Wednesday, December 31, 2008

books and bikes for '09

Oof. Time to dust off the ol' blog, huh? Sorry to be away a while, but chances are you were too. I have been experiencing the Human Fishbowl Time Effect, which means that my stuff-to-do grows to fit my day. A regular workday might (occasionally) find me writing, working out, mentoring and getting groceries (and, granted, I'd probably be kind of sleep deprived and grumpy the next day). But while on vacation, a whole day can be devoted to going to the ATM and microwaving some soup.

Actually, I can't think about soup too much right now because it was the last thing I ate a few days ago before getting slammed (again) with the stomach flu. You would think that at least I'd be very skinny by now, but unfortunately a little thing called Christmas, a.k.a. Cookie Season, happened between flues, so they more or less canceled each other out.

And now we arrive at Resolution Season, which is as appealing and dangerous to the OCD brain as a plate full of cookies. As soon as you make one and start visualizing the perfect specimen of humanity you might be on your way to being, it's tempting to make another, until keeping them is such a hopeless task that you give up and drown your sorrows in a plate of cookies.

That was then, though--for the past few years, I've learned to make resolutions a la my friend Heather, who one year resolved to join MySpace: compact, quantifiable, doable. This year, while I still secretly hope to become the epitome of fitness, creativity and compassion, what I'm actually resolving to do is:

1. Restart my book club: I read an article by Jean Hartig in Poets & Writers Magazine about how, after finishing her MFA program, her writing really suffered not just from a lack of feedback, but from a lack of regular conversation about meaningful ideas. I remembered how much I also liked that about school. And while the folks in the salon-type-thing Jean started sounded uber-brainy, I thought maybe I could start by convening a handful of people to eat potluck and talk about Nick Hornby books.

2. Start riding a bike: AK is a bicycler chick and has been encouraging me to start riding for a while. I haven't forgotten how--what they say is true. And there are a million good fitness and environmental reasons to do it, and a variety of L.A. bike cultures--eco or wholesome or punk rock or self-righteous (and I do enjoy being self-righteous)--to choose from.

But there's one good reason not to, and that is cars. I'm scared to drive next to half the people in L.A., let alone teeter next to them on some pedestrian/vehicle hybrid contraption. Unlike many, I don't think L.A. drivers are any worse than drivers in any other city, but because car culture is so prevalent, and bike lanes are so few, drivers are ultimately the most self-righteous ones of all on the road. In other cities, mobs of pedestrians mosh through red lights and cars have to wait. Here pedestrians skitter apologetically across crosswalks after waiting 20 minutes for some kind-hearted driver to finally stop.

So it's going to be a while before I start cycling to work (plus that's like 20 miles, and I don't think Jamie wants to sit next to that kind of stink), but it would be great to ride to the Gold Line or Antigua or the library. Baby steps, right? Baby pedals?

Happy new year, y'all.

Monday, December 22, 2008

the most wonderful time of the year…

…for armchair-critic geeks like me is when we get to make our top-ten(-ish) lists. Same qualifiers as last year: These aren’t necessarily the best-with-a-capital-B, just my favorites, and the books aren’t necessarily ones published in ‘08, just ones I read this year.

Top ten books I read in 2008:

1. Tie: The Second World by Parag Khanna and Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. The former rocked my paradigm and the latter reminded me of how humanity plays out in that new paradigm.

3. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Post-colonialism can be sly and funny.

4. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. Lifted me up when I really needed it.

5. The Echo Maker by Richard Powers. Once again, he tied it all together.

6. The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty. Kind of like Prep for poor girls.

7. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. I didn’t want to like it as much as I did, but few voices have stuck with me as much.

8. Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender. These short stories are like 15 magical little prose poems.

9. Veronica by Mary Gaitskill. She writes about beauty without seeming shallow.

10. Waylaid by Ed Lin. Way funny.

Top ten-ish movies I saw (in theaters*) in 2008:

1. WALL-E
2. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
3. Happy-Go-Lucky
4. There Will Be Blood
5. Slumdog Millionaire
6. Changeling
7. Hancock
8. Rachel Getting Married
9. Sweeney Todd
10. Penelope
11. Milk


*A couple of which, yeah, came out in 2007, but I’m not Oscar and the second-run theater near me is super cheap especially on Wednesdays, okay?

Friday, December 19, 2008

swiftboated

I have this problem where, when someone has a pattern of behavior I don’t like, I don’t know how to call them on it.

My ex-girlfriend would interject here and say, “Of course. That’s because you’re a doormat.”

But that’s only, like, 14 percent of the story. I am only 14 percent doormat. The other part of the problem is that I have to make sure it’s a pattern before I speak up, and I like to be really, really thorough in my research.

