking clothes strewn on the floor, old pizza boxes piling up, phone bill unpaid. But when I look around at my World of Things—my necklaces hung neatly on brushed steel hooks—I feel better.

I realize this sounds a lot like that Retail Therapy you read about Jessica Simpson practicing to get over Nick. Leave it to capitalism to co-opt even the grieving process. I’m trying to tell myself that my new relationship with my World of Things is different. I find myself roaming very simple stores like Trader Joe’s or Sav-On. I’ll pick up a jar of face wash or scented candle and think, I could buy this because my World of Things is in order and I know exactly where I’d put it, and it would look cute (if crowded) because my new apartment is not stacked high with newspapers and crammed with wads of tangled computer cables.

Then, more often than not, I’ll think, Or, I could just not buy this. It’s a great revelation, an option they don’t tell you about on shiny happy Target commercials. Both options bring me joy and relief.

I think I’ve finally learned how to live an essay written by Erik Snyder, this guy in a couple of my classes at CalArts, who used to write gentle, contemplative pieces about wandering the halls of his old elementary school at night and walking through Target, enjoying the shiny buzz of it all without buying anything. That, he said, was the ultimate way to reap the benefits of capitalism without falling into its trap.

Of course, I did end up buying a bunch of stuff at Target (and I really do need face wash). And I heard a couple of years ago that Erik died “at his home,” which sounds like suicide or an overdose, although of course it’s possible that there were natural causes his family just didn’t feel like telling people about. So I still spend too much money and I am still sad and maybe Erik was too. But it’s nice to pretend for a few hours a day that we’re not, and it’s nice that an artfully displayed stack of bath linens can help.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

ballyhoo for the boring

I’ve always wanted to run away and join the circus. When I was in junior high, I read a Teen Magazine profile of three girls who were contortionists with Cirque du Soleil. They were skinny and talented and had beautiful pink and purple costumes, all of which were appealing to my 12-year-old self: I was fat (or so my skinny 12-year-old self thought), could only do the splits on the left side, and wore biker shorts and Body Glove T-shirts to gymnastics class.

But I’m not picky about my circuses. I wrote a term paper on P.T. Barnum (big, flashy, swindle-the-suckers circus), I loved Geek Love (dark, fetishy, freak show circus) and I took a class from a real live bearded lady at CalArts (pomo political circus). And yet my life—past three weeks excluded—is undeniably un-circus-like. Oh, let’s face it, even the past three weeks of post-break-up hell are hellish in a really ordinary way. Like, I can’t even say, “At least it will make great material for a future novel,” because I don’t believe I have anything to say about heartbreak that hasn’t been said more eloquently by hundreds of great writers or Alanis Morissette.

At least one of my problems has been solved, though. Enter Carnival of the Mundane!

The brainchild of Dean (of Inspired by a True Story), Carnival of the Mundane will be an online roundup of posts by bloggers who write about everyday life, hopefully in a not-so-everyday way. A bunch of us will take turns hosting, providing enticing peeps into virtual tents. And the people shall come together, stale popcorn in hand, to revel in the freakishness of their posts about dorm roommates, gym memberships and the search for the perfect bed frame.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how it works yet. Luckily, I’m not hosting till March. One does not become a world class tightrope walker overnight.

Monday, December 12, 2005

mallternative

I know I’m not the first, or even the 119th, person to say this, but holiday shopping generally sucks. You spend money you don’t have to buy gifts your relatives don’t need or want, which were most likely made by small Indonesian children who would be having Tiny Tim-style Christmases if they were Christian.

This Sunday,
Jamie, Lee-Roy and I discovered one fabulous antidote: Bazaar Bizarre. Subtitled “not your granny’s craft fair,” it was an expo center full of purses made from recycled sweaters, Shrinky Dink jewelry, hand-stitched iPod cases, bondage gear and papier mache piggy banks made by decidedly non-oppressed art school grads. (And I’m happy to say that most of the silk screeners screened their designs—smiling robots, graceful jellyfish, rock and roll kitty cats—on American Apparel T-shirts.)

My friend
Erin, a knitter of many non-granny-like items, would have loved this fair. Incidentally, I think both my biological grandmother and my adopted grandmother would have too. The latter even has a tattoo. Wandering around the Shrine Expo Center, enjoying the absence of Christmas carols and the presence of at least a dozen booths selling ugly-cute stuffed monsters, my only regret was that the fair was a one-day deal. But if Starbucks billboards have taught us anything about the holidays, it’s that we have to appreciate the ephemeral, because It Only Happens Once a Year.

Friday, December 09, 2005

caught in the middle in mid-city

At first I worried that that damn New Urbanism would exile me to a suburban ghetto—Reseda, Pacoima, Norwalk. But it turns out I’m just upwardly mobile enough to afford the urban semi-ghetto—those areas where poor people of color rent and young white gentrifiers buy. As a white girl looking to rent, apartment hunting is an interesting sociological experience.

