Tuesday, December 27, 2011

top 11 of 2011

The more parents of young children I know, the more I hear some version of the following sentiment: Oh, I used to try to keep up with what was cool, but now I spend my days listening to [annoying kids’ album of the moment] and wiping up puke.

AK and I have all but pinky sworn that we won’t do this. It’s not that we don’t expect—even hope—that the puke-to-museum-going ratio in our lives will change once we convince someone to give us a kid. But for us, the arts aren’t about having something cool to talk about at parties. (Lately I would feel a thousand times cooler if I could talk about wiping up puke.) Books and movies aren’t some kind of shorthand for how edgy we are or aren’t. They’re as life-sustaining as friendship and work.

Coolness is about what’s new, something I gave up on long ago, as evidenced by my list of favorite books this year, one of which was published in 1905. But culture is forever.

So with that overly sincere intro, I present my annual, completely-irrelevant-to-anyone-but-me list of the best stuff I read and saw. The common theme seems to be trauma and its aftermath, or Shit Happens And We All Muddle Through And Sometimes Laugh Or Make Art.

Books

1. Room by Emma Donoghue

2. The False Friend by Myla Goldberg

3. More Than it Hurts You by Darin Strauss

4. By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham

5. Bossypants by Tina Fey

6. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Honorable mention: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow, Pinko by Jen Benka, Stealing Angel by Terry Wolverton

Movies

1. Take Shelter

2. Young Adult

3. The Future

4. The Poetry of Resilience

5. Martha Marcy May Marlene

Honorable mention: Hanna, Bridesmaids, Melancholia, Urbanized, Beginners, Unstoppable, The King’s Speech (occupying the regular spot of Movie From Last Year That I Didn’t See Until Late January But Really Loved And Now I’m Not Sure Where To Put It)

the devastating effects of happiness narratives, or: this movie knows me

Movies about misunderstood artist-types finally breaking away from small-town hell and following their dreams are outnumbered only by movies about career-obsessed shrews who rediscover the simple charms of their hometowns.

Together, the genres seem to encourage the following narrative: In order to live a perfect life, you should grow up in a small town, hate it, escape, build your fortune in the big city (where you are most likely an editor for a glossy magazine), feel something is missing, return to your hometown for reasons beyond your control (funeral, etc.) and run into your old boyfriend. From there, the options are 1) settle down with him and make babies like a good girl (but one who already has an amazing résumé under her belt), or 2) see how good he is with his surprisingly cool new girlfriend, leave him to his new life and settle down with the hot, quirky, intellectual funeral director you just happen to have been flirting with throughout, and make babies like a good girl.

The Surprisingly Cool New Girlfriend is a new-ish type in movieland, different from the Manic Pixie Dream Girl but not unrelated to her. She’s been invented to help us understand that women should not have adversarial relationships—just one of many things women should not do if they want to live the aforementioned perfect life.

Leave it to Diablo Cody to subvert a genre that was only just solidifying. In Young Adult, Charlize Theron follows the above narrative up to the last fork in the road, at which point she comes to understand the stupidity of the various narratives we cling to. (This is subtly underscored by the clips of Keeping Up with the Kardashians and other reality shows she watches throughout—TV shows in which messy real lives are edited to make neat stories.)

But let me be clear: The way Theron’s YA-writer character, Mavis, becomes enlightened to the pitfalls of narrative are anything but redemptive. She’s a little too obsessed with high school and her ex, but when she moves on, it’s not for something better. It’s not really even moving on. It involves a humiliating scene a la Bridesmaids that explains part of her obsession, which I won’t give away here. Suffice it to say that when we left the theater, I told AK, “This movie knows me.” She said, “I think it knows all of us.”

The movie is a lovely, holiday-time Fuck You to the Surprisingly Cool New Girlfriend, our own bitch selves whose big-city glamour jobs actually sort of suck, and the notion that anyone’s life doesn’t.

