Monday, April 30, 2007

post-LATFOB

Conversation after working all weekend at the L.A. Times Festival of Books:

Jamie: When I got home last night, I lay down on the couch, and it felt like I literally had thousands of people walking through my body.

Cheryl: Yeah—in tiny little cleats.

Jamie: I just had to lie there and wait for them to leave my body. But they left all their trash behind.

Cheryl: And their self-published poetry books too, right?

Jamie: Right.

Cheryl: Get some rest.

Jamie: You too.

Friday, April 27, 2007

i'll be nice when i have sandra cisneros' agent, okay?

Last night we were supposed to go to the Dodgers/Giants game, but it was sold out unless we wanted to pay $35 or more. We did not, so AK and I found a not-too-shabby plan B in the form of a reading by Felicia Luna Lemus, Raquel Gutierrez and Claudia Rodriguez at IMIX in Eagle Rock. Claudia is my friend from CalArts, and she and Raquel both read beautifully descriptive, funny prose about genderqueer youngsters.

Felicia also went to CalArts, although we didn’t have any classes together, so I never got to know her. But I definitely knew of her—as the superstar who went out and nabbed Sandra Cisneros’ agent right after graduation, published her first book with FSG and wore gorgeous, bright-colored vintage dresses while doing it. Am I jealous? A little. A lot.

I used to be really ashamed of my envious tendencies—maybe because of the Why can’t you just be nice? look my ex would give me whenever I wrestled with someone else’s success. These days I stop short of embracing this particular deadly sin, but I don’t worry about it so much either. Better just to walk into the bookstore knowing what you’re dealing with and knowing, too, that by the end of the night you’ll remember that Felicia is really nice and a great writer—and that you’ll come away feeling more inspired and more like part of a literary community for having heard her read.

Speaking of the lit community, I hope you’ll be part of mine on May 11, when stories from The Commuters will be presented by talented up-and-coming actors as part of the New Short Fiction series at the Beverly Hills Public Library. I’ve seen other books presented in this series, and they always do really interesting interpretations of writers’ work. (And the best part is that I get to sit back in the audience and watch it all.)

So save the date—I hope to see you there!

Matt Ferrucci, Judy T. Marcelline, Suzanne Willard and Sally Shore
read The Commuters by Cheryl Klein

Friday, May 11, 2007 at 8 p.m.
The Beverly Hills Public Library Auditorium
444 N. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills
(between Santa Monica Blvd. and Burton Way)
Admission: $10/Free Parking/Doors open 7:30 p.m.
For more information call 310-288-2220.

Monday, April 23, 2007

claire asks the tough questions

One thing that sucks about not being famous, besides not being handed gift bags full of iPods and designer sunglasses everywhere you go, is that no one’s knocking down your door to interview you. So you have to go knock on a few doors yourself—I knocked on Claire’s, and she emailed me the questions below:

1. If you had the opportunity to write a nonfiction book, what would its topic be and how would you prepare to write it?

Form-wise, something along the lines of Adrian Nicole Leblanc’s Random Family or Susan Orlean’s The Bullfighter Checks Her Make-up—something that would require me to spend a lot of time with a group of interesting people and write about them in a vivid, narrative, predictably fiction-esque manner. I was a journalist for about five minutes, you know. Topic-wise, I think it would be about the circus.

2. Do you have any tattoos? If so, where and what? If not, what would you get and where?

I have one tattoo: a vine wrapping around my left wrist. There are light bulbs growing out of it. Everyone thinks they’re Christmas lights, but they’re not, or at least not more than once a year.

3. You're offered your last book's advance plus $10,000 or 125% of your last advance (whichever is larger) for your next book, but it will only be available in a new proprietary electronic format that few people have adopted and tech critics believe will lose out to another format. Do you accept the offer?

Let’s see, zero plus $10,000 is $10,000, whereas 125% of zero is, um, zero, so I’ll consider the first option. As this question involves numbers and technology, it’s not something I normally think about a lot—which makes you an excellent interviewer.

