Friday, December 22, 2006
It wasn’t the easiest venue—an outdoor stage beneath an arbor of bejeweled palm trees and styrofoam snowflakes, across from an ice skating rink—but Los Abandoned rocked it. Lead singer Lady P even wore a red and silver-sequined skating dress (which looked remarkably like my 10th grade drill team uniform) over her black leggings to complement the scene. And leave it to your local LA punk-Spanglish-dancehall band to perform the best medley of “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah,” “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” and “Hava Nagilah” I’ve ever heard.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Whoever invented that low-slung stationary bike I’m so fond of (you know, the one that’s more like sitting on a kitchen chair than an actual bike) is a little bit evil. For years it’s been a staple of my workout, or maybe I should say “workout,” making me forget the vast superiority of exercises that actually get your adrenaline going.
Last night I went to Bally’s in hopes of taking the new hip-hop class. I brought a book with me—since about 50 percent of Bally’s classes are canceled (and the staff always acts surprised: “Really? The yoga teacher isn’t down there? That’s weird”), I figured there was a good chance I’d end up on the bike, slightly bored and barely sweating.
But lo and behold, the hip-hop class was on! And the teacher was good! And he (unlike most Bally’s hip-hop teachers) did an actual warm-up and cool-down. And taught a good-looking routine that was not too hard and not too easy. And the class was full of kids like me—folks who’d picked up a little dance or cheer here or there and couldn’t resist pirouetting in front of the mirrored walls, but who ultimately were sort of out of shape.
It was perfect. I’d been in an alte
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Some observations upon beginning Dave Eggers’ You Shall Know Our Velocity!, in which two 20-something guys try to give away 30-something-thousand dollars in a one-week trip around a large chunk of the world:
- This is a ridiculous idea that only two privileged Americans could come up with. Traveling to countries you know nothing about and giving wads of cash to people who seem needy—but not too needy, or annoying, or ungrateful—is naïve at best, reckless and exploitative at worst. Sure, it makes a better story than, “We donated our money to a respected nonprofit organization, and the experts distributed it accordingly,” but it’s hard to get past the insane premise.
- Boys travel differently from girls. They are spontaneous, they don’t worry about getting raped (though they occasionally worry about getting killed) and they like to climb trees and jump from moving cars.
Some observations upon getting to the middle section, in which the up-till-now secondary character, Hand, begins to narrate, and the book makes something of a 180:
rnism. Yawn. Let’s get back to Will’s part. His story was just fine.
- Oh, okay, I think I get it—Dave Eggers is obsessed with the manipulation of grief. He wants to express it in all its aching humanness, but he’s wary—he knows it’s marketable. He knows fiction cannot do it justice. He knows that fiction is the only way to do it justice.
- One of the mantras in my writing class is that the first chapter of any novel makes certain promises to the reader, and the job of the rest of the book is to fill those promises. I’m pretty sure Dave broke that rule with this section, or at least way, way bent it. I love him for that, and am irked.
- That recklessness thing? Maybe they’re reckless, but, as Hand explains, their actions are an outward expression of an inner grace, which is really the only way to live an honest and full life. You can never truly fault someone for acting on their good intentions. What’s the alte
rnative? Act against your intentions? Don’t act at all?
Some observations upon finishing:
- The book is a bit of a manifesto in favor of action, which seems appropriate given that A) Dave Eggers is a busy guy. He runs a press and a nonprofit. He was popular in high school. He has lots of friends and he does projects with them. He is not the stereotypical reclusive, solitary writer who writes reclusive, solitary characters who quietly observe the chaos of the world. I can’t help but relate to such writers and characters, and yet, I appreciate that Dave is a person who believes in creating the world. He’s doing exactly what people should do when they’re well adjusted and given ample resources. He goes out on a limb, and he jumps from it, spectacularly.
- And B) Dave Eggers is globally engaged. His current project is What is the What, another fiction-nonfiction hybrid, this time about the Lost Boys of Sudan. AK and I saw him and his co-author, Valentino Achak Deng, speak a couple of weeks ago at the
. The guy who introduced them gushed and gushed, but when Dave came onstage, he just got down to business. There’s a terrible world out there, but it’s also funny and human, and worthy of our best strategies. Hammer Museum
Sunday, December 17, 2006
The movie tells the story of Sierra Leone’s warlord-ruled illegal diamond trade through the eyes of a cynical white smuggler (Leonardo DiCaprio), a muckraking journalist with a thing for bad boys (Jennifer Connelly) and a local fisherman (Djimon Hounsou) who hopes to use his discovery of an immense pink diamond to save his family, which has been split apart by the rebel army.
It’s the sort of movie that follows all the rules of storytelling, some to very good effect, some not so much. It’s hard not to roll your eyes when the white couple’s sexual tension is given more screen time than the scenes in which Hounsou’s son is drugged and brainwashed by the rebels.
Yet the movie keeps the pandering to a minimum, and, more than that, I found myself willing to forgive a few unfortunate filmmaking choices because the incredibly powerful true story of the diamond trade is so compelling and so much in need of exposure. If just one couple listens to Blood Diamond instead of those annoying Robbins Brothers commercials this holiday season….
But my Diet Coke also proved very powerful, so I had to tear myself away from several gripping and horrific scenes to go to the bathroom. My head was full of men with machine guns storming through villages in the backs of trucks, hip hop blaring as the locals tried to run—so it was weird stepping into the cheerful, tastefully decorated lobby of the ArcLight.