For example, it took me three years to realize that my office landlord probably could have fixed the heating system by now if he’d really tried. That just aiming his temperature-measuring radar-gun thingy at our vents once a week wasn’t cutting it. But by this point, I’d established myself as The Nice But Shivering Girl At The End Of The Hall and it just seemed weird to get all in his face.

And when I did get in his face, which I eventually sort of did, he…well, he told me I was a “smart girl” in a way that you might tell your dog he was smart for fetching a bacon-scented stick, and then he told me I looked pretty in a way that an old man might tell his granddaughter if he hoped she would stop wearing those combat boots and meet a nice boy.

But believe it or not, that’s not actually my point. My point is that our dialogues go kind of like this:

ME: Our heat isn’t working. It hasn’t been working properly for three years.

DR. T: See, there’s a problem with the city’s Building Heat Regulation Control Department. I’ve put in a call.


ME: Right, but you’ve been making various calls for three years. Can you buy us a space heater in the meantime?

DR. T: They’re going to call me back Monday. Why don’t we wait till Monday? And why don’t you wear your hair down more often?

ME: Um, okay.


I was raised by an engineer in the Church of Logic, but logic doesn’t help in situations like these. Because the most logical thing to do is address each question as it comes, meaning I get hijacked by the specific and the pattern gets ignored.

John Kerry (timely reference, I know) needed to say, “No, I’m not going to answer your dumb questions about my time in Vietnam. Now, back to why George Bush is a crappy president.” And I needed to say, “No, I don’t care what the Building Heat Regulation Control Department, which I think you made up anyway, has to say. Now, back to the fact that it’s your job to fix this.”

But the other thing I realized—not in the case of Dr. Office Landlord, but in the case of a flaky friend—is that sometimes I feel like I should call people on their bad behavior in order to prove I’m not a doormat, but in reality I don’t care that much.

“Life’s too short to try to make yourself care about things you really don’t care about,” my boss advised me. And I think that’s going to be my mantra for the next almost-two-weeks, when I will be away from my still-cold office and in my nice warm bed.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

and now for a little self-promotion

Places I can be found online:

1. the excellent blog of tracy lynn kaply
Those of you who read Kaply, Inc. know that Tracy Lynn is angry, funny and regularly uses words like “tit-punch.” But that doesn’t mean she’s above holiday traditions. For the second year in a row, I am a proud member of her Twelve Guests of Christmas guest-blogging festival. Scroll down to Dec. 14 to read my thoughts on the economy, JFK and holiday coupon books.

2. the emerging writers network
A man named Dan Wickett is excited to read my book in 2009! In an email he sent out to writers on his list, he warned us that he might end up hating our books, and we might therefore hate him by the end of 2009. But for now Dan rocks! Scroll down about a third of the way to see the cover of Lilac Mines—I think this is its internet debut.

3. jane’s stories press
They e-interviewed me. I waxed on. I had a great time hearing the sound of my own keyboard.

Monday, December 15, 2008

three catholic cheers for meehan!

Meehan has a flare for finding snazzy places to live. In L.A., she hosted bimonthly FROG salons in her Furnished Room Over Garage. And when she moved to Santa Barbara, it only seemed right that she host some kind of 30th birthday extravaganza in her new place, which, we discovered this weekend, is kind of like a Tucson spa, with looottts of natural wood, a jacuzzi, Navajo Persian rugs (apparently there is such a thing) and some kind of crazy jungle fern that eats banana peels.

Because Meehan is very brave, and not like other people, she invited her dad's band, Dave and the Droolers, to perform. He sang some pretty catchy songs with titles like "Communist Girl" and "Asshole the Cat." I proudly performed backup as a Catholic cheerleader for his song "Catholic Cheerleader."

Because Meehan is very brave, and not like other people, she performed at her party. She's been taking a songwriting class, because apparently being a lawyer and a fiction writer and a marathon runner and tall and thin just isn't enough to show for her 30 years. And what do you know, she turns out to be great. At the funny Dave-and-the-Droolers-style songs and the melancholy love songs. Seriously, if she weren't so nice and didn't throw such fun parties and wasn't always talking up her friends' talents too, in a convincing way that makes you believe she's not just trying to make you feel better, I would hate her.


In lieu of gifts, Meehan asked everyone to bring an ornament for her Christmas tree, so A.K. and I made shrinky dinks (thank you, Craft Night!). It's hard to tell, but one is a reindeer and the other is a tiny Meehan.


For a while, my camera disappeared. When it came back, it had a bunch of pictures of these guys on it.


But I can't blame them for the fact that most of the rest of the pictures I took that night seemed to be on firecracker setting. I'm pretty sure that was A.K.'s doing.


We ended the night in the jacuzzi, where we gazed at the banana-eating fern and Meehan's landlord vacuuming the floors before the party was even completely over (a man after my own heart).