Here are some of the many ways people have asked me, “Why would you want to live here/there?” over the course of the past week:

  • Current tenant of a one-bedroom in Baldwin Hills: “Well, it’s the ‘hood, you know? Helicopters fly over.”
  • Teenage boys outside aforementioned one-bedroom in Baldwin Hills: “Hey, schoolgirl. We don’t get your kind around here much, so we gotta look while we can.”
  • My dad: “Have you thought about Long Beach?”
  • Friends who live in Burbank and WeHo: “Move to Hollywood! Move to Hollywood!”
  • Manager of a Koreatown building: “Hola”…something in Spanish about los apartamentos...hears me speak English…phone clatters in surprise…a 12-year-old boy comes on and tells me about the place.
  • My dad: “Well, just make sure you’re not the only person of whatever color you are in the neighborhood.” Me: “Whatever color I am? I’m green, Dad.”

There are all these subtle suggestions that I have the option of living somewhere really posh—I think my dad thinks my liberal guilt is keeping me in the ‘hood. And while I have plenty of liberal guilt, I would be just as comfortable having it Santa Monica.

And yet…I guess I do have a choice in some ways. If I wanted to live with a roommate, I could manage WeHo or Venice or Palms. If I wanted to live with my dad, I could live rent free on a cul de sac in Manhattan Beach. If I wanted to pay off my student loan more slowly, I might be able to afford my own place several blocks northwest of where I’ve been looking. All of those factors do distinguish me from apartment hunters who don’t have parents to rely on or budgets that can be stretched.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the competition: I’ve got to get this place! That other guy just screams “previous evictions”—I’m a shoe-in! I know I have a small advantage, even though the landlords I’ve encountered look at me as if I have a big advantage. My current landlord took the standard $25 from B and I for a credit check that we later learned she never ran. I somehow doubt she would have been so trusting if we weren’t white (and she’s Latina, so there’s all kinds of crazy race stuff going on here).

In the end, I signed a lease on a tiny but charming place in that vast and eclectic stretch of land known as “Mid-City.” As with most places in most cities, I can go a couple of blocks in either direction and feel alternately afraid for my purse or like I should have worn a cooler brand of jeans. Or I can stay in and relax in my brand new shoebox and pretend I live in New York or Tokyo. But for all its issues, I kinda like LA.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

if trees could speak, they wouldn't

My therapist is always reminding me that nature is inefficient—you never hear a plant say, “I didn’t go jogging this morning. I am such an unworthy plant.” Not just because plants don’t have legs, but because they’re cool with who they are: beings that bask in the sun for as long as there is sun.

Or as
Dorianne Laux puts it in “The Life of Trees” (from Facts About the Moon and brought to my attention by Jamie):

The pines rub their great noise
into the spangled dark.
They scratch their itchy boughs
against the house and the mystery
of that moan translates
into drudgery of ownership: time
to drag the ladder from the shed,
climb onto the roof with a saw
between my teeth, cut those suckers down.
What’s reality if not a long exhaustive
cringe from the blade,
the teeth? I want to sleep
and dream the life of trees, beings
from the muted world who care nothing
for Money, Politics, Power,
Will or Right, who want little from the night
but a few dead stars going dim, a white owl
lifting from their limbs, who want only
to sink their roots into the wet ground
and terrify the worms or shake
their bleary heads like fashion models
or old hippies. If trees could speak,
they wouldn’t, only hum some low
green note, roll their pinecones
down the empty streets and blame it,
with a shrug, on the cold wind.
During the day they sleep inside
their furry bark, clouds shredding
like ancient lace above their crowns.
Sun. Rain. Snow. Wind. They fear
nothing but the Hurricane, and Fire,
that whipped bully who rises up
and becomes his own dead father.
In the gale winds the young ones
bend and bend and the old know
they may not make it, go down
with the power lines sparking,
broken at the trunk. They fling
their branches, forked sacrifice
to the beaten earth. They do not pray.
If they make a sound it’s eaten
by the wind. And though the stars
return they do not offer thanks, only
ooze a sticky sap from their roundish
concentric wounds, clap the water
from their needles, straighten their spines
and breathe, and breathe again.

Monday, December 05, 2005

light reading, heavy heart

I always knew that InStyle was a little bit evil, but as such, it’s packed with temptation in the form of “satin eye masks with beaded trim…$25 each” and “18kt-gold-plated candlestick with sapphires and labradorites, $420.” You know, shiny stuff.

But there’s nothing worse to read after your girlfriend of four and a half years breaks up with you (yeah, that’s what’s up, in case my abstractly angsty posts haven’t given me away). Especially the celebrity profiles, because InStyle has this amazing ability to make even the most miserable, strung-out, tabloid-whore celebrities sound exuberant and wise.

