Wednesday, November 26, 2008

gracias

1. the recipe

When I was a kid and Thanksgivings were usually spent eating precooked turkey loaf around our motorhome’s formica table (seriously, my mom did an amazing job in that tiniest of kitchenettes, and the precooked turkey loaf was always moist and delicious), someone started the awkward tradition of going around the table and saying what we were thankful for.

Saying “family and friends” or “good health” is predictable. Saying “my expensive new car” is materialistic and braggy. But as a sixth grader who was painfully self-conscious around everyone but my family, none of this worried me.

I just answered honestly: “I’m thankful that I’m pretty, smart and nice.”

Well, sort of honestly. I had frizzy hair and a nose that had recently enjoyed a growth spurt; I got good grades but came up short in the emotional intelligence department; and I think my answer speaks for itself regarding my thoughtfulness towards others.

But I had recently decided that these three traits were the recipe for popularity, which I sought relentlessly between the ages of 11 and 12. Although most of my behavior—from saving up for Guess jeans to incessantly asking my best friend Bonnie if she was mad at me—would indicate that I had very little confidence in my looks, intelligence or social graces, the idea of actually admitting to myself that I lacked these traits was too painful to entertain.

It was as if I were an early practitioner of The Secret, trying to will my wishes into reality. And actually, if there’s anything that pure confidence can create, it’s probably popularity. But that confidence has to be real, and mine was just the audacity of hope for stupid things.

2. charmed life

I was thinking, this year, of compiling a silly little post about all the small and shallow things I’m thankful for (Charm School comes to mind), but I realized I was far too superstitious. What if God was like, You got it, my child. Charm School stays on the air, but I will be removing all your loved ones from the earth faster than you can say “February sweeps”?

I don’t think God is quite so literal, but…I like to hedge my bets.

So I’ll just say that, besides the family, friends, felines and blog readers that I am so, so thankful for, I’m glad to be living at this moment in history. Right now I’m reading The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts, and being reminded that a few short decades ago, being gay meant being constantly harassed by police and more or less being denied family, friends and blog readers. You could probably still have a cat.

I don’t mean, exactly, that it’s always preferable to live in an easy time than in a hard one. There’s a lot to be gained from struggle on a personal as well as a community level. As unlucky as Harvey Milk and his contemporaries were to be persecuted, they were lucky to have the courage and opportunity to change the world. I’m excited to see Gus Van Sant’s movie version of his life tonight and to hopefully take a cue from Milk. At the very least I expect I’ll come away with a lot of gratitude.

Monday, November 24, 2008

just call me a hero for hope

Right now my left knee is creaking like it wants to tell me a storm is brewing. And according to the weather report, one is (finally!), but I don’t think my knee is psychic. I think it ran 6.2 miles yesterday, which, creakiness aside, I’m quite happy about.

AK, Meg and I decided to do the Heroes of Hope for Brain Tumor Research 10K on Sunday not so much because we’re against brain tumors (although we are) but because it was being held on a flat stretch of street next to Dockweiler Beach.

AK and I had trained mostly on hills and occasionally on days when the air in the L.A. basin was thick with bits of smoldering tires. “Like altitude training!” I suggested. It was not unlike when I did the Manhattan Beach 10K a few years ago and was happy to discover that, unlike my practice runs, I wasn’t slowed down by trying to hide from packs of stray dogs roaming the streets. Urban training—I sort of recommend it.

But if you already have knee problems, here’s a book I recommend too (I’m not trying to be all Oprah’s-favorite-things—I just needed a transition):

Digging to America* by Anne Tyler: It’s been a while since I’ve read Anne Tyler, but even if I was reading her for the first time, I suspect she’d be like encountering an old friend. This novel—about two families who adopt daughters from Korea—is a quiet, intimate meditation about human vs. national identities, and choosing a messy life over an orderly one (perhaps the only real option in a globalized world). Tyler shares many of the good qualities of Tom Perrotta, but she does ambiguous endings better.