On my first trip to the bathroom, another movie had just let out, and the lobby was full of a diverse but universally bored-looking bunch of men standing around with their arms crossed. Clearly, they were waiting for the their wives and girlfriends, who were in the bathroom. But my first thought was, Militia! They’re here—it’s all over!
On my second trip, I was busy thinking about how the awfulness of war-torn Africa is worse than just about all the other things I usually think of as awful. What can I do? I thought, sitting down on the toilet. I need to be more international in my thinking. How can I fix this? What can I join? Who can I tell?
I flushed. And the toilet just kept flushing. I jiggled the handle, and jiggled again, but the toilet was committed to its mission. Fuck, I thought. How am I supposed to save Africa if I can’t even stop this toilet from flushing?
On the way out of the theater, I approached the girl at the concession stand and said, “There’s a toilet that won’t stop flushing in the ladies’ room. It seems like it’s wasting a lot of water, so, I don’t know, maybe you can call maintenance or something?”
She said she would, and I congratulated myself on being the sort of person who didn’t let problems go unchecked. Or, at least, the sort of person who asked someone else to do something about them after watching the rest of my movie.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Rental guy: Let’s see, you reserved an economy car. Would you like a free upgrade to a Jeep Grand Cherokee?
Me: I don’t think I’d even know how to drive a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Rental guy: What do you normally drive?
Me: A Honda Civic.
Rental guy: Okay, I’ll see what we have.
[Twenty minutes later]
Rental guy: I’m going to give you the smallest car we have, the Chrysler 300. It’s, uh, more like a Honda Accord.
Friends, the Chrysler 300 is more like a boat. Your grandpa’s big-ass gold boat. But despite this introduction,
Anyway, all of this is to say I’ve been out of town and just now discovered that my guest post (along with many other holiday thoughts from fine guest bloggers) is up on Kaply, Inc. To enjoy my Scrooge-y side, click here.
Friday, December 08, 2006
I just finished sending acceptance and decline emails to all the good folks who submitted work for the spring issue of Blithe House Quarterly. Afterward I checked to see how many stories were in my “No” folder in my Yahoo account—93. Plus the six I accepted. That’s almost 100 stories. And now I am having one of those “so that’s where my time went” moments. Sometimes such epiphanies follow ten back-to-back episodes of My Super Sweet Sixteen, so it could be worse.
Lately I’ve done a fair amount of reading for contests and lit mags. If you’re an “emerging writer” (as we call ourselves until we hit Oprah’s couch), I highly recommend finding such a gig. Besides being fun—the thrill of discovering good work, the amusement of discovering really, really bad work—it tells you a lot about what happens to your little manuscript after you send it off into the big wide world:
- You know how, when winners of just about anything are announced, the announcer says, “There were so many great entries. It was really hard to choose”? This is, in fact, true, as cheesy as it sounds. What the announcer doesn’t say is that there were also a ton of crappy entries.
- Sometimes, just one person has to like your stuff. But sometimes a whole chain of people do—the screener, the reader, the judge. So even though the judge might love your stuff, if the initial screener has an irrational prejudice against stories about girls who run animal rescue organizations and go to Malaysia, you’re screwed.
- It really does help to have a strong beginning. Avoid opening with a weather report.
- It also helps to have actual subject matter. Even if the heart of your story is in the tender moments between everyman characters, it will be more memorable if they’re digging for dinosaur bones or assembling mannequins or faux jousting at a Ren Faire while having those moments.
- But quirk for quirk’s sake is annoying. It’s all about balance.
- There are so many words in this world. Just so, so many. Your best bet is to write a lot of them and send them to a lot of places. Be careful about what you write and where you send it, but not to the point of preciousness. It should be a process of abundance, a big meaty thing--a flow, not a trickle.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
As AK’s roommate Alberto recently pointed out, “Even when I was a little kid, I was like, ‘What’s up with “Silver Bells”? That’s a song about shopping.’”
One of my goals for the holiday season (well, pretty much my only goal, since “send cards early” is pretty much out of the question) is to not buy people a bunch of shit that they don’t need, that I can dubiously afford and that was probably made by a 15-year-old in Bangladesh.
I’m happy to see that holiday fairs selling fair trade goods, local handmade products and donations to good-causes are popping up all over the place. On Sunday I went crazy getting tubes of caulk for Habitat for Humanity on behalf of my manly relatives at All Saints’ Alte
Apparently, there’s a craft fair happening tonight at the Eagle in
For those who prefer a little less ho in their ho ho ho (‘tis the season for ho jokes), there’s also the Bazaar Bizarre on Dec. 16: http://www.bazaarbizarre.org/. I went last year, and I highly recommend it. Unless you’re on my gift list, in which case, please stay away, it’s totally lame.
Friday, December 01, 2006
When I turned onto Pico, I passed the Pico/Rimpau Transit Center, also known as the bus station. I admit I hadn’t been there on foot since my keys got locked in B’s car at the carwash two years ago and I unexpectedly found myself taking the bus home. But I’ve noticed public transportation is enjoying a renaissance (or maybe just a naissance) in LA, and Pico/Rimpau testified to this.
Last I checked, the bus junction was dingy and haunted-looking, the way you want bus stations to be in movies, but not when you’re taking the bus after dark. Now it was all pale stone and bright signs and, most distinctively, adjacent to a Starbucks. Since the liquid pumping through my heart is two parts decaf nonfat latte, my first thought was, “Hooray! A Starbucks within walking distance!”
