Sunday, May 30, 2010

exquisite!

Many months later, the exquisite corpse scrapbook I started with my artist friend Sergio is complete. Even after the pages appeared to be full, he kept adding layers: a cityscape in the corner of a partially used page, a collage of coolers and lawn chairs and mysterious holy men. It's everything I love about L.A., art and randomness. Here are a few highlights, as photographed by AK.










(The happy writer. Ignore scrubby Sunday afternoon clothes.)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

further adventures in hypochondria

A short play. The only characters are the voices in Cheryl’s head.

VOICES IN CHERYL’S HEAD: I have a symptom. It must be a disease, most likely one that will cause infertility now and cancer later. Whatever I do, I shouldn’t Google it.

[Googling it] Fuck.

[Later that hour] You know, that symptom was really mild and now it’s gone completely. It might have all been in my head, and I think we both know what goes on in here.

[Googling some more] But wait—-it says here you can have the disease and not have any symptoms. So I’m not off the hook. Fuck. What other symptom-less diseases might I have...? [Googling]

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

why i don't tweet

Every time NPR runs another story about Twitter, AK and I roll our eyes. At best, these stories are about how, say, Iranian students are organizing protests via Twitter. At worst, some old reporter caps his interview with some old rock star by asking, “Do you Tweet?” To which Old Rock Star either says, “Good lord, no” or, with a bit of ironic distance, “Yeah, all the kids are doing it,” and I guess we’re supposed to squeal at the adorable, hilarious mental picture of Old Rock Start pecking away at his 140 characters.

As far as I can tell, Twitter exists for the purpose of 1) marketing, 2) coordinating protests in countries under the thumb of oppressive regimes and 3) making reporters who are over fifty feel like they’re with-it. If you’re not a marketer, protester or reporter, you have no reason to be on Twitter. Even if you do have stuff to market (and, sigh, don’t we all), you’re only going to be hawking your stuff to people who are there to hawk their stuff. It’s like the garage sales my grandmother and great aunt used to have, where they’d set up adjacent tables and trade stuff back and forth.

Although, actually, that would work just fine. That’s grassroots capitalism at work. Twitter is more like if my grandmother and great aunt each shoved a bunch of crap onto the other one’s table and then shoved it back without even looking at it.

So that’s why I don’t Tweet. That and my obsessive nature, which dictates that if I were to Tweet, I’d be sure to let you know about every meal I ate and every thought I had. I mean, look how the blogging thing has turned out: five solid years of highly unnecessary posts. But I was just thinking about how I’ll probably break down and get a smart phone sooner rather than later, so the title of this post should be “why i don’t tweet (for now).”

But my point is the Twitter-obsessed reporters. My point is that THERE’S NOTHING TO SEE HERE, FOLKS. This is also The Onion’s point, thank god.

Monday, May 24, 2010

vodka and other curatives

Some updates:
  • T-Mec is now sans tube-in-face, and we’re all happier for it. My regular vet didn’t even charge me to take it out, even though he wasn’t the one who put it in. I have a long list of kindnesses I need to pay forward.
  • Many of the said kindnesses were committed by AK, including hand holding, grocery shopping, and administration of vodka when I was so crazy with cramps last night that I was just sort of rolling around moaning. Vodka both tastes and functions like medicine.
  • My book club likes poetry. I think that makes them particularly kickass as book clubs go.
  • But because of the aforementioned cramps, I missed some other good poetry: Steven Reigns’ reading of his new book Inheritance. When I get a chance to read it, I’ll let you know all about it, but if you want to beat me to the punch, go here.
  • I suck at bowling, go kart racing and probably all other indoor sports. AK came in third Saturday at Kimberly’s birthday party, and proudly wore her “Winner” medal (which, actually, we all got, given that the track caters to kids and honors participation). “How did I look out there?” she asked after the rematch, which I watched from the sidelines. “Like lightning,” I said. “Greased lightning.” “Shut up,” she said. Appropriately, birthday girl Kim came in first.
  • But I’m pretty good at Scattergories. Which, I know, is kind of nineties, but since I also like swing dancing and wearing many small earrings, I guess the nineties are my era.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

million dollar day

Well, I did end up crying on the drive home from Fresno, this time not because I was seized with the poignancy of life, but because I got a speeding ticket.