*Mini review stolen, again, from my own GoodReads/Facebook review, because I am lazy like that.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

local, organic, artisanal literature

This is for you, you frequenter of farmer’s markets. You eater of organic free-range pears. You drinker of fair-trade, shade-grown, puttin’-a-Mayan-child-through-college coffee.

I know you read. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t know how evil regular coffee was. But why do you think it’s okay to order a book off Amazon when you’re such an activist in every other way? As if the fact of its book-ness alone made it revolutionary. And while I’m sure Barack Obama’s father’s dreams were really fascinating, there are other people out there who have interesting things to say. They’re just saying them a little more quietly. Meaning their books might not be face-up on the bargain table two feet into Barnes & Noble. You might have to work a little bit.

And I know we’re all tired and busy, but if you can’t work your ass off around the holidays, then when?

A group of booky folks and I have been talking periodically about how small press publishing should have the aura of indie music—i.e., the more obscure the cooler—rather than the aura of meekness it sometimes gets saddled with/saddles itself with. So we compiled a helpful guide to local presses and indie bookstores for holiday shoppers who want to be progressive and to rock.

(For my four readers who live outside L.A., don’t think you’re off the hook: You can order online from almost all of these presses and stores, and there are great presses and stores in your area, I guarantee it. Well, no I don’t, because lots of stores are shutting down. But if you live in Seattle or San Francisco, I guarantee it.)

Southern California-based Presses:
Angel City Press (http://angelcitypress.com): nostalgic yet cool illustrated books
Arktoi Books (http://www.redhen.org/arktoi.asp): poetry and fiction that give lesbian writers access to “the conversation”
Cahuenga Press (http://www.cahuengapress.com): poetry that honors creative freedom and cooperation
Cloverfield Press (http://cloverfieldpress.com): books as visually beautiful as they are intellectually and emotionally stimulating
Dzanc Books (http://www.dzancbooks.org): literary fiction that falls outside the mainstream
Gorsky Press (http://www.gorsky.razorcake.org): risk-taking books that encourage readers to re-examine society
Green Integer (http://www.greeninteger.com): essays, manifestos, speeches, epistles, narratives, and more
Les Figues Press (http://www.lesfigues.com): aesthetic conversations between readers, writers, and artists, with an avant-garde emphasis
Make Now Press (http://www.makenow.org): contemporary works of constraint and conceptual literature
Otis Books/Seismicity (http://www.otis.edu/academics/mfa_writing/seismicity.html): contemporary fiction, poetry, essays, creative non-fiction and translation
Red Hen Press (http://www.redhen.org): poetry and more by writers whose work has been marginalized
San Diego City Works Press (http://www.cityworkspress.org): local, ethnic, political, and border writing (and a great little book by Cheryl Klein!)
Santa Monica Press (http://www.santamonicapress.com): offbeat looks at pop culture, lively how-to books, film history, travel, and humor

Independent Bookstores:
Book Soup, West Hollywood (http://www.booksoup.com)
A Different Light, West Hollywood (http://www.adlbooks.com)
Eso Won Books, Leimert Park (http://esowon.booksense.com)
Family, Fairfax District (http://www.familylosangeles.com)
IMIX Bookstore, Eagle Rock (http://www.imixbooks.com)
Metropolis Books, Downtown (http://www.metropolisbooksla.com)
Skylight Books, Los Feliz (http://www.skylightbooks.com)
Small World Books, Venice (http://www.smallworldbooks.com)
Vroman’s Bookstore, Pasadena (http://www.vromansbookstore.com)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

tops, bottoms and sneetches

The gay marriage/interracial marriage analogy is an easy one (and a valid one, I maintain), but this article AK sent me points out that maybe we should spend less time talking about how the controversy is like racism and more about how it is sexism—and how it reflects our culture’s deep passion for gender roles: http://www.slate.com/id/2204661.

In other words, for all you ladies who’ve had the privilege of answering the question, “Which one of you is the man?” from some confused relative, yes, it all comes down to tops and bottoms.