But as I took in the other stores in the brand new strip mall—Panda Express, Foot Locker (coming soon) and Wells Fargo (also coming soon)—my feelings grew distinctly mixed. My neighborhood is starting to look like the area where my sister lives. Westchester/Ladera Heights is a pleasant, middle class, largely African American but ultimately diverse neighborhood with an overwhelming abundance of convenient chain stores: Vons and Marshalls and Magic Johnson Starbucks and T.G.I. Friday’s and Bath and Body Works all on one block. It has all of the things that poor neighborhoods are lacking.
And so the part of me that knows, statistically, that bad things happen when there’s nowhere to hang out but 25 liquor stores is glad to see Panda Express and Foot Locker. These are stores that the people who already live here—myself included—could use. They suggest that Mid-City will not be Downtown, where overpriced boutiques sprouted next to the tents of Skid Row almost overnight, with little time for the working class or even the middle class to put down roots.
Still, the part of me that unjustly prides herself on living in Liquor Store Land like it is some kind of accomplishment, and the part of me that likes bleak and haunted spaces, and the part of me that likes arty little boutiques, and the more justifiable part of me that roots for small family-owned businesses like Aceptamos Estampillas—all those parts see Panda Express and sigh a little.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I’ll get it out of the way more quickly: Penélope Cruz is hot. Now, moving on.
Volver is a physical film, maybe even more so than most movies, but it’s also a tough and mature movie, which can get lost in the ass-padding excitement. Cruz plays Raimunda, a hardworking, newly single mom who seems too busy running a restaurant, dealing with her aunt’s death and covering up her daughter’s (quite justified) murder of her (Raimunda’s) husband to put on all that make-up, though we do see her doing so once. Her sister Sole (played by the actually-plenty-attractive-herself Lola Dueñas) has even more to worry about when their dead mother shows up—looking very much alive—in the trunk of her car.
A flood of long-kept secrets sweeps through the family like the east winds that spark fires and superstitions in their home village. Incest, murder, disappearances—the women in the film handle it all with a matter-of-factness that falls short of stoic (it would be impossible to call such a vivid, colorful film stoic) but seems somehow very European to me. Revenge and forgiveness are not contradictory to these characters, or at least not far apart. Burying one’s rapist husband and lovingly carving his headstone are all in a busy day’s work.
I suspect that an American movie—at least one with a less adept director than Pedro Almodóvar—would have spent a lot of time driving home the point that child abuse is bad, and then have followed up with a lot of weepy epiphanies. These characters laugh and cry quickly and then move on; sometimes my American head almost craved a little hammer-hitting. The movie is dark and funny, but not quite a dark comedy. Lush but not a spectacle. Almodóvar holds and delivers all of these tensions like a figure skater at her fourth Olympics—it’s only after the breathtaking routine that it occurs to you that triple axles aren’t all that easy, and that the intricate footwork between leaps probably isn’t either. Like Raimunda, he just shakes out his apron and gets back to work.
Monday, November 27, 2006
I took refuge in the aisles of gorgeous fruits and vegetables.
I took refuge in the aisles of luxuriant fruits and vegetables.
I took refuge in the aisles of garish fruits and vegetables.
I took refuge in the aisles of ostentatiously gorgeous fruits and vegetables.
I took refuge in the aisles of fruits and vegetables.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
At this very moment, my real high school reunion is happening. Or I should say, my official high school reunion is happening, because the real thing, as far as I’m concerned, happened last night.
Instead of paying $55 per person, we had a potluck at Bonnie’s apartment. I arrived second, apologizing for my burnt brownies as I walked through the door. Amy said, “Yeah, I was supposed to make a vegetable dish, but I ran out of time and just ended up buying something.” Then Jenessa called, saying she was running late and did we still really want her to bring a salad?
Our gathering reaffirmed what I observed at last year’s mini-reunion—that we’re very much still our high school selves: over-achievers with slacker tendencies (or maybe vice versa), self-deprecating, sarcastic, creative.
And that we’re also not—the sarcasm that we honed making fun of people for ridiculous reasons (“Remember how we used to make fun of Shannon Christiansen?” Bonnie said. “Why?” Angie asked. “She said her name weird,” said Bonnie. “Like Shunn-un”) has softened as we’ve grown more confident and discovered better uses of our time and talents. When I recounted how Monica offered me a scholarship to the official reunion, I could hear the gossipy edge creep into my voice—it’s like a drug, the cheap high of inviting others to bond with you over shared judgment.
“That sounds like Monica,” Angie laughed. “But she really is so nice. I heard she gave her dad a kidney.”
“I ran into Isaac the other day, and I was telling him about that, and he was like, ‘Yeah, I’d never do that for my dad,’” said Bonnie. “I thought he was joking. I kept saying, ‘Sure you would.’ But he was like, ‘No, man, he’s lived a good long life.’”
“Wow,” said Amy. “I’m estranged from my dad and I’d still give him a kidney.”
We agreed: kidneys for all our dads.
2. upon closer examination
Not too long ago, AK told me about an LA Times article she read, about a club that Mira Costa students started to encourage friendships between developmentally disabled kids and mainstream students. “It was the most positive, heartwarming story you could possibly imagine,” she said. “And it was so funny, because the way you described your high school, I imagined it being nothing but bitches.”
We watched the video Bonnie made at the end of our senior year. The last time we’d watched it, it was our hamminess that stood out to me. We were constantly putting on a show. We never met a driveway that didn’t need to be turned into a stage.
