Sunday, February 26, 2006

almost as good as spain

Tracy Lynn had a post the other day about how she hates taking a shower because she might miss out on something really great while she’s lathering, rinsing and repeating. While I’m pretty sure not much exciting goes on at 7:20 a.m., I do sympathize in general. In college, I didn’t study abroad because I was having such a good time at UCLA and I didn’t want to miss a whole year of Bruin life, during which time I was sure my friends would forget about me.

They might have, actually, but I’m still not sure if seeing Rent 14 ½ times and attending such cultural events as International Vodka Night at Trinh Bui’s apartment were better than a year in Spain.

So I should be excited to go to New York for work next week. Isn’t New York the Spain of America? I am excited that our national office is in Soho and not, like, Kansas City, and that there is talk of an office field trip to Avenue Q. But I also know that I’ll be missing out on some great happenings here in town:

1)
Literary Cocktail Urban Lit Lounge: My friend and former boss Ryan Tranquilla will be reading his smart, lush-but-not-too-lush poetry along with Jawanza Dumisani of much-deserved World Stage fame and a couple of other poets whose work I don’t know and won’t get to discover because I’ll be out of town, damnit. (March 4, 7 p.m., Space at Fountain’s End, 3929 Fountain Ave., Silver Lake.)
2) Carnival of the Mundane V at Citizen of the Month. The freak show begins March 3. Get your submission in now to neilochka at yahoo [.] com.
3)
The Oscars. I know, I know, it’s TV, which my hotel room (unlike my apartment) will most likely have. But all the good parties are happening in LA. What will Vanity Fair do without me?

P.S. Tracy Lynn also challenged us to out our own freakish neuroses on our respective blogs. I have many to choose from, one of them being that I give a shit what other people think, so I’ll save my weirdest habits for my therapist, thank you. But here are some appetizers:

  • I hate leaving lip prints on multiple areas of a cup’s rim. If I drink out of the spot just above the Starbucks mermaid’s head on the first sip, I have to take every subsequent sip from the same spot.
  • I have a little code in my day planner to keep track of how many hours I spend writing and exercising each week. I don’t have a code to keep track of how many hours I spend stuck in traffic or surfing the internet. Oddly enough.
  • I will not let anyone else fold my laundry. Ever. Not because I don’t want anyone handling my underwear (although I don’t), but because they would do it wrong. No one has ever fought me too hard on this one.

Hasta la semana proxima, amigos. (If I’d gone to Spain, I would know if that was grammatically correct.)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

awdacity

We had a discussion in my writing class recently about whether it’s okay to switch genres halfway through a book. The consensus seemed to be no. As Terry explained it, “In the first chapters, you make certain promises to your reader, and it’s problematic if you don’t fulfill those promises.” Also, there’s that whole marketing problem—is it a family saga or magic realism or sci fi?

But I hate marketing. And sometimes, in life, people break promises.

Maybe readers read to escape life’s broken promises, but I’m not writing escapism, damnit. To bolster my argument in favor of zipping coyly from genre to genre, I present The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw.

In the novel, three narrators attempt to decipher the true nature of a Chinese Malaysian businessman named Johnny Lim. He was a Communist, a celebrity, a brokenhearted husband, a traitor, a freedom fighter and/or a murderer, depending who you listen to. The first narrator is his son, Jasper, who presents a historically driven biography that can’t help but bleed into personal anecdotes ridden with longing. It’s a father-son portrait that indirectly takes on Eurocentric ways of recording history.

Then, boom, it’s Part II, and Jasper’s mother is narrating, and suddenly it’s all Lost/Gilligan’s Island. She and Johnny are on a belated honeymoon with a handful of friends. Their ship sets ground on the shore of an uncharted desert isle, and everyone on the island has a dark secret to flee from, an enemy to blackmail or an unrequited love to brood over.

Part III is narrated by Peter, Johnny’s seemingly gay Englishman friend. He illuminates a few secrets, complicates others, and spends a lot of time planning the perfect garden for his retirement home. I don’t know what genre this would be. Post-colonial travelogue? Geriatric gardening manual?

I can’t say I fell in love with this book, though at times it was a page-turner and (at more distantly spaced times) it was heart-wrenching. But I admire Aw’s audacity and flexibility. Genres, for him, are like the Seven Maidens, the mysterious disappearing islands his characters sail to in Part II. You can hop from one to another, and things are assured of looking completely different once the sun goes down.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

who's the most cutest kitty-witty in the world? #2

Jacob was the big newsmaker at the cattery last night. The first week I volunteered, he was just two milky eyes peering despondently out of his cave-like kitty bed. Two weeks and one extracted abscessed tooth later, he was a new man.

