Tuesday, May 27, 2008

barbeclueless

What's Memorial Day without a barbecue? We almost found out, because we couldn't get the two in our back yard to work. The one that came with the place turned out to be a propane grill that lacked both propane and a tank to hold propane.

"So basically it's just a grill that you can put charcoal in," AK explained. "It's like finding a car with no engine and deciding to live in it."

She messed around with upstairs neighbor Alyssa's charcoal grill for a while, but it turned out that the easily-five-years-old bags of charcoal that came with the house were not in such good shape either. Luckily there were stove tops inside.


Alyssa has lived above us for just a couple of months. We love her, partly because she loves our cats. Just look at Ferd strut down those stairs.

All the barbecue commotion was a bit much for some members of Team Gato, and for Jody and Christine too, who were tired from a long day of comforter-shopping. So they tried out our comforter for a while. If they decide to go with a "cat hair chic" motif, we'll know we inspired them.

Joel (not the one from my last post) and Jennifer. Note Jennifer's naturally ketchup-colored pants. This would come in handy shortly.

If we learned one thing, it's that you don't really need a functioning barbecue if you have a functioning hula hoop.

something old, something new

No matter how progressive and lovely a wedding is, it’s always a little weird to be a queer person at a public celebration of straight marriage. I had this thought Sunday afternoon as AK and I watched Joel and Holly exchange vows at Farnsworth Park in a ceremony that was traditional in some ways and modern in other ways and sweet and fun in all ways.

No more vague awkwardness allowed, I admonished myself. You can get married too these days. But the thing about history is that it sits on your shoulder and whispers in your ear even when the conversation has moved on.

This is kind of the point, I think, of Kara Walker’s show, My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love, at the Hammer Museum. She’s known for her small and large silhouettes of antebellum tableaus. They feature white and black characters (though, of course, they’re all black in silhouette, which draws attention to the fact that we perceive race only partly based on color) in poses and situations that are frequently sexual, cartoon-ish, mischievous, stereotypical and highly charged. She’s tapped the vein of our historical subconscious, seemingly saying, “I know you gave me Macarthur grant and all, but I also know that, on some level, you’re thinking about my alleged animal sexuality, and I’m thinking about you thinking about it.”

History is not something to climb over but to muddle through again and again. I’m not saying unequal marriage laws are like slavery, but I think her exhibit is useful and resonant to anyone who feels like they can’t get up and brush themselves off as quickly as the larger culture would like them to. And it’s only at the Hammer until June 8, so get thee there.

Let me also say that Holly and Joel are moving weddings in a direction I like in at least one important way. Two words: dessert potluck. Out with the pretty-but-dry cake and in with the banquet table of banana pudding, fruit cobbler, moist red velvet cake and papaya strudel.

Friday, May 23, 2008

beginner’s mind

This is Vivi, a character I sketched for the children’s book writing and illustration class I just started taking at Art Center at Night. My first class was equal parts intimidating and inspiring. I’m the only non-visual-artist in the class, and I found myself leaning over my sketchbook like it was my junior high diary. Today I pulled my friend Lee-Roy aside and asked for a quick crash course in water color techniques because I’d exhausted all the art-101 questions I could ask in a class that wasn’t technically art 101.

Nevertheless, it’s fun to feel like a beginner. It’s like trapeze and skiing—I’m drunk on the myth of my own potential, and light with the lack of expectations. I feel kind of like the four-year-old I’m drawing, actually.

Speaking of trying new things: My friend Bronwyn has set up a new lit mag/blog (mog?) for videos of people reading their own fiction at unexpected venues. It’s called GuerrillaReads, and she’s now accepting submissions. (I’m listed as a contributor, but so far my major contribution was correcting a typo related to The Blair Witch Project. Oh, and the first post. But I wish I could take credit for the site’s overall awesomeness, but that’s all Bronwyn.)

Fiction writers: Now’s your chance to get in on the ground floor! Everyone else: It’s like books-on-CD for your eyes! Check it out at www.guerrillareads.com.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

another new word

This is a lorax. It is not to be confused with a soas, which is the thing in my leg that has been hurting me at random times for a few weeks now. Using the diagrams on the side of weight machines at the gym for guidance, I had self-diagnosed it as my hip abductor, but Veronica—a dancer and massage therapist—saw me last night after my hip hop class and said otherwise.

She poked my knee in the gentlest way, had me do a couple of stretches and said, “Yeah, that’s your soas. If it still hurts in a week, call me and I’ll come over and work on you.” Veronica is an old-lady dancer’s best friend. Now if I can just get her to teach me to shake my ass at warp speed like they do in hip hop videos, I’ll be all set.