But this time—maybe because I’ve been in a bit of a melancholy mood off and on this weekend—I noticed how we grew and grew apart between eighth grade and senior year. How Bonnie’s clothes started to skew hip-hop and Amy and Jenessa’s veered toward skater, and I went from anorexic to distinctly overweight.
We were never a completely cohesive group—we always used to joke, for example, that Heather had a secret life, mainly because she had a couple of friends who went to Chadwick. But by the end of high school it was becoming clear that there were all sorts of different places—entirely different cultures—where we might land as adults. That we were hungry for it and terrified by it.
3. still different, less scared
After dinner, we decided to go out. It had to be somewhere close, because Bonnie’s mom was only going to baby-sit her son for another 45 minutes.
“I’m curious about South Bay dive bars,” I said. “All those places I’ve driven by my whole life but never gone in. Like the Dolphin, that gay bar on Artesia.”
Bonnie perked up. “Yeah, let’s go there. I love gay guys.”
Heather, who lives in West Hollywood now, said, “I don’t know…I think it might be kind of weird if five girls walked in all of a sudden.”
We settled on the Hangar, a vaguely airplane-themed bar on Aviation Boulevard. They only served beer, in giant goblets that made us giggle. Bonnie and Angie didn’t like beer, so they borrowed mine and Jenessa’s and Heather’s to take pictures with. I’d ordered a Hefeweizen and repeated what I’d recently heard on NPR, that it was a less bitter beer because it had a lot of malt and not very much hops. I felt half cool, half alcoholic.
Soon, Angie and Bonnie left, and Jenessa’s boyfriend Sam joined us and did a spot-on impression of Jenessa’s mom that sounded just like the impressions she’s been doing since she was eight.
Do people really change? When I look at all of us, it seems entirely believable that we are who we turned out to be. Jenessa once marched into the school library and demanded to see all the scary books (which her mom had warned her not to read). Now she’s looking for a job working with gang members and won’t hesitate to tell you about the time she got arrested. Bonnie was always bossy and goofy around her friends and painfully shy around adults. Now she teaches third grade.
But we’ve all muddled through a lot to become the selves that seem so obvious. Breakups, babies, rehab, half-finished grad programs, a few thousand dollars worth of therapy. More than anything, I think we all had to shed a lot of insecurity to become the nice (yet gently sarcastic, partially tattooed and occasionally bitchy) young ladies we are today.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, beer at the Hangar: $4.50 plus tip. Eleven-year reunion with people I’d still do a kick line with: priceless.
Friday, November 24, 2006
Chris Pureka is a new discovery, brought to my attention by a mass email from B, who likes heartbreaking girl folk singers, and who broke up with me a year ago this weekend.
A year ago this weekend I could not peel myself off the floor, and when I finally did, I ran five miles and hardly even felt it. I thought about that self tonight (maybe because earlier in the day I was listening to Pink’s sweet but less spectacular “Conversations With My 13 Year Old Self”) and I felt so sad for that self, and loved her so much.
She had no idea what was ahead of her—that a year from now she’d be so thankful for what fate enabled, so in love with a new girl who was an old soul but liked to stay out late, so full of love that she worried she’d become one of those people who walked around talking about how full of love the world was. For that one-year-ago self, the world was, possibly, still full of love, but suddenly she had nowhere to put it. She suspected things would be okay, though, and that thought was a little scary. What did love mean if you could heal from it? How unromantic—a world in which mothers could die and people could leave you and your heart would just slowly stitch itself back up and go about its business.
From what I know of the spiritual side of quantum physics (courtesy of What the Bleep Do We Know?, You Shall Know Our Velocity and The Time of Our Singing—creative types love this stuff), theoretically all possible futures exist simultaneously. In a parallel universe, B and I are still together, working things out or not, in Indiana or maybe Philadelphia, because maybe she got into Wharton in that universe.
Right after we broke up, it was really important for me to believe that things could have worked in a parallel universe. Not so much because of quantum physics, but more out of a stubborn need to be right, to not have wasted four and a half years.
I know that time wasn’t wasted, not even in this life. That past had to happen to get to this future, and that past was a good present in its time, in its way. Still, I am glad to be living this particular present in this particular universe.
“It was a good life,” Chris Pureka sings in “Swann Song,” “I’d do it all again, I’d do it all again.”
I put the song on repeat, and cried and cried, but then I was home and it was time to go in.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Courtesy of J.P., Akbar craft captain and holiday philosopher:
Thank you for the very weird experience of a holiday that suffers from gross historical distortion, but still has the gleanings of a message that endures (the concept of gratitude and celebration of the harvest). Despite all the starvation, disease, nasty catty fights about real-estate, back-stabbing, maize, muskets, hats with buckles, pretty head-dresses, small pox, the Narragansets and the Puritans...we’re essentially thankful for mostly everything.
I guess. Whatever.
I would say “tofurky,” but other than that, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
I’ll start with karaoke at the Mint, where Jamie played air flute, Patricia channeled Dolly, AK rocked Axl Rose and I tried to do fan kicks to Fiona Apple. And a 70-something leather daddy sang a version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” that was so sweet I really could imagine all those things. All before 6 p.m., ladies and gentlemen.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
1) The Pinkberry frozen yogurt that people are clogging the streets of West Hollywood for totally lives up to the hype. Isn’t it nice when something does that? Actually, I have to admit that I tried a knockoff version, the Big Chill’s Chillberry flavor, which has thus far only clogged a small strip mall parking lot.
But it’s damn good stuff. A frozen yogurt version of plain yogurt, basically—tart with just a little sweetness.