I really should have known better than to open to this month’s Gwyneth Paltrow profile in my current state. But there I was this morning, groggy and vulnerable, reading: “Why is this woman smiling? Is it because Gwyneth Paltrow a) married a rock star; b) has an adorable daughter; or c) loves her job? Answer: all of the above.”

The good news is, my InStyle subscription will run out soon and no longer be able to rub my nose in my non-Gwyneth-ness. Actually, both my subs will run out soon. I get two issues a month because B added on a gift subscription for me for Christmas last year, and the circulation folks screwed things up. I was supposed to call and have them make the two subs back to back, but I never got around to it, and each month, B would get annoyed at me. To her credit, it was nice that she indulged such a guilty pleasure of mine, since light reading for her is The Economist. But now I can just let my duplicate issues stack up until InStyle runs its evil course.

Ha! How’s that for a vengeful ex-girlfriend act? (Hey, I’m new at this, okay?)

In the meantime, here’s a short, full-of-crap InStyle-style profile I made up to make myself feel better:

Looking artsy-casual in jeans, a butterfly-print thermal and a yellow top, Cheryl walks into Quiznos, disarming the interviewer with her 100-watt smile and notorious punctuality. Quiznos, you say? Sure, she could have picked the Ivy or Chateau Marmont, but Cheryl loves people-watching and toasted veggie sandwiches.

It’s been a year of ups and downs for the 28-year-old budding novelist, what with the publication of her first book and her much-publicized breakup with elusive public sector superstar B.

“One minute you’re planning to be bridezillas and raise fucked-up kids together, the next you’re on your own, shopping for the nicest crack house money can rent,” she says philosophically. There is an adorable smear of avocado on her chin.

So what exciting products does Cheryl rely on to fuel her dynamic and enviable life? Besides the obvious—spa treatments, things coated in Swarovski crystals—she is also a firm believer in the powers of 7-Eleven coffee, black Wet and Wild nail polish and spending hours clicking “next blog” rather than reading actual books. Sure, that last one isn’t a product so much as an activity, but if anyone could make it into a product, it would be Cheryl. With a little help from InStyle.

Friday, December 02, 2005

my rejection collection

B’s computer is having problems—whenever you ask it to do anything, it makes this anguished whirring noise. It does the thing, but very, very slowly.

That’s pretty much me right now. I did some writing last night, but it was like I was typing with gloves on. Everything felt fuzzy and clumsy. I want to do some reading, and lord knows I need to do some reading, but so far the most complicated thing I’ve been able to handle is Quick Shots of False Hope: A Rejection Collection by Laura Kightlinger, which I found on B’s bookshelf. It’s funny and honest and articulates some pains of adolescent girlhood that I haven’t seen elsewhere (and that’s saying a lot, since adolescent girlhood is hardly uncharted territory), although there are a few unnecessary sentences that her editor should have crossed out.

But mostly I’ve been watching episode after episode of My Super Sweet 16, thanks to Cathy’s sisterly nurturing and her roommate’s TiVo. My life may suck right now, but at least I’m not a 16-year-old driving up to my $180,000 birthday party in my new BMW, I congratulate myself. Because my little Puritan work ethic has convinced me that that’s something to be happy about.

Heather and I saw Shopgirl last night. It was funny and weird and sweet. I loved it for showing what love does and does not accomplish, for being a movie without a villain, just three lonely and good people. But while it dared to make main character Mirabelle (Claire Danes) a whole woman who had struggles that did not center solely around the men in her life, it didn’t go far enough toward convincing me the movie was really from her point of view and not some dude’s. (And maybe I’m just saying this because I know Steve Martin wrote the book and screenplay.)

I got mad at how buttery and angsty-cute and cellulite-free the camera kept making Claire Danes. I know Laura Mulvey said all these things way back in the day, and I know other people have come along and done feminist rebuttals, but yesterday I was feelin’ Laura Mulvey’s point. Damn the Steve Martins for making people think that girls like Claire Danes are out there, when in real life the girls who are like Claire Danes are poorly lit and wear clothes that don’t quite match and read People Magazine when their brains are whirring. And because people have seen too many movies, they don’t recognize a real-life Claire Danes when they see one.

So, for today or for this month, screw the Puritan work ethic. Where has it gotten me? Well, a lot of places, actually, but not everywhere. Not where I want to be. I’ll let other people drown their sorrows in red wine and curl up on perfectly made beds in silk pajamas. My sorrows demand People and reality TV, changing my mind, making phone calls I shouldn’t make, getting through the day with nervous laughter and annoying cheerfulness.

Or, as Sara emailed me yesterday when encouraging me to come to her holiday cocktail party despite my mood: Cheese is Jesus.