Sorry, I’m stalling. I’m tempted to say, “Paper-and-cloth books are a format few people have adopted,” but I’ll avoid being quite so cynical. I’d take the $10,000 if my book was one that lent itself well to a high-tech format, a la Geoff Ryman’s 253, in which case I would assume the right readers would find me. My actual second book is kind of crunchy, so I’ll have to hold out for a $200 advance from an indie paper-and-cloth press. Which is why future interviews will most likely also take place on my own blog and not in People Magazine.

4. Deadlines or no deadlines. Explain your preference.

Deadlines. I’m an overachiever and/or I do my best work in the presence of fear. However you want to look at it.

5. Describe your ideal writing environment and its conditions.

I think I’m supposed to long for a cabin in the woods, or at least a sunny loft overlooking Central Park, but I’m actually quite fond of the Coffee Table in Silver Lake. I like a little white noise while I work, and I like having people to watch, and I like snacking. But in my ideal world:
A) The Coffee Table would be right next to my home, AK’s home and my office.
B) The veggie burrito would be free instead of $8.95.
C) The place would not be full of hipster babies wearing tiny little T-shirts touting bands they’ve never listened to. I might allow the occasional quiet baby in a Winnie the Pooh shirt.
D) The guy at the cash register would not make fun of my Starbucks Visa card every time I paid. I guess he wouldn’t even get the opportunity, since everything would be free.

Want to play? Here are the rules:

1. Leave me a comment saying, “Interview me,” along with your email address. Following Tracy’s lead, I’ll respond to the first five (‘cause I know there are gonna be thousands) who do it.
2. I will respond by e-mailing you five questions. I get to pick them, and you have to answer them all.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Friday, April 20, 2007

guilty as charged

Okay, so I’m in a somewhat lower income bracket and I wouldn’t describe myself as agnostic, but otherwise, this Onion article (“This American Life Completes Documentation Of Liberal, Upper-Middle-Class Existence”) skewers me pretty successfully, right down to the Honda Civic and the lack of anger.

How do I know for sure (besides the fact that I love This American Life)? Because I found myself protesting a bit too much while reading it: Hey, TAL covers a lot of working class and lower class lives—what about that story where the really articulate homeless guy talked about sleeping outside? What about all those quirky but undeniably blue-collar jobs David Sedaris worked before he made it big?

If you need me, I’ll be at Starbucks thinking about how my non-disposable mug might, in some small and pathetic-but-sweetly-poignant way, counteract the effects of global warming.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

two things that have made me happy in the last 24 hours

1. Taking the Red Line downtown. I drove halfway to TC Boyle’s reading at the Mark Taper Forum, a benefit for Red Hen Press, parked in Koreatown, and took the train the rest of the way.

I know that people do this everyday in other cities, that the experience is tiring and tedious and full of smelly people. But in LA it feels positively luxurious. As I opened my book and read approximately three and a half pages over the course of five stops, I kept thinking, I am so urban and sophisticated! And I am reading! I’m a sophisticated, urban multi-tasker!

2. My orchid blossoming. AK gave me Kid (as I named the orchid) a few months ago, and I thought I’d killed it by not giving it plant food per the little plastic instruction card. But it didn’t look totally dead, just sort of stick-like but still green, so I kept watering it anyway. I felt crappy because, around this same time, the succulent she’d given me earlier had turned a troubling shade of purple that seemed to suggest suffocation.

I try not to get all metaphorical about plant gifts, because I have a black thumb, and if dead plants signaled the demise of a relationship, I’d be doomed, the sure subject of some chick lit novel with a back cover that said, “Cheryl Klein was good at many things, but maintaining a relationship wasn’t one of them.”

Nevertheless, when I watered my little succulent every month, as directed, and it continued to wither, I couldn’t help but think, Maybe it’s a sign that I shouldn’t think inside the box. That just doing the obligatory is not enough for this plant or for AK. Not that AK ever indicated as much, but literature is a world of signs, and sometimes it bleeds into real life in annoying ways.

So: My voodoo-ish self was very happy to see two magenta blooms on one of Kid’s skinny branches this morning. Maybe it just means that spring is here, but hey, I’ll take that.