Yes, he was still an elderly, six-pound handful of bones, the frail neighbor whom you sometimes hesitate to talk to because you’re afraid he might die right there on your porch, but who, if you stick it out, tells great (if slightly rambling) stories in a soft, soothing voice. The reborn Jacob hung out on various kitty condos, squirmed good-naturedly while getting his IV and made kissy-faces at the much younger Daisy, who was more interested in napping.

But the best news of all is that Jacob has found a home with a couple who adopt elderly cat after elderly cat (and are therefore going straight to heaven, as far as I’m concerned). Since this disqualifies him from being this week’s official Most Cutest Kitty-Witty In The World, I present PeeWee (above):

“PeeWee’s a nice cat,” said my fellow volunteer, Amy, “but I’m not always sure he has a lot going on upstairs.”

She said this as PeeWee stood in the doorway of his cage, five minutes into a very difficult decision about whether to go out or stay in. But as someone who sometimes has trouble being decisive myself, I don’t think it’s fair to assume this is indicative of a lack of intelligence.

PeeWee is not a newsmaker. He’s a friendly white-and-tabby with funky markings on his nose and mouth. He’s the kind of guy who likes to watch TV and drink beer, but would never drink too much or tell his wife to get him another. He’s the boyfriend of your craziest friend, the one you’re glad she finally settled down with after many bad choices. Sure, he won’t help her make a grand entrance at her high school reunion, but when she discovers she has a flat in the parking lot afterward, he will roll up the sleeves of his dress shirt and change it without swearing. He will tell her she looks beautiful in her slightly-too-tight dress, and he will mean it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

you might be spending too much time on myspace if...

…you open Vanity Fair, see an American Express ad featuring Kate Winslet and a cute set of fill-in-the-blank questions like “childhood ambition” and “biggest challenge,” see that she has listed Rufus Wainwright and Waiting for Guffman as her favorite musician and movie, and think, “Hey, I love Rufus and Guffman too! I’m totally going to post a comment on her page. Maybe we’ll become friends.”

Sunday, February 19, 2006

living with

It was raining and I was listening to This American Life. The theme was “Living Without.” A homeless guy talked about trying to find a place to sleep. Sarah Vowell talked about her wheat allergy. That’s what I love about This American Life. There’s room for both, and both are profound: the lack of a bed and the lack of regular birthday cake.

I got to Ilopango, the pupseria that Lizzy, Mars, Kellie and I discovered a few weeks ago. This time I was meeting Jamie and Alanna to talk about putting on a big music/fiction/poetry/art thing in June.

I am not an event planner at heart. Right now I’m trying to find a new cell phone plan and the logistics are completely overwhelming me, even though my dad is actually doing most of the research. Even just hearing about the options exhausts me.

But over cheesy pupusas served by a waitress who didn’t bother speaking English to us (which I found refreshing for some reason) and thick, fibrous horchata that tasted like it was just off the horchata tree—that tasted like there was such a thing as a horchata tree—I started to think that planning a big music/fiction/poetry/art thing could be fun.

Writing is sitting at your laptop alone in your room, or alone at Starbucks, but event planning is other people, for better or worse—but in this case better, because Alanna and Jamie are cool. They are dreamy and practical. They come up with themes like “Girls Who Don’t Wear Heels” and “Perm,” which would be about the tension between permanence and impermanence but would also involve matching curly hairstyles.

It was freezing on Ilopango’s patio, even though Jamie had staked out a bright pink booth near the lone overhead heater. It pumped fire into the night, and Alanna later said the sky reminded her of Ohio. I’ve never been to Ohio, but standing on Berendo Street, looking up at the semi-Victorian rooftops and the translucent gray sky, I could imagine it.

“Let’s make a list of visual artists we know,” Alanna said when we were still in our booth.

“What are some themes in your work right now?” we asked each other.

Alanna sang us a new love song she’d written, her voice quiet and lovely on the verses, quick and silly when she got to the chorus. Jamie has been writing about the dark underbelly of gardening.