I'd just spent a sweaty but lovely 45 minutes in the parking lot of a 76 station interviewing blog friend Peter of Plastic Bubble World about his years as a cruise ship dancer, as this is where my so-called circus novel is heading. I pulled back onto the 99 and talked to my sister for a while--using my hands-free device because that's the kind of safe driver I am.

But shortly after hanging up, I saw red and blue lights in my rear view mirror, and soon I was in another parking lot (Burger King this time) having a much less pleasant conversation.

I wouldn't call the CHP officer baby-faced, but he was someone I could easily picture as a mildly trouble-making middle school student. He told me I was going 82 in a 70 zone. He asked why I was shaking. I said because I'd gotten pulled over (third time ever, first for speeding). I thought he was being nice, but now I think he was just wondering if I was on drugs.

We both realized my license was expired--and thank god I finally got around to renewing it last week and had a temp on hand--and he said, "I asked you if the address on your old license was current and you said it was."

"No you didn't," I said, but then I immediately had visions of him smashing his baton into the headlight of my rental car and ominously drawling, Looks like your light's out. "I guess I misunder--"

"Doesn't matter," he interrupted in a way that implied I was getting hysterical, which may have been a possibility. "I need your current address."

When I gave him my L.A. address, I pictured him thinking, Big city folks think the law doesn't apply to them, do they? I'll show 'em.

He gave me directions back to the freeway (which was visible from the parking lot) and I sat in my car and cried and made a note to myself to call the Bakersfield courthouse if I hadn't received a letter by July 1. BECAUSE I AM A GOOD CITIZEN LIKE THAT. It took maybe ten minutes. He sat in his car on the other side of the parking lot the whole time. When I finally pulled out, he pulled out behind me.

Creepy, right?

I mean, I know speeding is bad. It wasn't his fault I was being a bad driver. But thinking he was a dick about it ("He was kind of a dick," AK assessed later) is my only consolation.

I drove home thinking about how it's good that I got the ticket because I'd been getting too smug about all my good behavior anyway. Then I thought about how the ticket plus traffic school are going to be like $500, and I cried some more. Then I thought about what if I'd been an undocumented immigrant in Arizona; that same scenario would have fucked up my entire life. And I thought about how it's total karma because my dad is amazingly, generously picking up the tab for the majority of our England trip and spoiled brats like me need to pay for something. Then I thought about how I spent two and a half years in therapy to try to stop thinking like that.

I pulled into a Panda Express off the 5 in Valencia and ate two egg rolls and washed the mascara off my face. I'd been starting to look like a truck stop hooker. I felt a little better.

I got home and AK was there to greet me, with the Neil Patrick Harris episode of Glee all cued up. Life was definitely getting better. But when T-Mec finally crawled out from under the bed, I noticed that one side of her face was distinctly larger than the other.

She's at the all-night vet right now, getting her abscess drained. While we were waiting, a couple brought in a stray dog they'd found--a little gray guy with cloudy eyes and no teeth. Very old, said the vet tech who took him away to wait for the humane society.

"Someone's looking for him, I'm sure of it," AK said. "They're like, 'Toothless, where'd you go?'"

"But sometimes things are just very sad," I said. "You can make up a happy ending, but it's probably not true."

T-Mec is a lucky girl, even though she probably won't feel like it with a drain in her face. And I am too, even though I won't feel like it with money draining from my savings account.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

freeway flowerings

The guest speaker at All Saints on Sunday was a man who’d lost both hands and an eye to a letter bomb sent to him when he was protesting apartheid in South Africa many years ago. I had the thought that, wow, it’s bad to send a letter bomb to anyone for any cause, but when your cause is pro-apartheid? Extra bad.

The topic of the sermon was forgiveness.

The speaker said that, if he met his bomber now, he’s not sure if he would forgive him. Maybe, he said, if he learned that the bomber had spent years working in hospitals. So his point was that forgiveness is complicated, and should come with strings attached.

But what I took away from the sermon was the importance of being big and brave in the world. Lately I’ve been feeling like life is good, but because I’m a guilty, superstitious person, this goodness has made me small and afraid. The more I have to lose, the more likely fate is to swoop down and take it all away, right?

So church made me want to be big and brave, and I left with an openness in my chest that I hadn’t felt in a while.

By Monday I was back to stressing out because I wasn’t sure I could get my family to agree on hotel accommodations in London this summer. Yeah, it was embarrassing just typing that. The man who lost his hands to apartheid should not have to share blog space with my vacation stress.