Monday, April 16, 2007

too much of a good thing

I’m past the age where, when that phrase sums up my weekend, it refers to vodka. (And even when I was at that age, dessert was my real vice of choice.) No, this weekend it referred to KCRW’s awesome but somewhat interminable Sounds Eclectic concert at the Gibson Amphitheatre.

The Jurassic Parking structure (don’t you wish you lived in LA?) spit us out onto CityWalk, where huge neon signs and the sent of kettle corn somehow add up to nightlife. We groped our way through the crowd until we saw a couple in their late 20s, both with shaggy haircuts, she wearing high heels and skinny jeans, he wearing…well, some other type of good-looking jeans. I’m bad at noticing boys.

“They’re clearly going the same place we are,” AK said. “Let’s just follow them until we get to all the other well-dressed aging hipsters.”

When we united with the aforementioned group, we heard a woman say to her friend, “This is such a KCRW crowd.”

“Oh my god,” I whispered to AK, “we’re even all having the same self-aware conversations.”

But so what, really, when the music is good. I quickly decided that Cold War Kids—with their unabashed and chaotic sense of drama, their White Stripes rawness and their Long Beach soul—was my new favorite band. Like Fiona Apple and Rufus Wainwright (though they’re not really like them at all), they know that piano and operatic plotlines improve any song.

For sheer craft, though, there was no beating Gabriela y Rodrigo, a guitar duo that professes to meld metal with classical Mexican music. Normally instrumental music doesn’t do much for me (operatic plotlines require lyrics), especially when I have to sit quietly and watch it, as opposed to play it in the background while washing dishes. But I was quickly mesmerized not only by the percussive ferocity of their music, but by watching Gabriela’s hand, which moved so fast her fingers appeared to be liquid. Like a jellyfish having a seizure on her guitar strings. Rodrigo was more visually subdued, but as both of them thumped the tops and sides of their instruments, it occurred to me for the first time that truly playing the guitar is different from strumming the strings.

Three back-to-back bands and one cup of coffee later, AK and I were so exhausted you’d think we’d been onstage. By the time the Shins came on for the finale, they seemed slightly annoying, like the party guests who are keeping you from gathering up the empty beer bottles and going to bed—when, in fact, they were stellar, and way more of a rock band that I ever realized from listening to their mellow music on the radio.

The weekend continued, a combination of fun and tiredness: I played laser tag and sucked, I played darts and, weirdly, did not suck. I ran three miles with Mel and felt it in my quads within hours. I watched a gaggle of three-year-olds, led by Bonnie’s birthday boy, Jordan, scream with ecstasy at the sight of bubbles, then lose interest 15 seconds later, and I felt like I could relate a little.

Friday, April 13, 2007

carnival of the mundane XXXII

A long time ago I saw a cartoon of a man walking down the street. A few feet behind him was a piano that had just crashed to the ground from some great height. The man’s thought bubble said, “Wow, another close call.” The caption said, Thursday the 12th.

Was it any wonder that I came home yesterday to find a giant tree toppled next to my apartment building, but not on top of anyone or anything but the sidewalk?

This Friday the 13th, Carnival of the Mundane presents Tales of Close Calls and All-Out Bad Luck. (But if you scroll down far enough, there’s always happy stuff too. None of us has blogged our suicide note yet, knock on cyber-wood.) Nevertheless:

Claire of Taller Than Average Tales is so unlucky that not only is sangria drawn, moth-to-flame-style, to her light-colored pants, but even her friends can’t get a break.

Nelumbo of Mommy Plays Bass discovers that the only thing more fun than a breast exam is going into labor while getting a breast exam.

Nance of Dept. of Nance learns that cows are the unluckiest beings of all—not only are they hamburgers-to-be, but now they’re media scapegoats (scapecows?) as well.

Marisa of Apartment 2024 has a suitor, but does he only love her for her money—namely, for the dollar she won’t give him?

And finally, on a purely joyous and lucky note, thanks to Mad Kane of Mad Kane’s Humor Blog for writing poetry about carbs.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

and the connors leap into the ‘80s

That line was spoken by Darlene in the episode of Roseanne—circa 1993—where the family gets a VCR. It goes through my head every time I acquire a new gadget, usually four to seven years after most people in developed countries do.