Monday, May 19, 2008

a good summer means lemmas for everyone

1. i bet the eucalyptus groves weren’t crowded

Ah, luxurious coolness. This was the first really hot weekend of the year, and AK and I were pleased to discover that the ceiling fans for which we petitioned our child-prodigy landlord (he’s 26 and he owns rental property, which in my book places him in the same category as teenage concert pianists) work fabulously.

We also made it to the beach with Christine and Jody—and I feel like, on the first really hot weekend of the year, “made it to the beach” is the appropriate term. On the way, I called my sister to see if she wanted to join us. She said, “Actually, I’m already at the beach, and, just to warn you, so is everyone else.” Even the $20 parking lots were full. Getting to the ocean was a feat.

Normally I’m proudly anti-beach. I grew up in a beach town and I’m always amazed by how many of my high school classmates’ MySpace pages list the beach as a primary part of their identities. I mean, the beach is lovely, but I also grew up around a lot of nice-looking eucalyptus trees and I don’t feel the need to write MySpace odes to them. But I realize that civilization has traditionally congregated around major bodies of water, and so I am in the minority.

2. maybe on a math farm

Christine screamed in delight as she boogie-boarded for the fist time. AK caught a perfect wave. Then we played a sandy game of travel Scrabble, spelling “morals” and “gender” and “oval”—all of which we felt were poetic and deep—and concluding that “zorn” was not a piece of farming equipment or in fact a word at all.

Although…I just looked it up on Merriam-webster.com and I learned that “Zorn’s lemma” is “a lemma in set theory: if a set S is partially ordered and if each subset for which every pair of elements is related by exactly one of the relationships less than, equal to, or greater than has an upper bound in S, then S contains at least one element for which there is no greater element in S.”

So I owe Jody an apology. Except he kicked ass anyway, defeating me by 50 points even without the triple letter score for Z.

AK loves Boggle but can’t stand the slow pace of Scrabble (“It’s people staring silently at a board!”), so she spent most of her time in the water, washed off her “water-resistant” sun block and came home with a great tan.

3. california: come for the gay marriage, stay for the falafel

We finished the day with a feast of grape leaves and fava beans and these little chewy, deep-fried cheese pockets at Marouch, a hole-in-a-strip-mall on Santa Monica Boulevard. It was the best Lebanese food I’ve had.

It was also only the second Lebanese restaurant I’d been to, but Christine and Jody’s friend Kim, who introduced us to Marouch, is Syrian, and she confirmed that it was the closest to her family’s home-cooking that she’d found in L.A.

Kim and Jody also confirmed that the gay-marriage-is-okay decision by the California supreme court will go a lot farther than just making gay marriage okay because it says you can’t discriminate—when it comes to anything—on the basis of sexual orientation. They’re queer lawyers. They know these things, in addition to long words and which plate is yogurt, which is baba ghanoush.

I’m looking forward to leftovers in my shady-cool house. It’s going to be a good summer.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

we’re here, we’re queer…does this mean they’ve finally gotten used to it?

Gay marriage is now legal in California: http://www.mercurynews.com/centralcoast/ci_9270265. I’m already going to two gay weddings this summer. It’s nice to know the cops won’t shut ‘em down.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

soleil for a day

1. cirque love

Since starting gymnastics at age five—or at least since reading Geek Love in college—I’ve wanted to run away and join the circus. Actually, the problem was that I wanted to join the circus but I didn’t want to run away.

How fortunate, then, that AK found out about Cirque School, where you can learn the trapeze arts without ever leaving L.A. She gave me a class for my birthday, which I finally redeemed last night (after reading up on it, I decided it sounded kind of hardcore, and that I needed to build up some flexibility and upper body strength before going—I’m not sure that happened, but a month passed, I was a little closer to reuniting with my left splits and I was itching to take the class).

The classes are held at Absolution L.A., a small West Hollywood studio walled with honey-colored wood and stocked with pilates machines, trapezes, a climbing wall, red vinyl chairs and other items of expensive-looking furniture. It reminded me, I told AK later, that there is a world beyond 24 Hour Fitness, which has thus far seemed fairly glamorous to me as it represents the world beyond Bally Total Fitness.

Unlike at 24 Hour Fitness, where no one much notices if you fall off a treadmill and rip your kneecaps off, at Cirque School everyone immediately introduced themselves and told me how much fun I was about to have.

And they were right: Soon I was flipping upside down on the stationary trapeze and doing poses with names like “Gazelle” and “Mermaid.” I felt like a gazelle and a mermaid: graceful, strong and slightly exotic.

“You have good body awareness,” said Aloysia, one of the instructors.

She meant, I think, that if someone tells me to extend my leg, I can extend my leg. I know where I’m putting myself, a skill endowed by much gymnastics and dance early in life. I’m increasingly grateful for those hours spent at the Manhattan Heights gym (which also served as a tai chi studio and a Christmas-decoration-making center) because as I get older, my muscle memories allow me to take on new physical activities without totally sucking at them, and without being in particularly good shape.