There are lots of great little moments that made me laugh, like when Mavis is lying on the bed and her Pekinese runs across her chest, making her utter a helpless oof. Also great: Patton Oswalt subverting the Cheerful Gay Best Friend role as a classmate who was permanently disabled after being beaten by a bunch of hater jocks. He is not cheerful, and, in fact, he isn’t even gay, making him not a noble hate-crime victim but, he says, “just a fat nerd who got his ass kicked.” His rival is Mavis’ cousin, whom he calls the World’s Happiest Cripple—a super-fit guy in a wheelchair who plays a mean game of pool and is celebrating his sixth anniversary with a presumably amazing girl. Yeah, fuck that guy too.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

inspiration, issues

Some things that are inspiring me today:

My friend Devoya, who just opened what might be the most affordably priced Etsy shop ever, at least in the non-Regretsy genre. If you like small, cute-but-not-precious things—like little boxes with hidden treasures inside—and have a passion for the likes of Marvin Gaye and Erykah Badu, this is the shop for you. I have to admit that I need to do some Googling before I can appreciate all the references in her collages, but the best kind of art is the kind that makes you learn.

My student, Chopper, who is a candidate for The Most Interesting Man in the World (other possibilities: Sara, Jamie’s dad, AK’s friend Adrienne [I realize a couple of them aren’t men]). I met him in person for the first time last night because he was in town for the holidays, and I got to hear his amazingly unbraggy stories about building a house with his bare hands on 35 acres of land in rural Virginia, following the Grateful Dead for years, touring with his own band and developing his own karate technique. Writing a novel is just the latest chapter in his life. In a world (well, a very small but vocal world) of 25-year-old MFA prodigies, it’s nice to meet someone who has shit to write about; someone who knows that we live a bunch of lives in our lifetimes.

The Inspiration Issue of P&W. Okay, I haven’t actually cracked it yet. Even though (or maybe because) I work for the organization, I sometimes feel strangely intimidated by the magazine, like it’s full of 25-year-old MFA prodigies reminding me of all that I’m not. Inevitably, I put off reading it, and then I read it, and the prodigies mostly remind me of what I could be, and I get envious in the best way. I’ve been fluey and unproductive this week, so it might be the exact kick in the pants I need to do something other than watch TV via Hulu (see below).

Project Accessory, which is Project Runway with handbags and earrings. One of the challenges was to make accessories out of shit from Coney Island. Another was to incorporate a dead insect into a red carpet ensemble. You can try telling me it’s a trashy reality show, but there is something truly transcendent about watching a guy pour resin over a beetle and make up a story about extinction.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

cookie bars and other holiday magic

I’m pretty sure our living room is the same size as the closet Mariah Carey has just for her shoes, so we have to have friends over in shifts. Yesterday we had eight people over (well, more like seven and a half, since Kohana is small and only ate Cheerios and grapes), and it felt like a rager.

Sweet potato pie with premade crust aside, my holiday baking attempts have been notoriously disastrous, so when Sizzle posted her favorite recipes, I asked her for the most foolproof one. Magic Cookie Bars, she assured me, barely even involve stirring. Since I’d already used our only 9” x 13” pan for the lasagna, I lacked the bakeware the cookie bars called for. I was tempted to throw it all in two 8” x 8” pans, but I was like, This is the kind of thinking that results in hard/overly crumbly/strangely onion-flavored cookies.

So I did math!

I fenced off a little piece of one of the 8” x 8” pans with foil so the overall square footage would be the same as a 9” x 13” pan. Mr. Ninnis my tenth grade geometry teacher would be so proud! I owe him a cookie bar (which turned out great, by the way, in really intensely sweet way).

Things got festive. Jennifer reprised the actual Christmas tree skirt that she wore to her office’s Ugly Christmas Sweater party.*

She’s also doing a special project that I can totally see becoming a blog that becomes a book that gets sold at Urban Outfitters: Her mom sent her an amazing green-and-white mongoose-print dress that she supposedly wore when she was a baby, saying that her dream was to see a grandkid in it. Jennifer doesn’t want kids (I know! I can’t tell you how refreshing, as a baby-hungry person who doesn’t have one, I find the company of people who don’t want ‘em, don’t got ‘em). So she’s taking a series of photos of kids she meets in the dress. Luckily Kohana was game.

But maybe that was just because she was drunk.**

Other things that happened: People wore cute clothes.