My dad, on the other hand, is an early adopter, albeit a somewhat contradictory one. We were one of the first families in our neighborhood to acquire a VCR and video camera, but 15 years later, when other people were walking around with hand-held camcorders the size of a coffee mug, my dad was still carrying around our giant camera and the entire VCR, which, in the old old days, you had to strap to your hip pack-mule-style if you wanted to shoot a little footage of your daughter performing a gymnastic routine to the opening medley from Cats at the school talent show. In a polo shirt hand-puffy-painted with a giant cat face.

Needless to say, my dad has been a proud iPod owner for several years now, while I continued to squeeze everything I could out of the late ‘90s-era CD player that came with my car. Then it finally gave out for the second time. Then it was my birthday, and my dad is a generous man who lives higher on the developed end of the developed country spectrum than I do.

So, presto, I now have an iPod Nano, and the time I used to spend writing, reading and frolicking in blossoming meadows is now spent uploading my CD collection to my computer, in preparation to download it to my iPod.

But it has prompted a bit of useful soul-searching, as I ask myself questions such as, “Did I really need a fourth Alanis CD?” and “Isn’t Holiday Hits an overly optimistic album title?” and “What’s Jewel up to these days?”

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

want to know what's in becca's backpack?

He was a she back then, or as she as he ever was, androgynous in a gray hooded raincoat and baggy black jeans.

This is a sentence from chapter five, draft two of the novel I’m currently working on. Who knows if it will live to see draft three—the sentence, that is. The itself novel better survive. Here’s another sentence, from chapter 10:

Becca unzipped the biggest section of her backpack and removed what appeared to be a messily rolled-up beach towel. But then I smelled it.

If you want to hear more sentences like this, come see me and my writing group-mates read May 1 at Skylight Books. It will be the debut of my new project and the finale of my time with the Writers at Work gang.

If you are into writing sentences of your own and do so regularly on some type of blog-type device, please consider participating in the aforementioned Carnival of the Mundane. I haven’t gotten many submissions yet—what, are you worried you’re not mundane enough? I’m talking to you Sara. Tracy. Jamie. Noel. Claire. Erin and Erin. All you folks who write about everyday life in your own charming and not-so-everyday way. Send a link to your favorite post to meadowbat [at] yahoo.com by the end of the day Thursday.

One Page At a Time Reading
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
7:30 p.m.

Skylight Books
1818 North Vermont Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
323-660-1175
This event is free.

Friday, April 06, 2007

small paradise

Jamie and I had had a long day of Talking About The Arts, or, more specifically, listening to other people Talk About The Arts. Funding, outreach, funding for outreach. This stuff is our life, and it’s really important, but since this particular meeting was at the Getty, by hour three we were itching to experience the arts.

So we did. After being greeted by Tim Hawkinson’s giant Uberorgan (giant being an understatement—it’s probably the only musical instrument that could fill the entire atrium of the Getty), we were anxious for more of his organic-meets-mechanical work. The accompanying exhibit, “Zoopsia” (which means “visual hallucination of animals”) was dwarfish by comparison—just four works—but not disappointing.

What I love about Hawkinson, whom I first encountered at LACMA a few years ago, is how he combines concept and craft. A Puritan work ethic shoots through my artistic soul: I can’t help but set aside big splashes of color and idea in favor of thousands of painstaking brush strokes or, in Hawkinson’s case, thousands of photographs of his own lips pasted as suction cups on a huge pink octopus. I also loved Leviathon, a baby stegosaurus-sized spine made up of tiny, muscular rowers. Next time I hear someone talk about anything being built on the backs of a group of people, this is what I will picture.

Even more riveting—if less explicitly creative—were John Humble’s photographs of industrial sections of LA and all 51 miles of the LA River. Looking at determined little houses sprouting beneath snake-thick power lines, shopping carts washed up on cement river banks and other bits of our bright pink and slate gray city, I had an overwhelming sense of, Hey, that’s what I was thinking! I felt like Humble and I saw the city in the same sad-and-beautiful, don’t-need-to-fix-it way. Then I felt kind of dumb for thinking that, because maybe that’s how everyone sees LA, and he’s a good photographer because he captured it.