Nevertheless, the kind of body awareness I experienced last night largely involved being aware that Aloysia and Elizabeth (the other instructor) and Meagan (the star student) had beautiful, thin-yet-buff dancer bodies, while I had the body of someone whose art form involved a lot of sitting in a chair at Starbucks.

2. ladies who lunch and fly through the air

After last night’s class—and even with this morning’s sore shoulders and bruised calves—I’m trying to figure out how to run away and join the circus as much as a 31-year-old with a fulltime job can. I just signed up for a sort of pricey art class (this is what happens between drafts of the novel—my creative fantasies zigzag all over the place), so the circus may have to wait.

Sometimes I really wish I were a wealthy heiress who could devote all her time to dilettante-ish self-improvement projects. I would take Spanish, drawing, singing, trapeze, and host the occasional charity ball. Of course I would probably be kind of insufferable, but I would have lots of time for therapy to make me a better adjusted person.

If the art class gets canceled (enrollment is low)—which I hope it doesn’t—maybe I’ll try to do a little more trapezing. If not, I’ll just enjoy the fact that I got to live my Geek Love dreams for a day. Except for the part where they form a crazy amputation cult, because it’s helpful to have all your limbs when hanging upside down from a skinny little swing.

Monday, May 12, 2008

cranes, brains and connection

At 451 pages, Richard Powers’ The Echo Maker is actually a highly economical novel given the subject matter it takes on. It’s the story of a young woman and her brother, the latter of whom doesn’t recognize his sister after a mysterious auto accident sends his psyche on a ride more bizarre than any Nebraska highway could deliver. Mark Schluter knows he has a sister named Karin—he just doesn’t believe this imposter is her.

It’s also the story of an Oliver Sacks-like brain researcher who, in studying Mark, starts to question his possibly exploitative relationship to his case studies—all while questioning the usual things he questions: the brain, the body, the self. Finally, The Echo Maker is also the story of the cranes who migrate through Nebraska each year as part of an ancient journey on a road that’s being whittled away by modernity.

I worship at the altar of Richard Powers because he manages to combine reams of research (ecology, the latest neurological developments) with the most intricate of human emotions. In lesser hands, either could easily be lost. In this and his last book (The Time of Our Singing, which I loved slightly more), he also takes on some of literature’s biggest questions—about the nature of the self and the infinite fallibility of narrative—without turning to highly experimental techniques, which, though interesting to think about, are often unsatisfying to read.

In fact, even as The Echo Maker breaks down identity and story (Karin wonders whether she really wants her brother to recover his full faculties, given that his memory of the “real” Karin paints a much rosier portrait of her), it makes a case for story being the only genuine thing we can cling to. There’s something deeply spiritual about this idea—that only meaning has meaning, and that meaning is always larger than the sum of its parts.

The Echo Maker is one part mystery, one part narrativized science, but the part that resonates the most with me is the quiet why-we-write manifesto at its heart. For me (and Powers, I suspect), writing, creating meaning, connecting and loving are almost interchangeable. It’s what the human brain does, it’s not so unlike what the crane brain does, and its fragile loveliness is all the more reason to take better care of each other.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

the prom

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I like to spend approximately one out of every 10 posts bemoaning the difficulty of finding a publisher for my Big Fat Lesbian Novel. And if you’re AK, you’ve actually seen me shed tears about it. You’ve counseled me through a long drive on the 5 as I blubber, “But how do I know if I’m a real writer?”

So imagine my surprise when—after two solid years of rejection letters (most of them form letters too, with the exception of one encouraging note from an editor whose press promptly went under, and one “not for me, but keep on truckin’” email from a kindly agent)—two presses said yes in one week.

“It’s like being asked to the prom by two people,” Amy said wisely. I will add that it was like being asked to the prom when you have frizzy hair and are fatter than all the other cheerleaders and actually quit Girls’ League because they planned the Christmas dance and you just knew you wouldn’t have a date, and you turned out to be right.

And, like being faced with two potential prom dates, you find yourself in the odd position of being thrilled and agony-ridden at the same time. Further complicating matters is the fact that the person who asked you first—with elegance and affection—is not actually the person you like the most.

So after much hand-wringing and friend-polling, you go with your true love, the one your gut tells you is right for you, and you hope that Date #1 meets a nice girl who loves him deeply and doesn’t stay mad at you for too long.

***

Okay, I’m going to cut this little fairytale short in case Jen Joseph at Manic D Press—the press I am so proud and thrilled to share with Michelle Tea, Francesca Lia Block, Beth Lisick and a bunch of other awesome writers—starts to think I have some weird crush on her. She’s totally straight, for the record. But she publishes people’s Big Fat Lesbian Novels and she’s gonna be a fun editor to work with.

