Wednesday, January 31, 2007

on feb. 12 i will not read a story about meth labs

If you’re a regular but reluctant KROQ listener like myself, you know that Kevin and Bean have nothing good to say about the 909 (or gay folks or uppity people of color or women who have the audacity not to be hot, but that’s another blog post). The 909 (a.k.a. the Inland Empire, a.k.a. Inlandia, a.k.a. Riverside and San Bernardino Counties) has an unfortunate reputation for being home to meth labs and dirt and not much else.

For 30 years now, the good folks in the creative writing department of UC Riverside have been making the 909 an increasingly important cultural region with a fabulous little event called Writers Week. This year’s lineup includes California Poet Laureate Al Young, performance artist Tim Miller (one of the NEA Four!) and, um, up-and-coming LA writer Cheryl Klein, among others.

I hope you’ll make the trek on the 10 East (but if you can’t, or if you, like my dad, are all about Cheryl and not so much about the NEA Four, I’ll be reading in LA in May). Details about my reading are below, and you can get the full schedule at http://www.creativewriting.ucr.edu/writersweek/schedule.html.

Writers Week XXX
Monday, Feb. 12, 2007

1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Short Stories & Poets
Humanities and Social Sciences Building, Room 1500
UCR, 900 University Ave., Riverside, CA, 92521
Cheryl Klein — Short Stories
Joseph Millar — Poet
Dorianne Laux — Poet

Monday, January 29, 2007

yet another way in which life is not like TV

Okay, I’m at that point in my flu when I’m too well to sleep, but still too sick to do anything productive, and reading has given me a headache. So I decided to do what women on TV and in chick lit novels do when they’re feeling crappy: I took a bath.

I even lit a candle. But unlike on TV and in chick lit novels, I didn’t fill the tub with bubble bath so that no non-PG parts showed. There were a few specks of cat litter in the tub, kicked up from the litter box nearby, which, if I sat in the front half of the tub, I could smell. Also, I discovered that because my bathroom is just barely the width of a regular-sized tub, there was no little ledge on which to comfortably rest my head.

This was all news to me because I’d never taken a bath at my apartment in the just-over-a-year I’ve lived here. Arguably, I don’t relax enough. But my rebuttal to that argument would be, yes, I do, but when I relax, I relax so much that drawing a bath (don’t you love that phrase?) is too much work.

I lay in my short tub and watched my cat Temecula walk along the rim. She dipped in a paw and shook it out and was like, What is this? You’ve never done this before. It’s kind of interesting, yet…wet.

I lay in my short tub and wished that my boobs were this buoyant when not literally being buoyed by water. I thought about prairie times, when everyone bathed in the same water on Saturday night and only on Saturday night, and I felt grateful for my short tub.

bleeehhh

That’s how I felt when I woke up at 4 a.m. this morning, and how I continued to feel until about five minutes ago. I’ve recently upgraded to bleh, with no additional melodramatic letters.

My first thought was, Am I strong enough to pick up the phone to call in sick to work? My second was, Since I’m not going to work, maybe I can do some yoga, work on chapter one of my novel and redesign my MySpace page.

My body was doing a fine job of being sick, but my brain was in denial. Between naps, I did finish Lisa Glatt’s A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That, a sharply written book that took me a few steps closer to understanding girls who sleep with lots of guys. But mostly I wished I had a TV so I could raise the remote and feebly click between Jenny Jones and General Hospital and behave like a proper sick person.

I tried to determine the origin of my illness. There were three culprits:

1) The fish burrito I ate yesterday at Señor Fish, where AK and I wrote and sketched and discussed the prospect of Hillary for president (she’s pro; I need to read the New Yorker article she read). But the burrito was so good to me. I didn’t want to hate it.

2) The smell and the Razzles at The Smell, where Jamie, Lee-Roy and I went to a reading sponsored by Les Figues Press last night. My eyeballs love The Smell’s grit: It’s a windowless downtown dive—possibly a former Mexican restaurant judging by the cactus-and-tile-roofed-houses murals on the wall—that now serves as a venue for music and poetry of the art school variety.

