Monday, September 27, 2010

waste of a good woman, use of a unicorn

After Trixie the rainbow pony (or hornless unicorn, as some of us decided she was) took a thrashing during last weekend’s festivities, I sent the head home with Alanna who said, “My creative life is taking a turn for the hilarious.”


Now Trixie lives on as the co-star of the video for Fascinoma’s song “Waste of a Perfectly Good Woman.” This makes me feel much better about basically beating a giant version of my favorite childhood companion to a papery pulp.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

airborne in the open air

The other day at lunch I was reading this interview with JD Samson, formerly of Le Tigre, currently of Men. I haven’t heard any of the music of the latter and I’m only a medium passionate Le Tigre fan, but I found the interview thoroughly refreshing. Her comments reminded me that sometimes people go the indie/grassroots/DIY route for very good philosophical reasons: because you can retain creative control, reach out-of-the-way audiences and have a ton of fun. Because of the glaring lack of opportunities to sell out in my life, sometimes I forget that I don’t actually want to. I mean, I don’t have anything against mainstream success and I don’t think JD Samson does either. But it’s nice to remember that there are reasons you might not have it that have nothing to do with being a loser or a victim.

I’m pretty sure The Airborne Toxic Event has plenty of mainstream success by now. Just because their lyrics scream MFA writing program doesn’t mean they don’t have a boatload of fans and a fat record deal. But whatever, I needed a transition.

Anyway, AK, Pedro, Calvin and I caught their show with the Calder Quartet last night at the Ford. The Ford is so lovely: It opens to the sky and backs up to chaparral and palm trees. Lead singer Mikel Jollett kept joking about coyotes moseying onto the stage, and it almost seemed like it could happen. The stage was lit up like my mental image of Gatsby’s parties, and every time a song started, it was softly thrilling to watch six bows (the quartet plus two in the band) leap into action.

Mikel Jollett apparently isn’t one of those singers who thinks it’s cool to play song after song without ever directly addressing the audience. His banter was maybe second only to Harry Connick Jr.’s. He talked a lot about his grandma. He was funny, but also sincere and kind of intense for a guy that good-looking. (Also, the opposite of White Noise, their namesake novel which bugged the hell out of me.) I’m sure he’s very busy, but he would make an excellent Roger in Rent. His angst would be more believable than Joey Fatone’s.

Theatricality is what I love about The Airborne Toxic Event. I can’t remember which song starts out sounding like the funeral march in Evita, but I eat that drama up. I love it more, probably, than I could ever love one of Men’s dance-punk numbers. They played some new songs and some old ones and some Johnny Cash and some Springsteen, and I bounced and swam inside the lyrics and the strings.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

saturday in the park with the klein-ybarras

This might turn into the most boring post ever, because I’m just going to use the words “great” and “amazing” over and over again. As in, our families and friends are great, the food was amazing. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take in describing the not-a-wedding party-in-the-park AK and I finally had in order to ensure that what happened in Canada did not stay in Canada.

When it comes to weddings and gay weddings in particular, AK and I are much like Ariel Levy. But much poorer. So we wanted to celebrate with our favorite people but we didn’t want to:

  • have a wannabe straight wedding
  • have a cheap-ass wedding
  • have a wedding at all
  • spend as much on the whole day as Ariel Levy spent on her dress alone.

Conveniently, Timothy and Heather all but fell from the sky and offered to cater. I mean, they didn’t fall from the sky. I got to know Heather in seventh grade woodshop, and I was so happy when she married Timothy, not because he’s a professional chef (although that didn’t hurt) but because he’s good-hearted and funny and adores her. But he’s also crazy enough to stay up till 3 a.m. making raisin-and-celery chutney for a deconstructed version of the picnic classic ants-on-a-log and that particular brand of wonderfulness seemed to fall from the sky.

There were ants on logs. There were potatoes with almonds and blue cheese. There were tasty, mysterious spreads on grilled bread. There was sangria on the down-low per park regulations. There was meat that smelled heavenly, even though I didn’t eat it (but man, the Ybarras did. I have never seen a line form faster).

Cathy transformed Picnic Area #1 at Debs Park into a crafty masterpiece of olive green, light aqua and red-and-white gingham, her own version version of a deconstructed picnic classic. Left to my own devices, I would have thrown a couple of streamers over the wooden pergola, but Cathy can geek out like only a Klein can, and so, for a solid month, whenever I’d call she’d say something like, “Oh hi, I’m just making this paper sculpture I saw on Martha Stewart. How are you?”