God, there are so many dissertations to be written here! The Judith Butler-y one about how butch/femme roles highlight the fakeness and slipperiness of straight gender roles. The one about how everyone wants to claim the civil rights movement for themselves, from the people who say, “You stole my right to get married” to the ones who are like, “You stole my right to not have to see you get married,” to the point where it’s all star-bellied Sneetch-ish. Thank god I’m not a grad student and can just post three-paragraph blog entries instead.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

ghosts of christmas present

I think everyone should give books this holiday season, so for a second I had this idea that I would present a series, recommending what type of people to whom you could give all the books I read between now and Christmas.

Then I realized that will probably be like three books.

Nevertheless, for the ghostbusters and gender benders in your family, I recommend Jennifer Finney Boylan's I'm Looking Through You, a memoir of "growing up haunted." Boylan, who transitioned to female in 2000, spent the latter part of her childhood in a crazy, creaky 200-year-old mansion in Pennsylvania. Strange noises and full-on apparitions were as much a part of her daily life as the nagging feeling that she--then he--was supposed to be a girl.

Flashing back and forth between decades, Boylan drives home the message that you can be haunted by literal ghosts and metaphorical ones, ghosts of the past and--to her surprise--ghosts of one's future self.

Such themes are right up my literary alley, and I devoured this book in just a few days. It's also hilarious. Boylan has a wry sense of humor and a wacky family as good source material (for example, the grandma who loves to get drunk and talk about the night Boylan's father was conceived). Sometimes its lightness felt like a disservice to the book, though. I like my haunted houses just a little more spooky.

Nevertheless, with more than one quote from A Christmas Carol adorning its bookishly haunted pages, it would make a great gift.

flowers are pretty (a post that's not about prop. 8)

Normally I'm against blogging for the sake of blogging, but I'm also against being awake at 9 a.m. on a Saturday, and I'm doing that right now too. I figured it was time I say hi and not talk about Prop. 8 (although there's a protest starting in an hour, which I'll be missing because I'll be in a meeting held in an icy basement). So. A couple of random updates.

I just got back from an inspiring work trip to San Francisco, where writer Jewelle Gomez reminded a group of us that art is about faith and activism. When the economy sucks as profoundly as it sucks right now, art seems both more difficult and like our only hope.

On the way home, AK and I stopped in San Luis Obispo, where we saw her college friends Ryan and Sarah, and their daughter Hattie. Last time we saw Hattie, she was a small pink nub of a human sleeping in an infant seat. Now she's a busy, blonde-haired one-year-old who likes to present people with her favorite toys and do impressions of farm animals with varying degrees of realism (her dog is very good; her horse accent, her parents pointed out, is somewhat unconvincing).

We jogged along the seaside bluff at Montana de Oro, which is really how jogging should be done. With dusty brush and leaping deer and seaweed-smelling wind. If we lived next to a seaside bluff, we decided, we'd be training for a marathon rather than a 10K. (Actually we'd probably take our bluff for granted and do the same things we always do.)

I've been more into nature lately. It worries me, sometimes, because in spite of voting for the guy who was all about change, I actually find change a little scary. Also, I'm worried that eventually I'll start wanting to live in seaside/wooded/mountainous landscapes that are A) expensive and B) prone to fires. I mean, I'll always love urban grime, it's just that I may be willing to accept that flowers are pretty after all.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

no more mr. nice gay

I didn’t realize what a rule-follower I was until I started hearing about all the Prop. 8 protests happening around the state. They kind of took me by surprise—you could do that? I’d been under the vague impression that when there was a contest, you should do everything you could to help your side, but when you lost…well, the other side won fair and square, right?

Except maybe there are some things, like, say, civil rights, that shouldn’t be put to majority rule. Maybe protesting is what you do when you’ve tried everything else. Maybe there is value in a community throwing a collective tantrum. Because, as AK pointed out based on an article she read, “They’re going to keep coming after us if they think they can get away with it. Next time it’ll be our adoption rights.”