I wore silver lamé, cuteness being in the eye of the semi-blinded beholder on that one. But I felt festive.

Joel made a volcano cake in the microwave, which is apparently possible (and, for the record, tastes amazing). Joel is a cook after my own heart—he threw in half a banana, an Easter chocolate bar that said “He is risen” on it and two Tootsie rolls just for the hell of it. Here are Joel and Alberto carefully flipping the cake out of its bowl.

People sat around and talked. I always like it when people hang out long enough to get past the middle-class-adult conversational basics of work and travel and house-buying and baby-making and, like, gardening tomatoes. Sometimes it’s hard to know so many overachievers. So when it got late and we found ourselves speculating about how, exactly, one consumes meth, I really started to feel like we’d thrown a good dinner party. Even if we were so nerdy that none of us actually knew and we had to look it up on Wikipedia.


*So, I guess this is a thing now. eBay, my new best frenemy, has a ton of sweaters listed under billings like “FESTIVE FROCK FOO FOO LIGHT-UP TACKY UGLY CHRISTMAS SWEATER.” I will not pay $65.99 for irony.

**Note to the adoption police: just kidding there! Not only were all adults and one-year-olds sober, we also made sure Kohana stayed away from glass ornaments and electrical sockets and other things that make a party fun.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

writers' row, off the row

If you’re on my “L.A. lit list” Gmail contacts list, you know that I was supposed to do a reading last night and it got cancelled. (If you’re not and want to be, let me know.) As a consolation prize, Jessica, the hostess of Writers’ Row threw a little party/open reading at a friend’s loft at the Brewery. It was also a birthday party for her other reading series, SoapBox Poets. In fact, I was a little confused about the role each series played and how the two intersected, and I felt like one of those guest speakers who gets in front of the mic and is basically like, “Where am I? How did I get here?” I usually think those people are snobs who didn’t do their homework.

(Once, a guy considered to be very funny by many people emceed my organization’s benefit dinner. His whole schtick was that this was the most coveted gig in town, because ha ha, of course it wasn’t. It was pretty funny the first time, but grew progressively less so throughout the evening. When he hosted again the next year, he had the exact same schtick. I felt like, Okay, at this point it’s more about your own laziness and inability to get a better gig than our hilarious unfamousness.)

I’m getting off track because really, last night was just a fun little party at the loft of a photographer who puts wax over her photos and makes them look all cool and painterly. I usually read prose, but because the whole thing felt kind of off the record, I read a poem. A new and angry one. I hoped no one noticed that I was shaking when I read it, but I think at least AK did. India Radfar, the poet I was supposed to feature with read prose. A woman read a beautiful poem called “Dear Iceberg.”


At one point, AK nudged me and pointed to the window. Two paws were against the glass. It was a highlight. Then the cat ran off. But we did get to meet the photographer’s two Rex cats, who were strange and wonderful. (Go to nicolefournier.com and click on “encaustic portraiture” in Nicole’s portfolio if you want to see an amazing Rex glamour shot.)


There were small cupcakes and a big chalkboard full of poetry. It was a nice night.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

this will happen again (or, brooding as prose poem-type thing)

You think you’re over it, and it’s a normal day, and you congratulate yourself for reentering this land. You don’t believe in normal, but you’re back to a place where you can contemplate semantics, and that means something. You watch a baby bat drink formula from the tip of an eye shadow brush. Your to-do list says Christmas cards.

Tonight there will be no choreography of preparation and acceptance, of reprimanding yourself for not being a Nice Person while taking care not to pressure yourself to be a Nice Person. You’re just here for some cake. And then it hits you. When they say like a freight train, what they mean is: It’s not the train’s fault. It never saw you. Or, if it did, it couldn’t stop in time. Stopping wasn’t its job. But then the train moves on and you’re peeling yourself off the tracks, a flattened cartoon, thinking I’m so sick of this until the next train comes along.

Friday, December 09, 2011

get behind me, libra moon

For years I read descriptions of Aries traits and didn’t really relate despite my April 3 birthday. I’m stubborn, independent and (sometimes) energetic, yes, but I’m not a leader who has trouble taking orders, I don’t really have a temper and I don’t have problems with follow-through. If anything, I’m compulsive in my follow-through.