AK’s sister Lori combed thrift stores for cute white ceramic things that would hold funky succulents. “People would watch me filling up my cart with, like, six white gravy boats, and they’d get these looks on their faces like, What does she know that we don’t? Should we be buying up gravy boats?

Pedro and Stephen provided a rainbow pony piƱata named Trixie, whom it felt downright evil to hit, and so I barely did, though I freely partook of Jolly Ranchers from her cadaver. Our families schlepped patio furniture and coolers and croquet sets, brought ice cream and pie and apple cake. Jody snapped photos faster than a paparazzo and Christine kept our barely-a-schedule-of-events on schedule. Alberto got to the park at 8 a.m. to fend off some kids who wanted to have a birthday party for their ten-year-old niece. Take that, niece! (Actually, it was fine. They took three tables next to ours.)

This is turning into an Oscar speech in which I thank many people and inevitably forget someone, but my point is that all these awesome amateur event planners paved the way for me to do the hardest thing ever, which is to relax and have a great time.

Reader, I had a great time.

I could not have been happier not to throw a bouquet or attempt to do Dancing With the Stars-style steps in front of people or make my dad dance. Instead I got to enjoy some of the most beautiful pink-gold light Northeast L.A. has ever conjured up and have conversations about art residencies and weird apartment buildings and bike tours and charter schools and air mattresses. Basically, the kinds of everyday conversations I always have with my friends. AK and I agreed on the day we got married that our life—not a ceremony—is our marriage, so it was nice to have an event that felt like our life.

Lori made a short, very sweet toast, and afterward AK’s mom told me she got choked up hearing it. If there’s anything that feels different after Saturday, it’s that I do feel like a little bit more of an Ybarra. People kept telling me how funny they thought my grandma and uncle were, and I did a bit of a double-take: Oh, right! You haven’t heard their schtick [loveable, but undeniably schticky schtick] at every holiday gathering since you were born. It’s exciting to think that soon enough, I will be able to joke with AK about Ybarra schtick. They seem incredibly kickback and normal to me, but I hope it’s only a matter of time until I find them as weird as my own family.

To those of you who helped us celebrate and reminded us how important it is to celebrate stuff like this, thank you. And to those who celebrated in spirit, thank you too, and I’m sorry you missed out on some really great, amazing food. (And AK, you are the great and amazing person at the root of all this. Thanks for being a good sport when I sent the leftover meat home with our parents.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

where else can you have an in-depth discussion about gender identity and buy a churro?

Scene: a windowless room at West Hollywood City Hall. A map of West Hollywood—-which, interestingly, is shaped like a gun, hence the city’s cop cars sport big rainbow gun logos—-hangs on the wall. Bookish types are gathered around a conference table.

City of West Hollywood Employee Lady:
Our transgender advisory committee wants to sponsor a panel at this year’s book fair, but we’re not really sure where to start.


Me: I could suggest some writers.


Flash forward six months. Guess who’s moderating a panel titled “The Many Genres of Gender” at the 9th Annual West Hollywood Book Fair? Although I’m always a little amused by how volunteering to help automatically turns into volunteering to help a lot, I don’t mean to imply that I’m in any way reluctant to moderate. I think this will be a totally interesting panel with some stellar writers: Ryka Aoki de la Cruz, Morty Diamond, Max Wolf Valerio. But I do feel the need to explain why I’m moderating a panel that centers around an identity I don’t have.

When I learned that men are 26 times more likely to have the type of hernia I had, I did secretly wonder for a minute if I were intersex, but mostly my girl-ness has been one of the few things about myself I haven’t questioned. So I don’t want to be a big nosy poseur. It would be kind of weird if a white person moderated a panel about Asian American writing, right? I feel reasonably well-versed in the trans literary canon, but maybe that’s like saying, “Well, I read a lot of manga.”

But enough with the PC second-guessing. To moderate, all you have to do is ask questions, which is the best way to learn about any experience that’s foreign to you. Also, in certain photos, I feel like my neck and jaw line could totally pass for MTF.

Come join the fun on September 26!
What: “The Many Genres of Gender” panel at the West Hollywood Book Fair
When: Sunday, Sept. 26 at noon
Where: Good Reads Pavilion, West Hollywood Park, 647 N San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood, CA
What else: Oh, so much else! Noel Alumit, Michael Jaime Becerra, Aimee Bender, Marilyn Chin, Mark Doty, Tim Z. Hernandez, Steven Reigns, Pam Ward, the Butchlalis…I could go on.

Friday, September 10, 2010

nobody knows the troubles i've seen...except regular readers of bread and bread, who've heard this all before

Sometimes when I hear other writers bemoan rejections, I think, Well, at least you’re submitting stuff. It’s a numbers game and you’re one step closer to winning than I am, sitting here reading Go Fug Yourself or whatever it is I do when I’m not submitting.