We talked about this guy Erik in our class at CalArts who wrote amazing essays and then killed himself. We talked about how, now that we’re all in the 30-ish range, we can look at the faces of older women and know what they looked like when they were younger. Really know, like film running backward. We talked about how there was too much cheese in Jamie’s quesadilla.

This is all I ever wanted,
I thought. Friends, a Friday night, doing something creative in the biggest, smallest way, bright lights, a freshly scrubbed sky. Even Jamie’s quesadilla didn’t look all that bad to me.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

who’s the most cutest kitty-witty in the world? #1

I just started volunteering at the Friends of Animals Foundation. I have this idea that I’m researching a novel, but it’s not supposed to be a novel about adorable kitty cats—and yet, the two times I’ve been to FAF, I’ve been overwhelmed with adorableness and the realization that I could easily populate a novel entirely with feline characters. In hopes of staving that off (and maybe finding someone a home), I present a new weekly-ish Bread and Bread feature: Who’s The Most Cutest Kitty-Witty In The World?

This week, the answer is
Kalahari. She’s basically your high school student body president: pretty but too busy getting straight A’s and coordinating pep rallies to notice. If she were more popular, you’d hate her, but she’s a bit nerdy, a little too enthusiastic. Kalahari greets you at the door, even if you just went across the hall for a second to give some water to the kittens in quarantine. She watches you fill food bowls to make sure you’re doing it right. And in her quiet, contemplative moments, she sits on the windowsill and gazes at the tarp-covered rooftops behind the building she would really like to get out of. She looks up at you and wonders if you’re wondering what’s under those tarps too.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

reality tv

The writers of all those outraged articles about how The L Word does not accurately portray lesbians have clearly never been to Falcon on Sunday night.

My usual response to those articles, which essentially say, “How come all the characters are skinny, wear lip gloss and don’t drive trucks?” is, “How come all the girls on straight shows are skinny, wear lip gloss and don’t drive trucks?” I.e. TV does not represent anyone accurately—there’s just more pressure when only one show is giving it a try.

But my new response will be, “Have you ever been to Falcon on Sunday night?”

After four and a half years of not getting out so much (oh, let’s face it, 27 years—which is my age minus one year when Nerissa and I went dancing semi-regularly), hanging out in any bar is a little foreign. And Falcon, where Heather and I met up with Julia, Joni and Jen on Sunday, is not just any bar.

It’s The L Word come to life. I have never seen so many shaggy Eastside hipster haircuts in my life. So many strategic slouches. So many formfitting wifebeaters and fluffy peasant skirts and Ellen DeGeneres sneakers and heels-because-we-do-wear-heels-okay? So many great snippets of conversation (overheard by Heather: “Why don’t you just admit you went bungee jumping with Holly?!”).

And because Sunday night at Falcon is L Word night, it was way meta-weird. Were all these girls imitating The L Word, or is The L Word imitating them? The $64,000 pomo question.

Which I don’t have an answer to, but I will say that the “Real”-Life L Word (using quotation marks in that pomo way) beats the TV L-Word in several ways:

  • When you can’t hear the dialogue over the bar chatter (though several tables of hardcore fans like to yell “shhh!”), Joni and Julia dub over their own superior dialogue: “Okay, you be Shane, I’ll be Carmen. ‘Oh, Shane, it’s okay that you cheated on me. Come have sex with me in the shower.’”
  • You could theoretically hook up with one of the Real-Life L Word girls, although it’s probably just about as likely as Shane and Carmen going Wonka-vision and climbing into your living room.
  • The Real-Life L Word girls actually dress better than the TV L Word girls because there’s no obnoxious costumer trying to rival Sex and the City by dressing them in outrageous, unflattering designer clothing.
  • No one throws pepperoni at you or squirts you with a fire extinguisher or stalks you or delivers poorly timed, self-righteous gay rights speeches to your parents. No one cuts away from perfectly good sex scenes to get back to the cancer plotline.
  • And most important of all, at Falcon, there is no Jenny. Yes, there was a Jen, but she was a friendly, good-natured girl, not the world’s most angst-ridden, attention-starved writer of terrible, terrible fiction and receiver of giant advances from drooling publishers.

But, as with TV and fashion magazines, bars full of really good-looking people can be as intimidating and depressing as they are inspiring. I guess that’s where the booze come in, another thing that you can’t get on TV, at least not until someone invents martini-vision.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

they grow up so fast

I hadn’t been feeling like an old maid, despite the mid-February over-abundance of romantic pressures, until I heard the following conversation between my eight-year-old neighbor PJ (brother of DJ and Elijah, whom I call EJ in my head) and his friend in the hallway:

PJ: I have a girlfriend.