The next morning we had brunch with the other folks who'd stayed the night in Santa Barbara. Two of them looked really familiar. "Hey," I said, "I have a bunch of pictures of you on my camera."

"That was yours?" said Brian. "I'm glad I didn't take a picture of my dick. I thought about it."

"Will you send me those pictures?" asked Dave. "One of them was really good of me."


We drove home just in time to catch the tail end of Meg's holiday open house. Once the four-year-olds went home, it was decidedly low-key. But, with help from some very tasty snacks, we made our own entertainment. Try playing "Eat A Cheese Puff Without Removing Your Hands From Your Toasty Warm Blanket" sometime. I recommend it, even if our disapproving friend Emily does not.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

a day without a gay is like a cookie without baking soda

I’m at home today because it’s A Day Without A Gay. Not that my workplace is remotely anti-gay (it’s the kind of organization where the boss sends a “Happy Indigenous People’s Day” email every Columbus Day), but I guess the point is to prove how valuable queers are to the economy. We’re not buying anything, and we’re not, in my case, doing any literary outreach. Take that!

So, like the militant dyke that I am, I’m at home baking cookies.

I’m using Jamie’s recipe for ginger cookies, except, as with all my cooking adventures, there have been some substitutions.

I went to Trader Joe’s last night for the ingredients, but they didn’t have molasses, and I refused to swing by Fresh and Easy today to get some because I’m not going to Contribute To The Economy (with the possible exception of one little latte if I decide to write later today). Also because I’m lazy.

I soon discovered that I didn’t have baking soda either. There must be some kind of Murphy’s Law that says you will inevitably re-buy certain baking ingredients every year until you have 16 open boxes of powdered sugar, but you will forget the one thing you’re actually out of.

This probably doesn’t happen to people who bake more than once a year, or who, like, look in their cupboards before going shopping, but whatever.

I ended up substituting chocolate syrup for molasses because what isn’t improved by being more chocolaty? And I substituted baking powder for baking soda, even though I can almost hear the voice of Mrs. Wolf, my seventh grade home ec teacher, saying, “BAKING SODA IS NOT THE SAME AS BAKING POWDER.”

But I didn’t pay that much attention in home ec because I was 1) disappointed that I got the cooking semester instead of the sewing semester, 2) suspicious of Mrs. Wolf because she wanted us to put mandarin oranges in salads and bizarrely devoted an entire unit to talking about skin cancer, which didn’t seem to relate to cooking or sewing, and 3) I was holding out for wood shop, where I knew we would get to make one of the plastic key chains I had seen dangling from the JanSport backpacks of so many cool eighth graders.

The cookies just finished baking. They look normal, and the giant globs of dough I ate tasted great, actually, but the verdict is still out. When AK wakes up (she’s asleep because she actually is sick today, although she’ll probably go in for a half day—“Are you trying to tell me you’re really bi?” I asked), I’ll let her have the final say.

Monday, December 08, 2008

ice and figs

I was going to title this post “Supposedly Fun Things I’ll Probably Do Again” after David Foster Wallace’s essay about cruises, but 1) it seemed a little harsh because I probably liked the supposedly fun elements of my weekend more than DFW liked his cruise, and 2) I’ve never read the essay so I would just be a big poseur.

Nevertheless, my ultimately-quite-fun weekend did involve some moments when I thought, “Shouldn’t I be having more fun?” For example:

1. ice skating, or: more proof that i am old

[Setting: Pasadena Ice Skating Center, a cavernous rink hidden behind the Pasadena Civic Center. The walls are covered with dirty white tiles. The floor is covered with bumpy white ice. In between are hundreds of teenagers, plus CHERYL and STEPHANIE.]

CHERYL: It’s like skating on the freeway.


STEPH: Yeah, that’s what happens when the floor gets really worn out. The grooves are so deep that the zamboni doesn’t make a difference.

CHERYL: If you want to skate ahead of me and do, like, some twirls or something, you can.

STEPH: I don’t know how to do much anymore, and besides, it’s way too crowded and people are skating like maniacs. They shouldn’t be snow-plowing, but they are. At the rink I went to when I was a kid, snow-plowing wasn’t allowed.


CHERYL: My right leg hurts.


STEPH: That’s because we’ve been skating in the same direction the whole night. They should switch off.

CHERYL: God, those girls are so obnoxious. They’re going fast and then falling down practically on purpose and taking all their friends with them and then lying on the ice giggling.


STEPH: And that guy in the blue shirt, who works here? He’s skating like a jerk.


CHERYL: Oh my god, you’re right! He just went over to “help” that girl who fell down, but he sprayed a bunch of ice right in her face.


STEPH: This never would have been allowed at my rink.


2. les figues press benefit auction, or: proof that i am young

On Saturday night, AK and I stopped by a benefit auction at Les Figues Press, which is housed in the amazing Victorian house of its co-directors, the kind of house I fantasized about living in as a kid, full of nooks and crannies and curlicues, just like their books.