When I am submitting and I hear writers struggle with particular criticisms (“He wants me to write more like Sloane Crosley, but I don’t even think Sloane Crosley’s that funny”), I think, I would kill for anything besides a form letter. At least they think you’re worth CRAFTING A SINGLE SENTENCE FOR.

Yesterday, when I got the most thoughtful, constructive rejection ever from an agent, I thought, If the nicest agent in the world won’t represent me, who will?

So basically, I’m never satisfied. This would strike me as very American and worth meditating about if it weren’t still rejection. Only in the literary world do people try to conjure gratitude for rejection. We’re so bombarded with (true) information about how the supply vastly outweighs demand that we leave How To Get Published panels feeling like writing a story is the most selfish, audacious thing we could possibly do. And it is, in a way. But, I mean, it’s not like kicking a puppy.

Recently I had a conversation with someone (AK? Nicole?) about how poets and fiction writers are too willing to give it away for free, but the only thing that would change that would be some kind of union, which would never happen. It would be like a union of people who will paint your house neon green—there’s no bargaining power in services no one wants. So we’re a community of sad little scabs.

I was feeling kind of down, and I still sort of am because I’m not sure where to go next with the Malaysia-and-cats novel. Revise? Keep sending to agents? Start to think about small presses? Eat a large helping of tapioca pudding and call my sister? (I think I have my answer.) But I did get a pick-me-up this morning when I got my first feedback ever on the so-called circus novel. Kathy read it, liked it, didn’t think the mermaid parts were too Lisa Frank. She had some good suggestions for improvement too, and instead of feeling overwhelmed, I got excited about getting back into the project.

When you’ve worked on something over a year and haven’t shown it to anyone, it’s exciting (and potentially terrifying but mostly exciting) just to hear someone else say your characters’ names out loud. Ninety-two percent of why I write is for the thrill of hearing people discuss my characters as if they’re real people. Usually that’s in a writing group. If I’m lucky, it’s in a college classroom. Someday, maybe it will be on Oprah. But really, I’d settle for, like, six college classrooms.

Monday, September 06, 2010

in n out of africa

1. if tim robbins can’t fix it, no one can

Alberto, Emily, AK and I were all set to see Break the Whip at the Actors Gang Saturday night. AK and I had tried to see it during its first run but sold our tickets when our movie club decided to meet that night (that’s how much we love you, movie club). Apparently, though, it’s just not in the cards for us to see that play.

The freeways were clear and the parking structure was cheap and easy, which in L.A. means the night is off to an amazing start. We got to the theater early, and because we’d signed up for the reserve section, which was miraculously the same price ($8! Half the price of Dodger Stadium parking!) as general admission, we lingered outside the Ivy Substation and enjoyed the cool summer night.

But as soon as we were done basking in revitalized Culver City goodness, we discovered that, oops, they’d oversold all those reserve rows.

Suddenly we and a handful of other theatergoers were at the center of a storm of stressed out staff members scrambling to turn a 99-ish-seat theater into a 115-seater. Alberto is a smooth talker and Emily is a middle school teacher, and they’d both just spent eight months injecting infrastructure into a school in Tanzania, so this seemed like no problem for them.

“I had like three phone conversations with someone named Sienna,” Alberto explained. At one point Tim Robbins himself tried to help out. (I totally didn’t recognize him, but Alberto, who did not lose all his L.A. cred in Tanzania, did.) But when the “solution” turned out to be pillows in the aisles, we decided to cut our losses.

The staff was really apologetic and, knowing how hard it can be to get people to frequent indie arts in the first place, we were sympathetic. “You know whose weekend really sucks?” I said. AK and I agreed: “Sienna’s.”

2. if alberto and emily can’t fix it, well, maybe some sort of global thought revolution can

We ended up at the In-N-Out across the street in non-revitalized Culver City. We all got milkshakes and some of us got fries and grilled cheese. We’d seen Emily and Alberto a couple of times since their return, but mostly we’d talked about how they were settling back into L.A. life—they’d rented a house with a pool a few blocks from us, which seemed like an excellent start. Until Saturday night, all they’d really said about the school in Tanzania was, “It was kind of like telling a friend you’d help them move, and when you show up on moving day, you discover that they haven’t even put anything in boxes yet.”

It turned out to be a perfect assessment. As Emily and Alberto told us about demonic possessions among the female students and the local staff’s Crucible-style reaction, the gap between the West’s idea of What Africa Needs and its understanding of what the problems actually are never seemed so clear. I was impressed by how Alberto and Emily had devoted themselves to actually understanding and addressing those problems, and saddened by the enormity of their task. “People need to rethink the aid model,” Emily said, echoing Bronwyn, my other friend who spent a lot of time in Tanzania—who’s now against romantic lend-a-hand trips and pro write-your-congressperson.