Friend: No you do not.

PJ: I do so. I asked her if she wanted to be my girlfriend and she said yes. But then she cheated on me. I got her back though.

Friend: Well, I’m married already. I have a heart ring.

I think it’s nice that PJ’s friend doesn’t feel that wearing a heart ring threatens his masculinity. After their man-to-man discussion, the boys then resumed their guys’-night-out, which involved swordplay and roller skates.

Friday, February 10, 2006

i am not j.k. rowling, but i do know cursive

My aforementioned favorite kids, Annie Lefkowitz’s Cienega Elementary fourth graders, have met their match: Bonnie Turner’s Washington Elementary third graders. I drove down to Redondo Beach this morning to do a little show-and-tell as part of their creative writing unit and was quite smitten.

“Ms. Turner and I have been friends since we were your age,” I explained. “We used to pretend all kinds of things, which is the first step in writing. We played My Little Ponies, we played house, and sometimes we would talk with English accents to make people think we were from England.”

Yeah, we were weird kids.

I showed them my CalArts thesis notebook, which is packed with notes that eventually became The Commuters, along with numerous doodles of angels, owls and the word “NARRATIVE!” written in fancy fonts. I was careful to skip over the pages where I’d scrawled things like, “George, Eamon and Roxanne go to Griffith Park, then come home and have a threesome.” I swear, I don’t think of myself as writing blue, but apparently I’m dirtier than I thought.

Then it was Q&A time. They asked a lot of really good questions—Bonnie had prepped them well, and it was amazing how similar the discussion about process was to my weekly writing class. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that Step 1 (pose a question, problem or mystery) would still be plaguing them 20 years and two college degrees later. But since no one in my writing group has ever asked me who my favorite movie star is, here is a list of my favorite supplemental questions:

  • Did you write Harry Potter?
  • Do you know the person who wrote Harry Potter? Because you said you used to talk in an English accent, and everyone in Harry Potter talks with an English accent.
  • Do you like parks?
  • Do you like Green Day? Billy Joe got inspired to write “Jesus of Suburbia” when he was taking a walk.
  • Do you like Reggae?
  • Did you write your book in cursive?
  • The ghost that you said is in your other book, was it a real ghost?
  • How do they get the big pages to be little book pages, and put the spine on and stuff?
  • I have all the Little House on the Prairie books.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

boogedy is in the eyeball of the beholder

I just changed the picture on my MySpace and Friendster pages (yeah, I use the same picture and text on both sites. I only have so much self-promoting wittiness in me). Stephanie had sent me a concerned email about the old one (left): “Your eyes look all boogedy.” I wasn’t sure what boogedy-ness was, exactly, but when I clicked on the pic and saw it close up, I decided that it must mean “kind of red and wrinkly and cracked out, and maybe slightly wall-eyed.”

But just as I was about to upload a new, less scary photo, I got a MySpace message from a young man in Virginia who insisted, among other things, “Your eye balls is the light of my day.”

I would never want to deprive anyone’s day of light, but I am starting to understand how movie stars feel: You dye your hair brunette for a role, and suddenly half your fans hate you, while others congratulate you for your newfound depth. It’s a hard life. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for my manicure. So which way should I go, adoring public: vixen red or pearly pink?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

pms

Peels a layer of skin.
Turns the world into a bad Hawaiian shirt,
harsh on the eyes but impossible not to look at.
Rhapsodizes about the girl who crushed
my heart beneath the heel of her sensible loafer.
Lengthens my nose to junior high school proportions
and adds a hump.
Orders a third drink.
Envies vapid starlets.
Shamelessly solicits complements.
Does not answer questions
or laugh at Uncle Bob’s jokes
or ask how my sister’s day was
or if she will need knee surgery after all.

Turns two men folding a flag at dusk,
gentle and bored, into
what patriotism was always meant to be.
Everyday love. The promise to climb
the flagpole again tomorrow,

even if the seagulls are flocking inland.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

a tentative woo-hoo!

I think I just finished my second novel.