Today I drove to Fresno for work, listening to Chris Pureka and Cat Power and Wicked, and I swear every other song made me cry a little. In a good way. The pink flowers on the freeway median always remind me of family vacations. The highways seemed so endless then. London will probably be wonderful, if the opposite of endless.

I remembered that sometimes I like driving. I had dinner with my colleague-turned-friend Devoya and remembered that I always like her so much. I think we are both –NFJ’s, although she is definitely an E to my I. Every time we have Thai food together in Fresno, she sees at least two people she knows, and tonight was no different. She told me about a play she’d written and a gospel brunch she was planning, and I felt, if not brave, at least big and open.

Monday, May 17, 2010

whodunit? idunit

“I’ve decided that I’m dressed like this because I filmed my last movie in Mexico and got really inspired,” I said to AK. I was wearing an embroidered Mexican dress belted to look like a mini skirt, lots of folk-art jewelry and big white sunglasses. “I now donate one percent of the proceeds from my perfume sales, after costs of course, to children’s charities in Mexico.”

Next to me in the car, AK was dressed in jeans, blazer and baseball cap. She was director Peggy Marshall and I was actress Raquel Tilson, and somehow we’d agreed to do this for Julie and Andrew’s murder mystery party, which had a Hollywood-party-in-Mexico theme.

“The invitation said you’re not allowed to make up clues,” AK said.

“That’s impossible,” I said. “That would be so boring. Come on, what’s Peggy like?”

“She’s obviously gay.”

“Maybe Raquel is trying to sleep with her to get cast in her new movie, Gingey,” I suggested.

“Look, if you want to do some role playing later, just say so.”

In college, Stephanie’s friends were always LARPing, which for the non-geeks among you, refers to Live Action Role Playing. They were loud, irreverent theater kids, so their LARPS tended to feature crazy themes (Roller Disco, and in a moment of distinctly poor taste, Plantation), lots of sexual innuendo and lots of staged violence. There were no preset outcomes, and any character could kill any other character by smashing him over the head with any blunt object, yelling out, “Blunt object!” as he did so.

Most of the guests Saturday night were people from Julie and Andrew’s church. I don’t think anyone even swore in character, let alone stage-raped anyone.

This was something of a relief, since playing with Steph’s friends—the one time I did so—was a little like trying to play dodge ball and write a novel at the same time. AK was right: We couldn’t make up clues. All I had to work with was that Raquel was a klepto who had stolen murder victim-to-be Bari Drewmore’s diamond necklace.

When I got tired of talking to suspects, I just roamed the room and put people’s stuff in my bag, including Zangelina’s two children (a stuffed bunny and bear). At one point she got in my face and screamed at me, and when it came time to write down our accusations, I wrote, “Suspect: Zaneglina. Motive: She’s a bitch.” I also got accused of stealing some guy’s envelope o’ clues and even though, hello, of course I know that’s out of bounds, I did think for a minute, Wait, did I?

So yes, I now know what actors are talking about when they describe how some really dark character took them to bad places.

Murder mystery dinner theater is just like that.

In the end, I turned out to be the killer. Who knew? I didn’t want Bari (interestingly, the name of my ex...) to call the cops on me, so I attacked her with poisonous spiders. I gave the best reading I could of my confession speech, but no one laughed. Like any actress worth her over-sized shades, I blamed the script.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

universal coverage

A few years ago I got into the habit of buying bras around the time of the L.A. Times Festival of Books. I think maybe Robinsons May had a sale then. There I’d be with a lot of older Persian ladies in the bowels of Westside Pavilion, sifting through racks of large beige bras.

Despite what our culture would have you believe about breast size, being a bigger girl is depressing business. And I am sure the Persian ladies would agree.

Robinsons May has long since gotten gobbled up by Macy’s, and when I went there today, I couldn’t even find the lingerie section, although Jamie later assured me there was one. So I went to Nordstrom at the other end of the mall, where you can buy all the same stuff but for more money. And so I did.

Victoria’s Secret had already disappointed me with its flimsy straps and not-small prices, and my lunch hour was rapidly turning into a lunch hour-and-a-half. Panic got the best of me: I walked out of Nordstrom with four bras. The straps weren’t flimsy and they weren’t all matronly beige (why do bra manufacturers assume that tit size is inversely proportional to a love of color?!), but ay, the cost. I could have flown to Tucson. I could have bought a decent piece of Ikea furniture. I could have paid for one fifth of my first car.