To which people always said, Yeah, but what’s your rising sign? Because the explanation could not possibly be that astrology was a bunch of bullshit.

So when Thomas McBee, in his IBC post about dressing for your sign, included a link to a site that would do your chart, I had it do mine.

This explains so much! (Because astrology cannot possibly be a bunch of bullshit.) My rising sign is Cancer, which sounds a little ominous, but I do like crabs as food, pets and pretty much anything but an STD. My crabbiness explains why I’m fiercely loyal to my family, a sentimental fool and overly sensitive to criticism. Basically, I dish it like an Aries but take it like a Cancer. I’m a good time.

My moon sign—also important, apparently—is Libra. This makes me artistic, but the site warns: “You are not a self-starter. Be careful of a tendency to be overly self-indulgent (i.e., lazy).” I felt strangely vindicated. All my life I’ve told people I’m lazy and they kind of haven’t believed me because, I guess, my laziness is tempered by my rammish determination. Meaning, sometimes I force myself to drink lattes and make up stories.

If any of you out there know about this kind of stuff, maybe you can tell me if, like, my Libra moon is at a particularly influential place in the sky right now, if that’s even how it works. Because damn, I’ve been lazy lately. I spend 15 minutes of every writing hour searching “statement necklace” on eBay and 15 minutes of every yoga class talking to my sister on the phone in the car. I’m only fifty pages into our book for book club, which meets Sunday. And I keep trying to count pumpkin pie and apple turnovers among my recommended five-a-day fruits and vegetables.

This is a slow time of year at work, and I have a theory that humans are like goldfish when it comes to time. If the only thing on your to-do list is going to the post office, it will take you all day. (Okay, bad example since it’s the holidays and post offices are closing right and left. It easily could take all day.) If you have to pick up your kids, walk your dog, sweep your backyard, finish a novel, make dinner, see your friend’s play and write ten thank-you notes, you probably will. So right now my body has clicked into some kind of slow-ass rhythm where it balks at the notion that it might take me less than an hour to write an email.

Another theory I have is that I spent a year working very hard for something I didn’t get, and on some level I’m like, Fuck it, I’ll just be a couch potato. But I think the Libra factor is the most likely explanation, don’t you?

I know that December isn’t really known as a time for getting one’s shit together—that’s more of a January thing—but I just made an informal list of things I plan to get done (sorry, AK) during my time off, and things I plan not to do, which mostly involve fucking around online and shopping, and combinations thereof. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

confessions of a jury duty reject, plus what i read in november

So I got booted from jury duty. Is it weird that I feel bummed about it? Especially since it was a child molestation trial, and did I really want to spend my day listening to thirteen-year-olds testify about creepy, thoroughly traumatizing incidents?

The judge asked, as they always do, if there’s anything that might bias you one way or another in this particular case. First, let me say that the number of people who said they didn’t know anyone affected by child abuse was ridiculously high. Do these people not talk to their friends? Aren’t the statistics like one in three?

So I mentioned a young woman I know, whose abuse was more recent and seemingly life-shitifying than that of my friends who’ve figured out how to be strong, functional adults in spite of someone’s best efforts to prevent it. I figured that, if I got dismissed, it would be by the defense. Because clearly I had a beef with child molesters, right? And I did—part of me thought, I want to put this guy in jail! The other part of me strongly believes child molesters are not sub-human; they have a right to fair treatment. Also, maybe this guy was innocent.

See how balanced I am? I would have been a great juror.

But then the prosecution dismissed me! The really focused, down-to-earth attorney with cool tights, whom I’d already decided I liked. I was like, What about me says to you that I’m on the side of child abusers?! And it tapped into all my the-universe-thinks-I’m-not-equipped-to-parent issues. But it’s all good, I went to therapy today. Hopefully the poor kids who have to testify about their trauma to a room full of strangers have a good therapist too. We all deserve one.