But the place is aptly named. It could also be called Old Punk Rock Pee. I think a rat ran into my foot, and the snack Lee-Roy purchased (“Razzles: First it’s candy…then it’s gum!”) tasted, in Jamie’s words, like sweet drywall.

3) The flu.

Yeah, that’s my guess too.

Anyway, speaking of poetry, I encourage you to check out my writing teacher Terry Wolverton’s new collection, Shadow and Praise. She held her book party Saturday night at Golden Bridge Yoga, a nice-smelling glamorous yoga hangar. Terry read her shadow poems and her whimsical, spiritual poems praising such unsung forces as supermarkets, waste and traffic. A shadow dancer oozed down the stairs in a manner reminiscent of the days when I turned my entire house into a gymnasium. Five more poets read for five short, sweet minutes each. Terry closed with a gong meditation and chocolate cupcakes.

I am going to think about that—I’m going to praise lying on a blanket with a slow, low noise filling my head, inching closer to both Zen-ish nothingness and cupcakes. I’m starting to feel better already.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

dar williams and my dental hygienist/eugenicist

I know three of Dar Williams’ albums practically by heart, and went to her show at the Hotel Café last night ready to quietly hum along, and to stifle my urge to not-so-quietly hum along. But she’s been putting out music for a long time, and I only recognized two or three of the songs she played.

No matter—besides the fact that her precise, transcendent lyrics snag you right away, she’s also an amazing stage presence. I say this as someone who doesn’t really pay attention to such things—I’m always more about writing and ideology than I am about performance. Not since seeing Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls (which, fine, was two weeks ago, but before that it had been a really long time) has a performer had such a profound effect on me. Whereas I sort of wanted to adopt Effie in all her wide-eyed toughness, I wanted Dar to adopt me.

She had this great song called “The Babysitter’s Here”:

She’s the best one that we’ve ever had
She sits on her hair and she’s tall as my dad
And she got mad at dinner when Tom drank a beer
But peace, man, cool, hey, the babysitter’s here.

And we all went to see her go dance at the high school
We made her a big card
And she told us that she
d be the unicorn wearing the pink
leotard, and
There she was leaping up just like she said
With a sparkling horn coming out of her head
And she
s oh, oh, oh, oh
(I can
t wait to give her the card, I cant wait to give her the card)
She
s the best one…

(OK, so the play was called “The Unicorn” and she was the
unicorn so that means that the star was my babysitter.)

Which is pretty much how I felt about Dar: somehow cool and nurturing and stand-up funny all at once.

***

Also funny—in a very different, less nurturing way—was the dental hygienist at my cleaning yesterday. This time I did not get perky Heidi (who wasn’t so perky yesterday—I heard her snap at the receptionist and huff out of the room), but Katherine, older and with more eyeliner and a lot of interesting dental theories:

Katherine [peering into my mouth]: Were you born outside the United States?

Me [doing my best to talk with my jaw wide open]: No.

Katherine: What about your parents?

Me: Dey er orn here too.

Katherine: Hmm. Because you have these very subtle ridges on your bottom teeth that I usually only see in foreign-born patients. I don’t know what it is—different dental practices maybe. But I’m right nine times out of ten, and I see it in people from all over—Korea, Belgium, wherever.

Me: Uh, my grangudder wuv orn outshide da Oo Esh?


I don’t know why I was trying to find evidence to support her dental eugenics. Having a naturally helpful nature is not always a good thing.

I also learned that tartar control toothpaste is bullshit, and that east coast dentists make big, clumsy fillings.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

cal u 4 eva

Sunday night’s episode of The L Word (or maybe it was last week’s episode—we watched two back to back at Nicole’s and they blurred a bit) found Bette working as the new dean of the art department at California University.

On one hand, I was annoyed that the show increasingly seems to be about a group of lesbian celebrities: the hot young author, the hairstylist to the stars, the studio exec (didn’t Tina run a community center last season?), the radio personality and now the art world hotshot.