I’m going to return one of them tomorrow, because I don’t really need four bras. My problem is that I stock up because I hate bra shopping so much. It’s as if I think a tornado is going to come and whisk away all my bras. Or something.

I think bras should be like health insurance should be (but also isn’t): If something sucks, your endurance should be the only price you pay. You’re sick! Haven’t you suffered enough? You inherited the boobs, you suspect, of Eastern Europe. Isn’t that enough?

quality ladies

AK and I spent 24 hours of our weekend in Palm Springs celebrating Christine’s bachelorette party. We partied the way I suppose bachelorettes in their thirties do: We had lunch at the Parker (a Jonathan Adler spectacle of swank with mirrored shag and $15 oatmeal), Christine worked by the pool at 7 a.m. and Michelle ducked out periodically to spend some quality time with her breast pump.

Plus AK was getting over a bad cold, so we found ourselves cozied up in bed at the Quality Inn* watching Saturday Night Live by midnight. But what a night for SNL! It was the long-awaited Betty White episode, which I think may go down in history as a TV tipping point: The moment when the power of the “I bet I can find one million people who want Betty White to host SNL” internet trumped the power of publicists and the rest of the TV machine.

And more importantly, the moment when a bunch of ladies—many of them over forty and one of them way over forty—took over a male medium and made it twice as funny as usual.

You go, Bllaarfengaar Bllaarfengaar.

*Christine and crew stayed down the street at the Colony Palms, an inn with actual quality. But my lady and I, proud cheapsters that we are, had fun exclaiming over our Quality Soap, Quality Bed and Quality Coupon For Carrows Across The Parking Lot.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

owning it, ending it

God, my last post was so unbelievably long—like a serial novel but not in serial. And not really a novel, actually. Okay, never mind.

But I’ll keep this one short: just a quick reiteration of how much I love college students. Terry and I visited Antioch last night on the last (for now) stop on our unofficial two feminists/two generations tour. It was a little different from the usual read-and-sign gig, and that much more fun for it. We were guests in the psychology department’s LGBT concentration’s lecture series (got all that?). Meaning we were there to talk about feminism, activism and social movements more than our literary inspirations.

I was into that because big social ideas are what inspires me to write, and I’d almost always rather talk about ideas than about the writing of ideas. At the same time, I hardly felt qualified to speak as a representative of the younger generation of activists, seeing as how I’m neither young nor an activist, unless you count that form letter about Arizona I signed at church on Sunday. But I did write a book that had a bunch of stuff about feminism (and used clothing and ghosts) in it, so maybe I should follow feminism’s own lessons and just own it. Yeah, I’m an activist! Ask me anything!

The students asked great questions and I felt like I’d be happy to have any one of them as a therapist. A really sweet trans guy in a shark T-shirt showed us his labrys tattoo (it matches Terry’s book cover) and invited us to take a survey about lesbian health for his thesis. A nice way to end (for now) a book tour.

Monday, May 03, 2010

oldies, goodies and what i read in april

This afternoon I put our ancient office computer out to pasture, which involved wheeling it on a luggage cart through the hallway of our building so I could take it to the dusty gadget-and-repair shop down the street for recycling. Inevitably, this garnered some oohs and ahhs from our building-mates.

As in, “Ooh, that sure is an old computer,” followed by an implied, “Ahh, how hilarious that you actually used it for seven years!”

The supposed hilarity of old electronics is a pet peeve of mine. My philosophy, which I know makes me sound 85, is if it ain’t broke, don’t upgrade just because the new one is shinier. I also tend to anthropomorphize inanimate objects, so making fun of our slow but sturdy computer also just seems mean. (This runs in my family: My sister just bought an iPod Touch and gave me her first-generation iPod on the condition that I not change its name, which is Nigel.)

Saturday night AK and I saw Please Give, a wonderful and thoughtful movie about the pros and cons of being nice. Catherine Keener plays Kate, a New Yorker who owns an upscale vintage furniture shop, acquiring its contents from the children of the recently deceased. She feels terrible about her vulture-ish job, so she volunteers and gives money to homeless people and hosts a birthday party for her elderly neighbor (whose apartment she’s already purchased)—as if these acts are sort of carbon offsets.

Guilt junkie that I am, I thought I would hate her and relate to her. But the movie is kind to even its least kind and most deluded characters, and Kate doesn’t come across as an idiot, just someone who feels things deeply in spite of herself. Moreover, I didn’t think she was running such an evil business: If people really want to get market value for their loved ones’ stuff, that’s what the internet was invented for. Otherwise, Kate will save them the trouble and get something for hers. Sure she’s a vulture, but vultures have an important role in the food chain.