“We want to write a book about it,” said Emily, who’s usually as upbeat as you would expect your favorite teacher to be, but now had a sort of sixth-period-on-a-Friday-in-June look on her face. “But first I think maybe I need therapy.”

Sometimes when civilian friends say they want to write a book, I’m kind of like, “Um, okay, I guess you’ll find out whether you like writing or just had something interesting happen to you.” But some things are so interesting they have to get out, and be a counter-voice to the romantic lend-a-hand narratives. And Alberto is a writer already, so they should be up to the task. I know I’m in line to read it.

We went back to Alberto and Emily’s place and flipped through his new collection of DVDs bootlegged by way of China and Dubai. Suddenly the need to rethink the copyright model also became abundantly clear. But that’s another book. AK and I borrowed a copy of Away We Go, whose cover was stamped with Chinese characters and, inexplicably, more pictures of the girl who plays Maya Rudolf’s sister than Maya Rudolf herself, and away we went.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

what i read in august

Today at lunch I meant to read some more of The Thin Man, which I’m finding funnier and less sexist than Raymond Chandler, but still strangely hard to get through. So more about that next month, when I actually finish it. What I read instead was an L.A. Weekly story about women who are supporting their families by becoming prostitutes. It was basically the journalistic version of the Jennifer Love Hewitt Lifetime Original Movie The Client List, which, yes, I saw. Prurient is my middle name. Not as catchy as Love, so if I ever decide to whore myself, I’ll need to come up with something new.

Anyway, here’s what I read in August.

Truth and Consequences by Alison Lurie: The two couples at the center of this book can be divided along various lines: sick vs. healthy, caretaker vs. caregetter, artist vs. administrator. Lurie takes a long hard look at all these roles and, with expert character-crafting ability, shows how someone like superstar writer Delia Delaney can be rightly seen as an egotistical manipulative bitch or as a chronically ill genius who's survived by making the world work for her. So many books about artists and academics strike me as unimaginative authorial navel-gazing, but Lurie pulls no punches and delivers beautiful (if maybe a little obvious) extended metaphors about ruins and reconstruction. Who knew that a book about middle-aged married people could be such a page-turner?

Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen by Marilyn Chin: Moonie and Mei Ling Wong are the modern day heroines of Chin's riffs on ancient Chinese folklore and (to a subtler extent) immigrant coming-of-age novels. They're overachievers who chafe under their cleaver-wielding grandmother's rule, but Moonie has a few cleaver-esque revenge fantasies of her own, and Mei Ling never met a boy she didn't want to sleep with, even as she teaches post-colonial feminist lit by day. They're both tricksters and tricked; their personalities and timelines morph to fit Chin's wide range of irreverent, sometimes violent, sometimes simultaneously hilarious tales. As a novel-lover, I often craved more narrative and had a hard time finishing the book, but I loved the language (as sharp and clever and weird as Chin's poetry) at every step of the way.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon: I had a mild beef with Michael Chabon based on a glib GQ article I vaguely remembered him writing, or maybe it was the fact that he's part of a cabal of hip white male writers influenced by comic books. But I'm glad I set the hype and my reaction to it aside. This book is great--full of charm and mystery and genuine adventure. The comic book-writing cousins of the title live out the stories they create in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. The book opens with Joe Kavalier trying to rescue the Golem of Prague (a clay being brought to life when the word "truth" is inscribed on its forehead) and ends with its two protagonists--deadened by the war, antisemitism and homophobia that mark their era--rescuing themselves with the truth.

The Testosterone Files by Max Wolf Valerio: Valerio writes about testosterone with the fervor of a new convert (which he is, documenting his transition from biologically female to male)--although, interestingly, he also reminded me of a pregnant woman in that he's an adult whose life is turned happily upside down by hormones and he gets a little obsessed. At times he seems quick to chalk everything up to testosterone: energy, clarity, aggression! But his honesty as a witness to both sides of the gender divide is undeniable, and as such this book is a huge page-turner.

Secondarily, it's also a reckoning with lesbian feminism, the movement that arguably paved the way for the trans movement, but which also scarred him with its rigidity and anti-maleness. This may be because, as he suggests, he was really a man, but I suspect that many women, including many lesbians, also eventually felt constrained. That's kind of the nature of radical movements. As an armchair ethnography, this book aroused some skepticism in me, but as a memoir, I found it fun, tender and bold.