When I returned from lunch, I reported my findings to Jamie and Cait, our intern.
“It’s so good,” I said. “It totally lives up to the hype. The only bad part was that I got a chocolate peanut butter cup topping—it was like putting a really ornate Victorian chair in the middle of a sleek, modern apartment.”
Cait, being a 19-year-old USC student who is already over trends I’ve never even heard of, was familiar with Pinkberry, but Jamie hadn’t heard of it. When I described it to her, she said, “That’s like the original frozen yogurt that was around when we were kids! They had tart vanilla and regular vanilla. But later they only had regular.”
I decided it must be a Hawaii thing, since the Klein family had a pretty serious frozen yogurt habit in the early ‘90s and I remembered no such thing. Plus the current tart frozen yogurt is an interpretation of a Korean dessert, and Hawaii is half an ocean closer to Asia than Southern California is. As for Cait, she was barely eating solid food in the early ‘90s.
2) Borders has my book.
I spent an hour there Friday afternoon, scanning the acknowledgements pages of books I liked in hopes of discovering who my favorite authors’ agents were. All the literary marketing smarties tell you to do this, but it actually wasn’t very fruitful. Who knew so few writers had acknowledgements pages? Ungrateful brats.
I was about to leave when I decided to see if they had my book—just for fun or self-torture, depending on the results. I figured it would be the latter. But lo and behold, there it was, just to the left of Stephanie Klein’s Straight Up and Dirty. My heart skipped a beat when I saw it. My little book! In a bookstore not known for ordering local writers’ books just to be nice.
I wandered around in a daze for a few minutes. I toyed with the idea of writing a little note inside each of the two copies. Something along the lines of, “Hi, I’m Cheryl. Right now I’m shopping at Borders. Please buy this book.” It’s not graffiti if it’s your own book, right?
I also thought about buying it, just because it would feel great to walk into Borders and buy my own book. Then I thought, I’m not about to shell out $12.95 for a book I already have. Then I thought, Shouldn’t its mere presence here mean I’m rich enough to shell out $12.95 for a book I already have?
In the end, I contented myself with turning the book so the cover faced outward instead of the spine. This involved some repositioning of Deanna Kizis’ already-facing-outward chick lit novel, Finishing Touches. Actually, I used to intern at Entertainment Weekly when Deanna was a staff writer there. She was never very friendly.
(Wow, that sounded chick-lit-y of me.)
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Since I had to work slightly harder than usual to vote yesterday, (meaning I had to print my sample ballot from the inte
The good news is that, unlike in the 2000 and 2004 elections, the results did not make me cry. The good news is that Democrats are no longer letting Republicans have the lock on morality rhetoric, and Nancy Pelosi is third in line for the presidency.
The bad news is that I’m having double assassination fantasies (note to blog police: Did I say “double assassination fantasies”? I meant “double simultaneous naturally caused heart attack” fantasies), which doesn’t seem healthy. The bad news is that
The weird news is that in
Okay, I’m going to shut up before I start singing the Canadian national anthem like the predictable and no doubt under-informed lefty that I am. Maybe I’ll just make some deep-fried treats and send them to the Whitehouse. In a gesture of bipartisan goodwill, of course.
Friday, November 03, 2006
1) One book that changed your life.
When I was five, my mom started reading the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder to me. Soon I was narrating my own life in the third person: “Then Cheryl went into the bathroom. It was dark, and she hoped there were no kidnappers hiding behind the toilet.” In kindergarten, when we wrote little stories to explain what was happening in our finger-paintings, I raised my hand and asked, “How do you spell ‘replied’?”
Before a thousand other books brought beauty and darkness and history and social consciousness into my life, a little girl in a bonnet brought words themselves.
2) One book that you’d read more than once.
Would read again: anything funny that I can read out loud to people I like to hear laugh. Have read again: In the Heart of the Valley of Love by Cynthia Kadohata. I was writing a paper—but also, I love it. Should read again: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. I only made it through about 85 years of solitude. I blame post-AP-test bu
3) One book you’d want on a deserted island.
The bible seems to have kept people talking for a couple thousand years. Maybe it could keep me busy until I was done building a raft out of coconut shells.
4) One book that made you laugh.
Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants by Jill Soloway. Because everyone says David Sedaris.
5) One book that made you cry.
Flesh and Blood by Michael Cunningham. Parents’ most subtle, innocent wishes can kill their children.
6) One book you wish you’d written.
The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers. Parents’ most passionate, fought-for wishes can’t save their children.
7) One book you wish had never been written.
Any book that promises you can make a million dollars or lose a million pounds without any real effort. That’s a lot of books, but isn’t it really all one book?
8) One book you’re currently reading.
You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers. It’s great, but I’m not reading it with much velocity.
9) One book you’ve been meaning to read.
The Rough Guide to
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
They drove to the house where OC was cat-sitting and fed Mao, Miso and Stripe, who were not especially worried about being cared for by a giant member of their species and a shark who had recently eaten a scuba diver. From there, OC and the shark walked to the bus stop, where they waited.
And called the shark’s roommate to confirm the bus schedule.
And waited some more.
Finally, the shark said, “Can we go back to Jamie and Lee-Roy’s house for a little while? I’m freezing.”
“Of course,” said OC. “I’m wearing a wool sweater, but I forgot—you’re cold blooded.”
As they walked back, OC tried to explain how, sometimes, when buses just never showed, he felt like he was living in the eerie, magical LA he’d written his undergraduate thesis on, but which he tended to forget about now that he was a practical, efficient grown-up. He’d forgotten the beauty of things not being what they appeared.