If only someone would pay me a pittance for my old electronics.

Here are some April book reviews, because of course I do believe in buying shiny new books.

The Artist’s Daughter by Kimiko Hahn: This book is a cabinet of curiosities and tragedies: mutant bodies, murders, giant insects, cannibalism, people buried alive. It's not sensationalistic--or rather, it evokes plenty of sensation, but never cheaply. Hahn always takes ideas and associations one notch deeper than you expect.

In "Consumed," she recounts stories of eaters of human flesh lifted from an 1896 book by some guys named Pyle and Gould. After pondering cannibalism, she (in an act of poetic cannibalism?) wonders, "Who was Pyle or Gould?/ Did he spend his days sweating/ in the unheated clipping morgue of the Medical Library?" I can imagine Hahn doing the same: The lover of strange things is inherently strange herself. And as a lover of strange things, I'm glad Hahn is a kindred and fearless spirit.

How to Escape From a Leper Colony by Tiphanie Yanique: You know how everyone always says that small presses are publishing the most innovative and interesting work? (Well, if you hang out with the book nerds I hang out with, you do.) On bad days there's a small skeptical voice inside me that says, "Yeah? Are you sure they don't just get sloppy seconds?" Then I read a book like How to Escape from a Leper Colony and I'm like, "Hell yeah, small presses are where it's at."

The book is billed as "a novella and stories," but actually several of the stories read like novellas, with multiple POVs and sweeping arcs of time. Yet the narration is sharp enough that it would work for flash fiction too. Yanique's characters are a diverse collage of Caribbean island dwellers, from lovelorn prisoners to coffin makers to Carnival dancers. They are black, white, Creole and Indian; Christian, Hindu and Muslim. They aren't prone to happy endings, but they seem to live in a world in which love is plentiful.

My favorite quote from the title story: "Christians love leprosy.... Jesus cured lepers. Leprosy gives the pious a chance to be Christ-like. Only lepers hate leprosy. Who wants to be the one in the Bible always getting cured? We want to be the heroes, too."

Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler: Like a lot of Anne Tyler books, you could dismiss this as light hen lit if you weren't paying attention. The protagonist is a middle-aged, middle-class woman sort of bumping around pondering her life in a good-natured manner. But it's ultimately a philosophical and lovely book that examines aspects of life I haven't seen other writers take on: Rebecca Davitch tries to figure out whether her status as social butterfly and professional party-thrower is a betrayal of her bookworm roots, and I concluded that Anne Tyler is much smarter than all those earnest writers who still believe in the "true self" (whether they'd admit to it or not). Tyler also understands that a party is a character in itself, worthy of careful and spirited examination.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott: I read this on the heels of Bird by Bird, and found the two books very similar, just with different writing-to-baby ratios. Lamott's style can be schticky at times (she's fond of certain analogies), but I feel endlessly forgiving in the wake of her honesty--I relate so deeply to her battle against envy and insecurity, her desire for meaning, her occasional willingness to settle for drama instead. This memoir of single motherhood and a family made of friendships is a true journal, unfolding in snippets, ending without a real ending--but since so much of watching a child grow (or a friend die) is about the appreciating the momentary and the accepting the unknown, this seems perfectly appropriate.

Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart by Alice Walker: As I read this book, I kept thinking, "Wait, Alice Walker is one of our great American writers, right? What am I missing?" To the extent that there's a plot, it's about a couple who take separate vacations: she to an Amazonian meditation retreat where everyone takes some kind of hallucinogen they call "Grandmother"; he to Hawaii, where he lands in a consciousness-raising circle that raises his consciousness about everything from processed food to the history of transgender shamans. My tolerance for New Age anything is fairly low, and for all the factoids about oppressed peoples that Walker tosses in, her main characters are well-adjusted Americans who live off their art, can afford fancy retreats and don't have any problems that aren't solved immediately.

The latter was my real issue with this novel: Every character has an epiphany on pretty much every page. The protagonist learns in a dream that she's afraid of growing old, and that she shouldn't be. Except she'd been prancing around loving her gray hair up until that point, so it was hardly rewarding to see a resolution to a problem I didn't know existed. I'm sure it's really eye-opening and life-changing to go on a rain forest retreat. Not so much to read about one.