And while I wasn’t down with every sentiment on every sign—I mean, look, I get that it’s irresistible to point out that farm animals gained rights on Tuesday while queer people lost them, but personally I think animal rights should be written into the constitution too (I do!)—the march was incredibly cathartic. It felt so good to see people out with their friends and spouses and dogs and kids, to yell, to get blisters on my feet for a cause other than my love of uncomfortable shoes.

Scenes from Saturday’s Sunset Junction protest:












Thursday, November 06, 2008

up for grabs, down for keeps

I’m feeling a little less crazy now.

Not that that’s always a good thing, but still.

It helped to read about everyone else’s righteous anger on Facebook and my favorite blogs (yes, I’m actually saying that Facebook heals). I also kind of forced AK to reassure me that she loves me, wants a future with me, etc. and that made me feel better too.

That’s what I hate about Prop. 8—that because I’m insecure, it makes me question my relationship in some small but perverse way. I mean, it’s not like AK and I got married when we had the chance. But marriage is a marker of where a relationship is, and even though it’s often an inaccurate marker (consider never-married Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins vs. Britney Spears’ five-minute marriage in Vegas), it’s our culture’s shorthand for seriousness, for family. So when it keeps flitting in and out of the realm of possibility, a girl can feel confused.

I’ve been thinking about how mainstream culture has called our bluff. For years the queer movement was like, “Fuck you, we don’t want your stupid institutions.” But people kept coming out and started living more and more integrated lives, and eventually mainstream culture was like, “Would you like to have some of our institutions?” And we said, “Yes! Yes, we would!” Then, in 2000 and again on Tuesday, mainstream culture said, “Ha! ‘Cause you can’t have ‘em!”

It’s like when a kid at recess would hold up a bag of Oreos and say, “Up for grabs!” then snatch it away from other kids’ reaching fingers and say, “Down for keeps!” Then the other kids felt stupid for trying to grab the Oreos.

I hate feeling stupid. And I also very much like my own lunch—my veggie burger and my persimmon and my Clif bar—and I’m not going to trade it in for some stupid transfat-laden cookie…that happens to taste really, really good.

Hmm, I guess I had a little more anger to get out of my system after all.

But anyway, I really am feeling better. Yesterday I kept having conversations with Barack Obama in my head. Not political conversations; it was more like we were hanging out and I was introducing him to AK and Team Gato, all of whom I was confident he’d adore, despite his recent puppy declaration.

Unlike George W., Barack Obama is a guy I’d like to have a beer with. Or, as Jamie said at lunch yesterday, “Maybe a scotch.” Then Ryan called her an elitist and told her she was what was wrong with this country.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

bittersweet

I was hoping this would be the first major election in eight years that didn’t make me cry—and for a few minutes, I was just crying because I was happy. Seeing Obama up there, looking thrilled and tired, thin-necked, big-eared, shockingly human under the weight of all that history and all those hopes; thinking about Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. and his grandma looking down on him…for a few minutes, America was everything I needed it to be.

When Obama talked about how his election isn’t the change we seek but just the opportunity to continue seeking it, when he gave a little shout-out to the gays (and how many presidents have done that in their acceptance speeches?)…for those minutes, I thought, “Yes we can.”

And then California decided it was all about deciding who exactly got to be included in “we.” As in, “We can get married, but you can’t.” As in, “We can use the constitution, which should be sort of a secular bible, to put into practice all the whimsical and shitty things we’ve exploited the actual Bible for.” Arkansas did it too, only worse. Arkansas decided, “It’s not enough to fuck the gays with this proposition—let’s screw over kids in foster care too.”

Despite the blogosphere’s reputation as a cesspool of unmediated rants, plucky old Bread and Bread is usually all about introspection, conciliatory language, giving people the benefit of the doubt, tempering things with good natured sarcasm, blah blah blah. At least I like to think so. But tonight when Jody gave a no doubt well-informed critique of No On 8’s strategies, I was in no mood for lefty self-critiques. No On 8 might have made mistakes, but it didn’t create the hate and ignorance that apparently run strong in California. It’s the haters I’m pissed at and no one else.