His brain was doing funny things lately. It was feeling guilty and restless and wondering if its little fictional pursuits could really change anything in the world, because surely it was his duty to change the world. Surely beauty and curiosity were not enough. He was excited—and filled with trepidations, because he knew how good and relevant the book would be—to start reading You Shall Know Our Velocity. Even though he was only on page 25 now, it was good and relevant, and seemed to be about survivor guilt, and OC lived his life weaving in and out of various degrees of survivor guilt, to the point where sometimes his brain shouted at him, Just do something. Just fix something. Other times it said, Hush, hush, you’re just a little cat. Just lay down and purr.
It was funny, all this guilt and restlessness, because usually all OC wanted was a firm head-scratch and the milk in his mistress’ cereal bowl.
Back at Jamie and Lee-Roy’s, OC and the shark lay down—just for a minute, but that minute quickly turned into the whole night.
In the morning, the shark said, “Sorry we didn’t make it out. But I’m glad we dressed up anyway.”
A smile spread between OC’s whiskers. There was a time, not so long ago, when he would have put such a night in the Things That Did Not Get Accomplished column. But he liked the way the shark thought. He liked the idea of a world where some nights, you got dressed up just for yourself, an invertebrate friend and a few local felines. That was the city he wanted to live in.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Okay, so the scary clown has not yet begun to shoot blood from his eyeballs as I had hoped, but he is now tied—by the neck—to the lamppost with what looks like a periwinkle unitard. In the interest of better clown posture, I guess.
I’ll probably stop by that store today to see if I can find a cheap, minimal, last-minute costume. The other day AK described the following conversation with her coworker, and I could relate:
AK: I’m trying to come up with a cheap, minimal, last-minute Halloween costume.
Coworker: Alright, let’s think about what we have to work with. What do you have in the costume section of your closet?
AK: [Blank stare.]
Coworker: You know, your old clothes and stuff. What do you do with your old clothes?
AK: I give them away.
Coworker: [Shaking head.] Before you give anything away, you should always ask yourself, “Could I use this as part of a costume?”
Monday, October 30, 2006
The Prestige: Nicole S. (of NYC, not to be confused with Nicole K. of LA—although, interestingly, they both have sisters named Vanessa) and Bram and I went to Nicole’s favorite theater on
Given that I love Christian Bale (especially in tu
In the nearly perfect opening sequence, we see Hugh Jackman’s character perform his famous “Transported Man” trick, in which he disappears from a stage crackling with lightening only to reappear almost instantly in the theater’s balcony. Except this time, the trick goes awry—the disappeared man drowns in a tank of water beneath the stage, and Christian Bale finds himself on trial for murder. This scene is intercut with shots of Michael Caine—playing an elderly engineer, the guy behind the magic—explaining the components of a good magic trick to a small girl enchanted by his ability to make a canary disappear and reappear. Thus the stage is set with the movie’s themes: doubling, sacrifice and the dark side of trickery.
I say “nearly perfect” because there are parts of the scene that are confusing, and the movie has so many twists and tu
Marie Antoinette: So much of any artistic experience is the life and knowledge you bring with you—Sofia Coppola was counting on people watching Marie Antoinette knowing that sometime after the teen queen’s on-screen frolicking through piles of pastel dresses and sculptural desserts, she’d be dethroned and executed by the angry, impoverished masses.
Tommy’s friend An, who owns a clothing boutique and saw the movie with us, thought the whole thing was incredibly boring, although she conceded, “Sofia Coppola would make a great music video director.” An brought her own aesthetic expertise (she, like so many people I saw in New York, made me feel like I’d accidentally left the house wearing my pajamas), but she didn’t see the point in a two-hour story.
I spent most of the movie trying to decide whether Coppola was indicting Antoinette for her let-them-eat-cake behavior (even if she never actually uttered the words) or not. Coppola makes the wise choice of almost never depicting anything that happens outside the grounds of
But Antoinette isn’t completely off the hook either—the self-centered defiance that gets her through her teen years and ultimately makes her a brave and independent woman in a world where women weren’t encouraged to be either also enables her to continuously not give a shit about France. Her husband Louis XVI, on the other hand, lacks her guts but does his best under the crushing weight of his unwanted crown.
I also brought my love of tabloids to the theater with me, and kept thinking,
The good news is that the magic mailbox genre is still wide open.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Then I read the part of the Evite that said “Send $55 per person to….”
Then again, I thought, they’ll have to join MySpace eventually, right?
Around this time, I also stumbled across the MySpace page of a fellow Mira Costa Mustang who’d recently had a baby. She smiled up from her profile pic, looking blonde and radiant, sans an ounce of baby weight. Her gorgeous daughter was in one arm, and her designer leather diaper bag was in the other.
I thought, Do I want to pay $55 to be reminded more viscerally than ever of what Manhattan Beach is like?
I looked at the “No” section of the Evite. The people who had declined so far had included comments like, “Sorry to miss it, but I’ll be in London” and, “I’ll be in Singapore. Miss you guys!” This also seemed very Manhattan Beach.
So—speaking for the non-globetrotting masses, I thought—I checked the “No” box and wrote, “I would love to see everyone, but I’m less in love with the $55 fee. Sorry to miss it.”
A day later, I got an email from Monica, one of the coordinators, saying, “Cheryl, I would hate for the $55 to keep you from coming. If we can work out an alternative, would you consider coming?”