On the other hand, I was excited to see that Bette was teaching at my favorite fake university. Cal U was also home to Saved By the Bell: The College Years and the college years of Beverly Hills, 90210. For the longest time, my TV fantasy was that Tiffani-Amber Thiessen’s characters, Kelly and Valerie, would run into each other on campus. They’d look exactly alike, except one would have AquaNet bangs and one would have an early version of The Rachel.

Now that The L Word has landed at Cal U, there are even more opportunities for crossover episodes:

--Jessie, who was clearly A.C. Slater’s beard, hooks up with Alice after cruising her on OurChart.com.

--Donna and Jenny train together to compete in some sort of dangerous extreme-sports event. Both are constantly being victimized, and I often find myself wanting them to die. This would either kill them or make them stronger—either change would be welcome.

--Screech announces plans transition to female. Max offers to mentor him, but discovers that it’s all just a wacky plan to get into the girls’ locker room.

--Shane and Dylan pick up chicks, get their secretly sensitive hearts broken, go on coke binges, then drive around town like madmen/women. They crash their respective luxury cars and emerge with matching eyebrow scars.

--Tina leaves her new man for Principal Belding (who wasn’t technically on The College Years, but whatever) because she’s into lame-ass straight people now.

--Wannabe fashion designer Lisa Turtle takes Bette’s art class and worries that her new prof doesn’t take her seriously. But when she designs her final project—a puffy, splatter-painted prom dress with shoes dyed to match—she wows them all. Campus fashionistas Kelly Taylor and Helena start sporting the style, and the gay-straight divide is bridged once and for all.

--Annoying Character Threesome: Screech, Jenny and Brenda. Does their annoyingness cancel out the inherent hotness of a threesome? Talk amongst yourselves. And post your own plot suggestions, which, yes, will involve admitting your familiarity with three distinct eras of bad television.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

motherhood and apple pie

People always seem to be dreaming of escaping to idyllic small towns to live simpler lives closer to the earth—even uber-urbanites like my boss and the characters in Rent. I’m still working on sloughing off the suburbs, so usually such dreams elude me, but for much of this weekend, I understood what everyone was talking about.

AK and I headed to Julian, a mountain town east of San Diego that my family visited a lot when I was a kid. We used to stay at Cuyamaca, the nearby state park, in our motor home and drive into Julian for the pie and gift stores, its main attractions. But AK and I stayed at the Julian Hotel, which felt luxurious not only because it was warm and roofed and right in town instead of nine miles away, but because it was everything you want a bed and breakfast to be: cozy, floral and staffed by kind older ladies who feel really awful about asking you to leave the parlor because it closes at 10 p.m.

I was a little nervous that AK would be bored, since she’s a city girl who likes to stay out late and see bands I’ve never heard of. But she’s a flexible one, plus she went to school in a small town, and is equally at home playing Boggle in the parlor as she is sipping martinis at hipster clubs.

So we played lots of Boggle and ate apple and rhubarb-strawberry pie at a place called Mom’s. We actually saw the owner outside, calling to her co-worker, “Hurry back—I have to pick up the kids at three.”

“This place is more authentic than I thought it would be,” AK said.

We read and sketched and got excited when it started to snow. We followed two small, equally excited dogs around and took pictures of them. We got up early to eat homemade granola and eggs Florentine, and napped in the afternoons.

The only real activity we did was on the way out of town Saturday, when we stopped at a local winery. The owner was talking to a friend of hers who’d stopped by, a woman in an ankle-length fur coat carrying a fluffy white dog in a fluffy pink sweater.

“I fired my employee this morning,” the owner complained to her friend and sort of to us. “She kept getting sick. You just can’t do that. Mike was upset—he said, ‘Now you’ll be there all the time.’ I’m already here all the time. I have to be because she does such a bad job.”

Now she spoke to us directly: “That’s the worst part of having a business. Employees. We lost 800 homes in the fires a few years back, and most of them belonged to renters, who are the least likely to rebuild. So now you can’t find anyone to work the $10-an-hour jobs.”