Writers (like housekeepers) know that “finished,” is a tricky, debatable, overly hopeful word. But one definition of “finished” could be:

In June 2002, you start to write a disjointed collection of scenes from roughly 39 points of view. There are chapters written as poems, chapters from the point of view of a woman who runs the local bed and breakfast in your fictional town. You think it all adds up to something profound about History, Identity, Lesbianism and Postmodernism. In October 2003, you finish your pile of scenes and call it Draft 1.

In April 2004, you pick up your pile of scenes and decide it’s time to start working on Draft 2. This involves writing more scenes from more points of view: the girl who starts a “womyn’s” colony, the guy who owns a lot of mules.

In June 2004, you start taking Terry Wolverton’s “One Page at a Time” class at Writers at Work and quickly, sadly, discover that a pile of scenes does not equal a novel that anyone would want to read. Over the next year and a half, you learn about this thing called “plot,” and even though you never quite like it or believe in it, you start to see how maybe it could help you say all the profound things you want to say about History, Identity, Lesbianism and Postmodernism.

You finally, finally learn to do what you only pretended to do throughout your entire MFA program: revise.

There is a draft you call Draft 1.5 because it only retains two or three scenes from what you referred to as Draft 1. There’s a Draft 2, a Draft 3 and now there’s a Draft 3.5 because it is only slightly different from Draft 3. But in a way it’s Draft 5.

And it’s ready to send to (gulp) agents, those mythical creatures who did not invite you into their magical world with your first book. Still, you hesitate to use the word “finished,” because what if an agent likes it but will only take you on if you make certain changes? And you’re almost certain that not everyone in your smart, supportive writing group would agree that it’s finished. Someone wants more Meg, everyone wants less Petra and one guy would like your novel to be more like the movie Braveheart.

You’re not sure if, by calling the book finished, you are taking a decisive and necessary step, wisely realizing that no book will satisfy every reader…or if you’re being a lazy editor, which you have been known to be. Either way, you’re wrapping this baby up, hoping that there’s a publisher out there who cares about History, Identity, Lesbianism and Postmodernism. (Anyone? Anyone? Incidentally, the book also features fashion, ghosts, missing persons and at least two somewhat graphic sex scenes. I’m just saying.)

You are finished. Until further notice.

Friday, February 03, 2006

carnival of the mundane III

Right now on the Westside the sun is shining, a light breeze is blowing and a chainsaw is humming melodically in the distance. It’s probably coming from a construction site, but I like to think that someone nearby is juggling chainsaws, eating light bulbs and swallowing swords. Why? Because the carnival is in town! Head over to colla voce for an appetizing array of mundanities.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

rex vs. herman

Sometimes I love America. Like when there’s a big controversy about the redundancy and bureaucracy of federal agencies (in this case FEMA vs. the Department of Homeland Security, of which FEMA is a part)—and that controversy is played out with cartoon animals.

The DoHS has just introduced
Rex, a “family man” mountain lion and part-time cartographer with movie-star biceps who helps his wife and cubs prepare their home for a disaster. But critics say that Rex competes with Herman, a hermit crab who raps about emergency readiness on http://www.fema.gov/kids/ (and the FEMA number’s “hold” line, which is soooo much better than soft jazz).

Disaster…it can happen anywhere,
But we’ve got a few tips, so you can be prepared,
For floods, tornadoes, or even a ‘quake,
You’ve got to be ready—so your heart don’t break


Herman also searches for a “disaster-proof shell” in the online short story
“Herman, P.I.C. And The Hunt For A Disaster-Proof Shell.” The story uses the device of repetition (he finds a shell he thinks he likes, but it gets damaged in a flood; he finds another shell, but it gets damaged in a fire) popular in many kids’ stories and SNL sketches, but if this were a work of literary fiction, even lit fiction for kids, Herman would learn a sad but valuable lesson: No matter what we do to prepare for life’s twists and turns, bad things happen and we just have to weather them the best we can and deal with loss.

But this is an optimistic website sponsored by the American government, so at the end Herman tells us (spoiler alert!): “I knew I was safe and had learned my lessons well. My shell was completely disaster resistant!” He then fulfills his destiny by handing out FEMA pamphlets to other hermit crabs.

As for Rex, “a leader that many forest animals are happy to follow,” my primary reaction was, Why can’t Rex be a GIRL mountain lion helping HER family—and her neighbors, the rabbits whom she totally does not eat or try to force fake democracy on because she’s a peace-loving mountain lion who sees herself as part of a larger global family?

Because that would make all the difference, really, the next time a kid is trapped in rising flood waters.