Yes, I was being offered a scholarship to my high school reunion.
At which point I got deeply embarrassed and started thinking how dare I have bitter thoughts about Manhattan Beach when, look, my classmates had grown up to be sweet and generous, and, hello, $55 wasn’t really that unreasonable for two hours of all-you-can-eat-and-drink anyway. It costs money to put on a big event. Did I think it was going to be free?
Usually when I feel bummed about not owning a designer diaper bag, I remind myself, I’m a starving artist—that’s glamorous! Also, I don’t have kids and it would be weird to carry around a diaper bag, designer or otherwise.
But of course Monica is an artist too. She, like, owns her own textile design company or something. So I sent her a polite thanks-but-no-thanks email and realized that now I definitely can’t go to the reunion. I doubt my name will come up among those who do go, but if it does, I know the rumor won’t be, “I hear Cheryl Klein published a book!” or even, “I hear Cheryl Klein is a dyke!” It will be, “I hear Cheryl Klein is really poor!” But hey, at least that will distinguish me.
P.S. I’m off to New York for a week, so adios for a bit.
P.P.S. It’s for work. Rumor has it that I’d be way too broke to fly there recreationally.
Friday, October 20, 2006
I befriended the owners, this cool drag-queen couple, and as I was drawn further into the store, it lost its Salvation Army vibe and became more and more magical. There were twinkly Christmas lights. Steamer trunks full of silk slips. Wine and music. One of the owners gave me an apple, and when I bit into it, it was full of chocolate.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
But then I look at pictures of bunnies and bread and I feel better (thanks Jay Jao and Patricia).
The balloons that were previously tied to the scary clown’s mannequin wrist have all popped, leaving eight or ten dangling strings attached to shreds of rubber. Basically it looks like a bunch of giant spiders have repelled down from his Madonna-glove hand on fat webs.
Monday, October 16, 2006
1) My friend Nicole just co-authored (with Mike Szymanski) The Bisexual’s Guide to the Universe. I haven’t gotten my copy yet, but I did take one of its quizzes on http://www.guidebi.com/. I learned that based on the foods I like (eggplant, pancakes, curly fries), I am apparently bisexual.
2) My friends-of-AK’s-friends J.P. and Jennifer Jordan Day collaborated on the online Halloween advent calendar-slash-art exhibit Gothtoberfest. I learned how to make pumpkin pizza and say “Do you want eyeballs with your beer?” in German.
Norma Desmond has called my office dozens of times.
She’s also approached my organization’s booth at lots of book fairs, asking questions like, “Do you want to hear me recite my epic science fiction poem?” But for the grace of sometime-stardom, Norma would be one of the loony minions who show up at public events in search of fresh blood to inflict their egos and idiosyncrasies on. I’ve mostly come into contact with the literary loony minions—at the SD book fair, there was the guy with the tall walking stick who smelled like peanut butter, and the guy who told everyone who’d listen about how world peace could be achieved by holding hands (interestingly, his left hand was bandaged—workplace injury?). But I know they exist in every subculture.
Sunset Boulevard is one of my favorite movies, and even though I’m not a huge fan of Andrew Lloyd Write-One-Song-And-Reprise-It-15-Times Webber, I like the musical version a lot too. So, on the 5 North, I asked myself, What is it about this story that’s so appealing to me, besides Kevin Anderson’s sexy voice?
Conventional wisdom says that Norma is appealing because she’s glamorous, crazy and presents a cautionary tale: Here’s what could happen if you live in the past. Her tale is scary, too, because it’s not just a result of her own vanity but of circumstance—the world could fall in love with any of us, and it could forget about any of us. That’s the thrill of Hollywood. That’s why we read Us Weekly.
But I started to feel like Norma was probably always nutty; fame was just something that swooped down and put a very attractive veil—or seven Salome veils—over her for a little while.
Then I felt like that conclusion said something about me—something cynical and unpleasant, like “People never change.” We’re supposed to relate to Joe Gillis (played by sexy-voiced Kevin Anderson. I have a thing for sexy voices), the struggling screenwriter who sells out to become Norma’s screenwriting coach and then her kept man. We’re supposed to relate to him because he has to make a choice.
But I actually relate to Betty Schaefer, the screenwriter who says hopeful things like, “They still make good pictures!” and encourages Joe to remove car chase scenes from his script. Betty is innocent and hardworking and blindly determined and pretty damn boring. It would never occur to Betty to shack up with some freak who employs her ex-husband as a butler, and so Betty will never be the main character.
It’s okay, I’m at peace with my boring Betty Schaefer-ness. But I hope that my conclusions about Norma teach me not to dismiss the book fair loonies of the world too quickly. I don’t know, though—is anyone really nicer to nerds after seeing Napoleon Dynamite? I hope I won’t instead start dismissing some of fiction’s most interesting characters with a smug “Stop wallowing and get a job, you old loony” attitude.
And, also, I hope I can be brave enough to be Norma sometimes: big and fragile and impractical and self-promoting and in love with the world’s magical possibilities.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
1) The scary clown outside my office is now wearing a single fluorescent yellow lace glove on its creepy mannequin hand.
2) Well, this one only qualifies as an update to those who’ve heard me tell the following story (and they are many):
About a month ago, I started noticing a strange noise outside my apartment building: “Waah!” It sounded sort of like a bird—but not quite. It was a short, loud, simple sound, performed at random intervals. Not anguished, just squawky. One day I came home and saw a guy standing on the co
Then, last night, I heard the familiar “Waah!” but this time it was answered by a different voice, also saying “Waah!” The inflection was the same, but the vocal cords clearly belonged to someone else. It carried on for a couple of minutes. An entire conversation composed of one non-word.