AK and I left without buying any of the wine, which wasn’t that good anyway.

“I hate good-help-is-hard-to-find conversations,” I said.

“I liked the ladies at our hotel better,” AK agreed.

I decided that the winery owner was probably one of those city people who’d escaped to live an artisan dream. But she didn’t seem to be having much fun, although probably more than the woman who had the misfortune of working for her. Country life is hard, and best left to those who are good at it.

Monday, January 15, 2007

some good things that happened at AK's 31st birthday party

Nice people came.


My sister wore the socks I gave her, and I wore the socks she gave me. We decided we’d probably given each other socks in the first place because our mom always used to make us put “cute socks” on our Christmas wish lists for relatives, so that they’d have an inexpensive option. So my lists always looked like: “Horse. Pool. Cute socks. Cable TV.”

Karaoke brought out the best in people.

Cathy and I discussed the lyrics to “Take Me or Leave Me” from Rent before getting up to sing it. Someone pointed out, “They have the lyrics on the screen. It’s karaoke.” We were like, “We know, we just want to do extra good.” Which, when it comes to Klein girls and singing, means “slightly better than horrible.”

If there had been a contest, two members of our party would totally have tied for first place. Emily garnered hugs from unknown straight girls with her rendition of Willie Nelson’s “You Were Always on My Mind,” in which she performed both the male and female parts perfectly.

But Alberto’s “It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me”—or, more likely, his crazy stage antics, which went far beyond the confines of the actual stage—got him some groupies of his own.


Jamie’s “California Dreamin’” was not a duet or a threesome, but by the first chorus, two regular barflies were onstage with her doing some dreamin’. Little did they know she’s from Hawaii.

Jamie’s boyfriend Lee-Roy had to intervene, right after he picked his next song.

AK met some new ladies, but she went home with me.

You can’t tell here, but the sign says “Reserved.”

AK didn’t hurt Veronica too badly. (Actually, I think this was just a dance move—it really wasn’t a violent night. After all, it was MLK Day weekend.)

The birthday girl was happy.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

when in doubt, turn to online quizes

You Should Be a Science Fiction Writer
Your ideas are very strange, and people often wonder what planet you're from.And while you may have some problems being "normal," you'll have no problems writing sci-fi.Whether it's epic films, important novels, or vivid comics...Your own little universe could leave an important mark on the world!

could i please have just a tiny bit of money?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working on this grant application that, if I got it, would give me $50,000, meaning that I could go to Malaysia and find out once and for all how people go about renting bicycles there. Pretty sweet, huh?

Except the application process is really, really involved (as it should be for $50,000)—like applying to a college that only admits one person. It’s hard to get my hopes up, and yet, if I don’t get my hopes up, how can I write a convincing application?

I’m learning a bit about myself in the process. For example, hard work is sort of its own reward. Not as nice as $50,000, but it does feel good to pick away at the essay questions and think, Look at me, applying for a grant. I must be one of those hardworking writers who puts her work out in the world. I feel limber and muscular (in the strictly metaphorical sense, since the process involves a lot of sitting in front my computer).

I’m also being reminded of something my therapist could have told you, which is that I’m bad at asking for things. I know I already have a pretty great life, and there’s part of me that thinks it would be unfair to try to make it even better. But unfair to whom? It’s not like I’m trying to make my life better by stealing food from orphans. I’m trying to make my life better by asking for money to write a book, money that has already been set aside for just that purpose.

Yet, when I sit down to write my essays, they basically come out like this:

Dear Grant People,

So, I’m writing this book about some things I think are deeply important, and yet I don’t think this book will be very important. Could I please have just a tiny bit of money so I can create a tiny, insubstantial thing?

Sincerely,

Cheryl

I have the life of a pretty privileged person and the not-so-privileged attitude of a girl, and the combination somehow adds up to me thinking I should never ask for anything. I keep waiting to have the courage of my convictions. Other people’s books have changed my life—why don’t I think mine could change theirs?