Calla Boulevard, my friends. Look for it in 2009. (You won’t have to look that hard—I’m going to be talking about it a lot.) Thank you to all of you for your support (and if you just skimmed my whinier posts, I’ll never know).

Friday, May 02, 2008

itsallaboutme.com

1. merging onto the information superhighway in an ’87 toyota tercel

This seems like a question that a savvy young-ish person with a blog and no less than five online profiles shouldn’t have to ask, but…how do you get a website? (This is not rhetorical: I’m hoping that you—savvy young-ish Bread and Bread readers—will tell me.)

I mean, like, I know I have to buy a domain name and stuff, but who should I buy it from? And does that same entity host it on their server? Which hosts (is that even the right word?) are cheap but won’t bombard visitors with ads promising a free dinner at Chili’s if they can identify a celebrity senior portrait that is clearly Tom Hanks?

I’ve resisted building a site because I’m lazy and a late adopter, but it looks like the internet is here to stay. And the first step in being a Real Live Professional Writer is having a Real Live Professional website, right?

Okay, arguably the first step is “writing some stuff.” But I’ve toiled at step one long enough to reward my self with a little egocentric url, right?

Unfortunately, http://www.cherylklein.com/ is already taken by Cheryl Klein, the children’s book editor who is the bane of my Google news alerts. Cheryl Klein is making waves in the publishing world, appearing on panels right and left. Confusingly, the first words you see on her site are “Talking Books.” I wanted to be the Cheryl Klein who talked books, dammit! But that’s what I get for being a late adopter.

2. call me cheryle

Which leads me to another thing I thought I’d never do, which is wedge a middle initial into my writer name. It always seemed pretentious, and removed from the actual world. Like, do H. Ross Perot’s friends say, “Hey, H. Ross, want to go to Raging Waters this weekend?” (hey, I don’t know what he does in his spare time).

Sometimes the middle name/initial thing makes obvious sense. Jamie writes as Jamie Asae FitzGerald because her middle name alludes to her Japanese heritage, the knowledge of which adds a layer of meaning to some of her poems. And if you have a really common name, like Mary Smith, I can understand why you’d want to be Mary J. Smith or Mary Jezebel Smith or whatever.

But Cheryl Klein isn’t so common that it demands a middle initial, and my middle name is Elizabeth, which signals nothing more than my mom’s obsession with English royalty. (She was alluding to Elizabeth I—I’m all Cate Blanchett, not so much Helen Mirren.) Except now I guess it’s just common enough to make going by it slightly impractical.

So…what?

  • Cheryleklein.com (which just looks like one of the many weird ways people spell my name at Starbucks)
  • Cheryl_e_klein.com (unwieldy)
  • Cherylklein.net (kind of second-tier—you never hear about the “dot-net boom”)
  • Cherylklein.org (I do have a certain nonprofit-ness about me)
  • Cherylkleinwrites.com (ugh, hacky…and what if I decide to give up writing and just post pictures of my cats?)

Man, now I know what straight girls go through when they get married. But at least I don’t have to shell out for a wedding dress.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

rolling with my homies (or at least my home city)

In my former writing group, Pat would often complement writing she liked by saying, “The language is so great. I just want to roll around in it.” I didn’t totally get it—I’ve read lots of really strong prose that I didn’t necessarily want to lather up with.

But right now I’m all about rolling around in Francesca Lia Block’s Quakeland, which I picked up this weekend at the L.A. Times Festival of Books at the Manic D Press booth (this was easy to do, since the other half of the booth was occupied by my organization, and I spent a sweaty but fun 16 hours there).

I first read Block’s Weetzie Bat books when I was in junior high, and I fell in love with an L.A. I’d never visited. It was queer and punky and neon, which made it enticing and a little scary. I read the books again in college when I was just beginning to explore the city for real (and write a thesis about it). I liked taking pictures of homeless kids in leather jackets and the then-under-construction Red Line on Hollywood Boulevard, thinking, This is something Witch Baby Bat would do.

Quakeland is a grown-up book by a writer who is a good 20 years older than when she wrote Weetzie. And I’m 20 years older than when I first read Weetzie. So yeah, it feels different. Is she a little warier or am I? Is L.A. better charted, as frustratingly predictable, now, as it is magical? Or do I and the author just know its tricks better?

I love how reading is so not static. I love her strength of voice, something that alludes even some of my favorite novelists. It makes me want to build little altars and drape my furniture in sari fabric and shop at thrift stores and go goth at the age of 31.

Feeling like I want to experience the material world differently is a testament to the texture of her prose, and soaking up the city’s everyday beauty—so easy to ignore after you look at it long enough, like a post-it on the fridge—is a wonderful way of rolling around in it. I’m driving to the ArcLight to see Iron Man soon, and for the first time in years, I’m looking forward to the trek down Sunset.