It was one of the cleverest, most creative events I’ve been to, with auction items like “Personalized Letter to Your Ex” and “Crocheted Hyperbolic Plane.” I have no idea what the latter is, but it sounds like it might save us from global warming, don’t you think?

Les Figues is tight with my alma mater, CalArts, and I was excited to see some of my favorite former professors there. But what I hadn’t taken into account was the fact that, apparently, when confronted by people I knew when I was 23, I turn into my 23-year-old grad-student self: mouthy enough in class, but convinced that I could not possibly be edgy enough to socialize with the brainy lit-crit hipsters around me.

If I made small talk about the very good peanut butter cupcakes, would they silently deconstruct me?

Should I try to deconstruct the cupcakes somehow? (“The frosting tastes more like the idea of peanut butter than like actual peanut butter, but I think that’s a mark in its favor. Ha-ha.”)

So I found myself feeling utterly shy and tongue-tied, which I realize comes across as bitchy on anyone over six. Sorry, CalArtians, for being a bitch.

And one who was still recovering from the flu on some level, so I slinked away early, but not before bidding on (and winning!) a web page designed by writer Allison Carter. Which seems pretty awesome, and, even though it’s cyberspace, fairly straightforward and solid compared to a hyperbolic plane.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

in no particular order

Things that are bumming me out:
1. The stomach flu
2. A Very Special Episode of Home Improvement I saw at the gym in which Jill discovers she has a fibroid tumor and has to get a hysterectomy
3. Death and the OCD brain that makes me think about it when I watch sitcoms sometimes
4. The fact that I’m almost done (maybe) with novel #3 and am not sure what to do with it
5. The same things that are bumming Noel out
6. The economy, even though I don’t own a home or have any real investments
7. Learning on NPR that cows are bred to be dumb when we could have smart cows, because who wouldn’t rather have smart cows (although not so smart they’d turn against us)?

Things that are making me happy:
1. The idea of writing a novel about a traveling circus
2. Strong tea
3. Going to Whole Foods in spite of #6 above because it is so shiny and it makes you feel like you are doing something good for the world just by buying carob-and-chicory coffee substitute
4. The idea of not spending the holidays moving this year
5. Small children and how they are the opposite of #3 above, which is I guess why everyone likes them so much—that, and they are cute
6. January 20, 2009
7. Jenny’s pictures of smiling goats*
8. The fact that I’m ultimately too impatient to be anything but an optimist

*Jenny, I stole one of your goat pictures for this post. Please do not sue me.

Monday, December 01, 2008

small world

One great thing about living in the same 20-mile radius your entire life is that everyone comes to visit you over the holidays. Well, actually they come to visit their families, but you can flatter yourself, and you can usually snag them for a drink or brunch.

Hence it was a weekend of many carbs: not just pumpkin pie and dump cake and chocolate chip cookies (which I ate as if they were pretzels while we watched WALL-E) on Thanksgiving day, but cupcakes and vodka with Jenessa and her cute new-ish boyfriend, tofu scramblings with Meehan, and eggs and home fries with Mike. And I’m surprised that my stomach hurts today?

Another thing I love about this time of year is the movies. After the long dry spell of summer blockbusters, the good movies start rolling in and doing their give-me-an-Oscar dance. Milk was great—inspiring, as predicted, and nicely acted by Sean Penn and Emile Hirsch, if a little traditional for Gus Van Sant. But whatever.

Recently I’ve also dug Slumdog Millionaire, which I would point to as the kind of flawed fare that I love so much more than perfect-but-predictable movies. It’s a sort of One Thousand And One Nights for the new millennium. In this case, it’s a guy named Jamal telling stories to a brutal yet increasingly sympathetic police officer in hopes of saving his life—and the million dollars he’s on his way to winning on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

The stories he tells are of life in slums of Mumbai—life at its dirtiest and cruelest—and although they explain in a literal sense how he came to know the answers to certain game-show questions, what they really explain is how he came to be the man he is today: at once na├»ve and clever, scrappy and hopeful and wary. All good traits to have when venturing into Bollywood, and all layered on the face of actor Dev Patel.

So it’s too bad that his love interest, played by Freida Pinto, is just a gorgeous dolt (the kid version of her character is way more lively) and that the plot gets a little fantastical and convoluted toward the end (although maybe it’s fine that it’s fantastical).

But I was willing to forgive all of this because the movie lives so beautifully in a seething, speeding, exuberant, opportunistic, hip-hopping globalized world. It doesn’t take on globalization in the straight-up Let’s Talk About Globalization way that movies like Traffic do—it just lives it, as when Jamal starts giving slum tours to Americans, and shows that even people who live their entire lives in a very small radius (say, 20 miles?) don’t go untouched.