I could give you a long list of reasons why, but I’ll save it for another post.

Monday, January 08, 2007

L word premiere highlights

And by “highlights,” I mean “really awful moments of a two-thirds awful show that I’ll nevertheless keep watching.”

We (me, AK, Meehan and three nice dykes I met for the first time last night) gathered at Nicole’s apartment, which was so much better than Falcon for a variety of reasons:

1) You can hear the dialogue—this isn’t always a good thing, but it’s harder to make fun when you don’t know what’s going on.
2) Not being at Falcon means I’m not single and trying to blend in with a group of friends who are nice enough but whom I barely know and whose jeans and haircuts are leagues more amazing than mine will ever be.
3) You can smoke pot at Nicole’s. I’m not saying anyone did, just that it was an option.

After pizza and salad and wine and truffles (all of which collectively cost the same amount as one martini at Falcon), we crowded onto Nicole’s couch and air mattress (which were so much more comfortable than bar stools—yes, okay, I’m an old, old, let’s-stay-in-tonight lesbian), we turned on the TV, and saw:

1) Alice shamelessly plug the show’s new online spin-off, OurChart.com, which I will not even dignify with a hyperlink. But did I visit it first thing this morning like a sheep in Showtime’s flock? Yes, I did. And it makes Friendster look cool.
2) Alice pronounce the name of Papi, OurChart’s reigning player, as “Pappy.” Papi is apparently the stud who can give Shane a run for her money, but, as AK said, “I just picture an old guy who makes moonshine.”
3) Shane stumble around the city wet and bloody and sad.
4) Helena learn to live without her parents’ money. This might be more interesting if it hadn’t been done better by Rachel on the first season of Friends.
5) Jenny’s book get compared to work by Dorothy Allison, Mary Gaitskill and Truman Capote. Fuck off, Jenny.
6) Shane stumble around some more.
7) Pregnant Kit get ambushed by pro-lifers in a building set up to look like a free women’s health clinic. This strikes me as a lot of work—you have to pay rent, put up a fake sign, hire fake staff and set up a fake examining room, all to trick a handful of women who will immediately warn all their friends to stay away.
8) Jenny tell Max, “I can’t be with you because you are a straight-identified man who wants to date a straight-identified woman, and I am a lesbian-identified woman who wants to date women.” For someone who supposedly weaves words like Truman Capote, Jenny talks a lot like the world’s first transgender-themed after school special.
9) Shane stumble around and…curtain. Tune in next week.

The L Word has recently tackled trans issues, breast cancer and—for about two seconds last night—anti-Semitism. They’ve added more women of color to the cast and will soon be adding a disabled woman and a 50-something dyke. All of these things are good ideas individually and theoretically, but taken together they add up to Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman—a Very Special show in which the 19th century heroine campaigned for freedom of speech, feminism, and Native American and African American rights in the Wild West. I think she even fought AIDS.

In other words, I’m starting to suspect that every time The L Word gets a letter from someone who says, “I want to see more _____,” the well-meaning writers write that person or group or issue into the next episode, to the ultimate disservice of all persons and groups and issues involved.

The night ended with the TV off, and Nicole and Emily taking turns playing the mandolin in front of the fire, an activity I think Dr. Quinn would have enjoyed if she hadn’t been so busy saving the kids at the one-room schoolhouse from Internet predators.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

why draft two begins with a hip-hop class and a cup of hot chocolate

“Only from expansiveness, even laziness, of mind and body can emerge the most original and pure ideas, as well as the true rhythm of the novelist…. The broadened perspective of the deeply relaxed mode lends itself to one of the great pleasures of the form—its spaciousness, the room it provides to play. In the forgiving context of years, you can experiment, take risks, and fix any mistakes over as many drafts as it takes.”

--Patricia Chao, Poets & Writers Magazine

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

five things you don't know about me

Per a tag from Erin, who I just learned is a competitive, boy-hating hypochondriac who sucks at phys chem, though she always seemed to me like a super nice smarty pants who adored her family and ran marathons.