I welcome any theories you might have.
Monday, October 09, 2006
I did. I finished Middlesex, which I will not bother to review here because what brilliant conclusions am I going to make about its brilliance that the Pulitzer committee didn’t already make? (Suffice it to say, they were right.) I finished draft one of the novel I’ve been working on—the one about the nuclear family vs. the global family, featuring bicycle rentals in Malaysia. I’m hoping that its brilliance emerges—like the late and surprisingly blooming Calliope Stephanides—in draft two. I also discovered that Jamie, whom I’ve known a year and a half now, is not only an excellent poet but a bold, riveting performer. I discovered that Brendan Constantine, whom I’d never encountered until Saturday night at Beyond Baroque, is both of those things too.
And on Sunday, AK and friends and I gave two British boys a favorable impression of postcolonial SoCal, I’m pretty sure.
AK’s roommate Alberto hosted a semi-spur-of-the-moment brunch, attended by a handful of his Highland Park high school friends, a newer kickball friend and the kickball friend’s two very new British buddies, Matt and Chris, who had found him through this really cool-sounding website called couchsurfing.com.
We all bombarded Matt and Chris with the sort of questions that Americans bombard foreigners with:
“What surprised you about America?” (Big cars. Stores that stay open all night.)
“Do Americans just seem horribly fat to you?” (No, not especially.)
“How much does gas cost in England?” (About $6 a gallon, but their tiny cars get twice the mileage.)
“What part of London are you from?” (Cambridge, which is not a part of London.)
All this over mimosas, baked tomatoes, watermelon, AK’s cumin potatoes, Tony’s buttery bread pudding, Veronica’s slightly under-fried plantains, my chocolate cake from a mix and Alberto’s tortillas (which, in this case, were big flat omelets pinwheeled with bell peppers).
Then AK and I started playing frisbee—outside the Craftsman bungalow, underneath the lemon tree. As we did little between-throw salsa steps to the music punctuating from the boom box perched atop the barbeque, Veronica laughed, “Wow, this scene is so California.”
It was true: All we needed was a volleyball net and some guacamole. Despite its sordid origins, this was a California (dare I say an America?) I liked and felt happy to share with two nice guys from a rainy empire.
It’s probably good that they were long gone by the time we started organizing a grassroots campaign to get Oprah elected president.
Friday, October 06, 2006
Sometimes I forget how much I love running. That’s because I don’t love starting to run—getting off my ass, finding a semi-clean sports bra, taking those first awkward steps when I haven’t figured out my pace and my bandana feels crooked on my head. But last night AK and I finally went jogging together after months of anxious deflecting (“I’m sure you’ll be faster.” “No, you’ll be faster.”), and I quickly remembered why I stuck out a whole season of cross country in high school, even though the coach was an ass.
I may have glowed out loud a tad too much, because AK politely indicated that she prefers a slightly less chatty run.
It’s cool, it’s cool. Soon I was too tired to talk anyway. There was only breath and pavement and the scary-thrilling rush of cars whizzing by the jogging path. Yellow-gold light from Tudor-style cottages reflected in the Silver Lake Reservoir as we looped around the lake, and I felt like I was jogging inside an off-season snow globe.
We ran by the dog park, where sheets of paper fluttered against the chain link.
“Oh no,” I said, “are those signs for lost dogs?”
“Don’t look, don’t look,” AK said breathlessly as she ran ahead of me. There had been too many sad pet thoughts lately.
On the second lap, a shaggy black mutt and a cocker spaniel raced joyfully in the same space.
“I love dog friends,” I said.
“So cute,” AK agreed.
And then we stopped and stretched and rested.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Well, I maybe get it just a little bit now. Not too long ago I encountered my first nasty reader review of The Commuters on Amazon (which is weirdly missing now, but I swear I did not report it to the Amazon authorities). Luckily the late Jake Dante posted a very thoughtful rebuttal. (Jake was AK’s shy, cuddly, scholarly cat, whose fate was sealed by a careless driver on a foggy night last week. He is very much missed, and deserves more than a parenthetical. But, um, for the record, many people and cats who’ve read my book are doing just fine, so I don’t think there’s a curse or anything.)
But on the heels of the negative review, I was nervous about reading the two links to real live jou
I got off pretty easy, though. The ice-cream-to-pill ratio was in my favor. Since you’re not me, that should make reading this review (scroll down to the bottom of the article) and this review much less nerve-wracking, although also possibly less interesting.
To prove I’m not totally Norma Desmond, I am now going to promote a reading that has nothing to do with me, but which I will definitely be at, given my regard for Jamie FitzGerald’s poetry. The girl writes about Big Sur and Hello Kitty in ways that are so not your average
The Cobalt Café Reading
Saturday, Oct. 7, 7:30 p.m.
Beyond Baroque Literary
681 Venice Blvd.
Also featuring Brendan Constantine, Michael C. Ford and some other cool local poets.
Friday, September 29, 2006
Its yellow wig has had sooty black tips for awhile now, but today I noticed that one of its cartoony, white-gloved hands has been replaced by what appears to be the hand of a small female mannequin. So what used to be a sentinel of Happy Fun Kiddy Halloween is now an unintentional harbinger of Scary Ghoulish Horror Movie Halloween. If one of the little tap dancer mannequins in the window display turns out to be missing a hand, all the better.