I’ve been in such a weird, nervous mood these past few days, and while part of me says, That’s the worst a proposition can do? Put you in a bad mood? Wow, you’re really oppressed, aren’t you?, that’s the voice I’m ignoring tonight.

After our fellow election night revelers/mourners went home, I cleaned up the kitchen and AK searched the internet for inspiring quotes from Kermit the Frog (because we have to look to our strongest leaders during times of crisis). She stumbled across a trailer for Brokeback Mountain and watched it quietly. “That’s what happens when it’s not safe to be gay,” she said, and I was thinking about how I need to read a book or see a movie about oppressed people surviving really awful times. I was thinking about how art is there when you need it most.

Then I thought how, wait, no, this is oppression too. Prop. 8 might not be the worst thing that ever happened, but it’s not just some tiny chink in my unfathomably privileged life. It’s real and it sucks.

Then I thought about how maybe I would keep the house extra clean or stop eating, those late-night, anorexic, “if I can’t control the world around me at least I can control this” thoughts.

And I thought about what Ed Bacon said about seeing soul to soul if not eye to eye with people who vote differently than we do, but I also had a frighteningly vivid image of myself poking the next person to utter the phrase “protecting families” in the eye with something sharp.

Ed, Barack—I’ll get there. I’ll take the high road. But right now I’m still stuck in traffic and I’m full of road rage.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

i’ll take obama and a tall nonfat latte

Starbucks took my suggestion about offering free beverages for voters. Consequently, the line at the Eagle Rock Starbucks this morning was as long as the one at my polling place. I love America.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

dias de la comunidad

Long ago, my mom taught me that all the best Halloween costumes (if by "best" you mean "cheap and easy but still homemade") start with a pair of sweats. Throw in a couple of styrofoam eyeballs, some break-and-bake cookies, one plastic trash can from OSH and voila, Cookie Monster...

...and Oscar the Grouch.

Some of the other best costumes, though, start with an Afro wig and a cardboard palette. When we met up with our friends at Akbar, Lee-Roy was recognizable to fans of Bob Ross as the PBS art icon fond of painting happy trees.
He was so popular, in fact, that he was runner up in the costume contest. But there was a bit of a scandal when drag queen emcee Lila chose to announce Lee-Roy's win by saying, "PBS! Get up here, PBS!" Her dominatrix cop assistant decided this meant Oscar and I, who were representing another PBS show. The next thing we knew, we were on stage accepting Lee-Roy's drink tickets. But since we were all weaned on cooperation-loving television shows, we worked it out peacefully.

First prize went to a guy named Gordon, who'd duct-taped himself a fine-looking suit made from Yes On 8 signs. "All stolen," he announced, and a huge cheer went up. It was a nice reminder that even if the H8ers take over the constitution, the gays are still funnier.

I spent the rest of the night boogieing with Oscar, who really knew how to shake his can.


But when he took a break from it, it was only a matter of time before the drunken patrons of Akbar decided it was a real trash can, despite the fact that it said "Sesame Street Department of Sanitation" on the side and had no bottom. By the end of the night there were like 15 pieces of trash in it, but the bar back didn't care. She just looked happy to discover she didn't have to take it to the dumpster out back.

I have to say I'll be a little sad when the election is over (and let's hope that's the only thing I'm sad about on November 5). It's been such an exciting time to feel like part of my community. Saturday afternoon I went to an interfaith No On 8 forum, and Saturday night AK, Christine, Jody and I went to the huge Dia de los Muertos celebration at Hollywood Forever. There we ran into AK's friend Ariel, who was getting her calavera on, as well as her activism.

There were flags and feathers and marigolds. Sage singed the air.


There were lots of altars to lost loved ones, as well as more political altars, including separate ones for shelter-killed dogs and abandoned cats. I've always liked the idea of God noticing the fall of every sparrow, and I think it counts for something when humans mourn the passing of animals too.


This one reminded me of T-Mec's favorite pose.

I've been in kind of a moody mood all weekend, but unlike Christmas, when you have happy Santas in your face at every turn, Halloween and Dia de los Muertos are the perfect time to be colorfully angsty.