1) When I was five, I thought it would be really fun to be deaf, like Linda on Sesame Street, or blind, like Mary in the Little House books. My eyesight is getting worse each year, so I’m carefully watching what I wished for.

2) The point at which I most genuinely believed my life was over was when I was 14 and did not make drill team, and my two best friends did. Seriously, this trumped my mom’s death and my breakup with B—not in terms of sadness, but in terms of sheer despair.

3) An embarrassing corollary to the above confession: I wrote my college essay on how my life—when I decided to take jazz dance classes since I couldn’t be on drill team—paralleled the Langston Hughes poem “A Dream Deferred.” Hi, my name is Cheryl and I’m a white girl.

4) In a class on contemporary plays in college, I raised my hand so much that once, the teacher asked a question and looked around the room and said, “Someone other than Cheryl?” I’m not sure what got into me that quarter.

5) I secretly fear that I am Louis in Angels in America, whose guilt-ridden intellectual blathering is a thin mask for his actions, or lack thereof—he’ll practically flagellate himself for dating a Republican, but he leaves his partner to die alone of AIDS. (Okay, AK already knew about this fear, thanks to some recent late-night DVD-watching. Thanks for convincing me I’m not him, babe.)

So apparently “five things you don’t know about me” is inherently “five embarrassing and/or scary things you don’t know about me.” Well, I’m glad that’s over with. I tag—let’s see—Sara and Noel.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

how i spent my winter vacation

Sooo deliciously lazily. I had a handful of vacation days to use up, so I had a one-day work week last week, which I think is ideal. Per holiday tradition since junior high, I made a to-do list so long it would imply I had a month off, and proceeded to do very little of it. But 2006 was all about not pushing myself too hard, and I hope that 2007 can be about pushing myself very gently, like an Atkins dieter slowly reintroducing carbs. I did do a bit of writing and work on a grant application and make three (but no more than three) New Year’s resolutions. Just enough good Puritan work to enable me to have some guilt-free fun.

In between lounging around my apartment and lounging around my dad’s house and lounging around AK’s house, I took in a fair amount of culture, which I will now review in People Magazine-style “bottom line” bullets:

The Queen: Pretty exciting and emotional for a movie about two reserved Brits exchanging polite phone calls, one gently urging the other to make a polite, reserved speech on TV. As a part-Brit, I felt like I got in touch with my polite, reserved roots.

All-Jew Revue at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre: AK and I celebrated our own merry little Christmas by enjoying a smorgasbord (I don’t think that’s a Yiddish word, but it sounds like one, doesn’t it?) of Jewish comedy that included four very funny ladies and one belligerent man who kept trying to make the show all about him. As a part-Jew, I felt like I got in touch with my feminist roots.

Edward Scissorhands at the Ahmanson Theatre: This was AK’s Christmas present to me. Just being at the Music Center on a chilly evening reminiscing about my theater-going college years would have been enough, but the Matthew Bourne “ballet” (modern dance piece with a few ballet moves and lots of angular, character-driven choreography?) was pretty awesome. Without close-ups of Winona and Johnny, I found myself focusing less on the love story and more on the story of the town and the strangely queer allegory: Scary “other” lives on the hill. Finds his way into mainstream. Is shunned at first, but then adored when townsfolk discover he can style hair. Is shunned again when he proves sexual and dates one of their own.

Children of Men: Beautifully detailed, post-apocalyptic story with a strong director, great actors and interesting ideas that becomes, unfortunately, a really long chase scene with guns.

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn: The premise of this memoir is inherently interesting—man who works in homeless shelter meets his long-lost father when he shows up as a “guest” one night—but the structure is even more so, as the father and son’s narratives slowly converge. It’s not the story of a do-gooder son and destitute father that it might be, but rather a portrait of two people just barely on either side of blurry line: the father who drinks himself into insanity and the son who does a lot of drugs but eventually gets sober; the father who talks a lot about writing a book no one ever actually sees and the son who writes one about his father.