Except, maybe not everyone: One woman looking at a photo of a man watering the lawn of his small Spanish-style apartment in front two of ominous silver silos couldn’t stop laughing.

“It’s hilarious!” she kept saying to her teenage sons, who didn’t seem to agree.

Humble took a number of photos of the southern suburbs of LA in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and I looked at these extra hard. When you live in the same area your whole life, it’s hard to tell whether you’ve changed or it’s changed. The South Bay wasn’t always a beachy version of Beverly Hills, was it?

No, it wasn’t: Here was Monsoon Lagoon, my favorite place to go for birthday parties (though I never went there for my own). I saw it as a small but satisfactorily tropical paradise. But this wide shot revealed it to be one unnaturally turquoise pool plopped down among acres of power lines and other metal structures.

It’s weird how pleased I was to see evidence that my childhood may have taken place in something other than just an upper-middle-class suburb (though it was undeniably that as well). Maybe because I have a lot of liberal guilt. But that’s old news. I think it was also because I found the other photos so powerful—the photos of places I’d never lived: Downtown, East LA, a sliver of space beneath the 105 freeway. I wanted to know that I was born into this LA narrative, that I didn’t just take up the city as a hobby my junior year of college, that the brightness and the dinginess and the humility was mine as much as anyone’s.

Monday, April 02, 2007

eating it too

I just took an abs class at Bally’s. By accident. I went in for yoga, but in classic Bally’s style, a guy walked in and announced, “Joelle couldn’t make it tonight, so I’m subbing. But I don’t know yoga, so we’re gonna do some abs and cardio.”

I didn’t suck as much as I thought I would, which made me wonder, So where are my six-pack abs? Why is my middle more the consistency of flan? I am still wondering this as I sit here eating leftover tres leches cake from Saturday’s party. Exciting discovery: Like lasagna and soup, it gets better after a couple of days in the fridge. Moist and sour-creamy.

If you are the sort of person who enjoys philosophical musings on the likes of cake, Carnival of the Mundane—a roundup of blog posts about everyday life—was made for you. An early and enthusiastic participant, I have to admit I’ve been slacking lately. But I’m due to host again this month, so if you have a particularly fabulous post about your unfabulous life, please send a link, along with your name and the name of your blog, to me (meadowbat [at] yahoo.com) by Sunday, April 8.

happy birthday to you, you belong in a zoo

This is where I had my birthday party on Saturday.




Let me explain. AK and I discovered the Old Zoo Picnic Area of Griffith Park when we went hiking over the holidays. Built by the WPA, these old habitats and enclosures served as the LA Zoo until the mid-‘60s, when the animals moved on up to (comparatively) deluxe quarters a couple of miles northeast.

Now you can picnic in and around the Old Zoo. Since wandering through decaying ruins and eating outdoors are two of my favorite activities, there was really no other place I could have my party, even though a small corner of the park caught on fire on Friday and the Old Zoo is almost impossibly hard to find. My friend Amy circled Griffith Park for almost an hour. Finally she gave up and text messaged, “Happy Birthday. Sorry I’m retarded.” (Sorry, Amy—it’s not you, it’s the zoo.)

Each habitat seemed to have drawn a different subculture to picnic there—kid’s family birthday, stoner couple with dog, teenage punks who called out, “Hey, what are you drinking?”—so it really was like wandering around a human zoo. One of the stoners gave Jamie the finger when she took his picture, so I didn’t even try.

When we weren’t engaging in armchair anthropology, we played Frisbee and bocce ball, blew bubbles, drank Alberto’s park-ready Birthday Punch, ate burgers and dogs (veggie and non) grilled with amazing rapidity and skill by AK, and gobbled up three kinds of pasta salad and two kinds of cake. Thanks for coming everyone, and thanks, Sara, for the pictures.

I’m not actually 30 until tomorrow, so I’ll save the requisite freaking out about getting older until then.