Here’s what I read last month:

Mamas and Papas, edited by Kelly Mayhew and Alys Masek: Most anthologies strive for inclusivity, but never have such editorial decisions made me cry just reading the table of contents. In this collection, people who've lost babies are parents too; parenthood is hard-won and not always won at all; papas are not just bumbling sidekicks; and even when everything goes right, the dirty little secret behind the joy is its fragility. As Maureen A. Sherbondy sums it up in "Things That Get Lost," a poem about a brief grocery store separation, "Even after I heard his cry,/ that tone-specific inflection, mama,/ pieces of me were so far gone,/ I could not get them back." There is no shortage of humor, as in Sam Apple's blend of myth-debunking journalism and personal essay, and lyrical beauty, as in Dorianne Laux's wintery poem "Augusta." Together they create the world of this anthology, which is, refreshingly, not a world of new plastic products and squealy baby showers but one I actually recognize--of humans, some of them small, some of them big and searching.

Spook by Mary Roach: As opposed to a serious discussion of science and the supernatural, this book is in the Sarah Vowell tradition of "Hey, want to hear something crazy?" histories. But as the latter, it's lots of fun (and more focused than Vowell). History has provided no shortage of crazy; I was particularly entranced with the chapters about women who produced "ectoplasm" from their ladyparts during seances. There's something to be written there about harnessing female power for purposes other than sex or motherhood. Roach hasn't written it here, nor has she done a lot to dismantle the binary of science VERSUS the afterlife. For example, the fact that various believers who've promised to make contact post mortem have failed at the task doesn't say to me that there's no afterlife; what if our capabilities and priorities just change radically? (I mean, how could they not?) As a philosopher, Roach didn't impress me, but as a storyteller, I enjoyed her very much.

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta: I think most non-famous artists have asked themselves whether their work will make noise in a forest if no one is around to hear/read/view it. The sparsely populated forest in the book is inhabited by Denise and Nik, a brother and sister who grew up as semi-feral rock 'n' roll kids in L.A. Nik is a talented and prolific songwriter, but he only shares his work with a few people and in his "Chronicles," a meticulous documentation of a parallel universe in which he is the (not infallible) king of rock.

But despite the novel's Jonathan Lethem-worthy pomo pop culture savvy, Stone Arabia is first and foremost a book about memory--Denise's narration is intercut with Nik's Chronicles and her daughter's blog, among other sources. And memory is always about the inevitability of loss. Loss comes into play in more immediate and suspenseful forms as well, which made this book a page-turner. I liked its kindness and I empathized with Denise's neuroses (which include a tendency to over-empathize) and her conclusion that people can't be anyone but themselves. But something about the ending left me feeling drifty. I feel like it bears a reread, but until then I'll hold off on that fifth star.

Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts by Laura Benedict: This book may be the final straw in my habit of browsing the sparse shelves of my library's books-on-CD section for novels to listen to during my commute (next time I'll place something on hold that comes with good credentials). The subject matter--black magic, sinful priests, possession--is sensational, but the book is surprisingly boring. The prose lacks the shimmer of mystery that much less explicitly supernatural books deliver.

Mr. Lonely Hearts is the story of three Catholic schoolgirls who ruin a priest's life by accusing him (not totally without warrant) of sexually assaulting them. He seeks revenge, and we get to watch their adult lives destruct. I'm always drawn to stories about how girlhood friendships evolve into adulthood, and this one seemed ripe for metaphorical examinations of morality, culpability, envy and revenge. But while Benedict tries to make the characters three-dimensional by giving them all negative and positive traits, they all feel flat, and there's no real protagonist. Above all, I think this novel is just kind of tone deaf. It doesn't help that the male characters have names like Thad, Jock and Varick (hi, daytime soap/porn!). Or that Benedict traffics in one of my new least favorite stereotypes: the brittle, unhinged infertile woman (her pregnant foil is earthy and innocent). Or that the actress who narrated the CD did inconsistent accents and pronounced "santeria" to rhyme with "cafeteria."

Monday, December 05, 2011

call of jury duty: a non-live live blogcast

Right now I’m sitting in the Clara J. Something Criminal Justice Center downtown. I feel about jury duty the way I felt about wearing our drill team uniforms to school in tenth grade. I know you’re supposed to hate it and complain, but secretly I think it’s kind of cool. It’s a change of scene, a day off work and a great chance to people-watch. Examples: woman wearing houndstooth pants and matching houndstooth shoes…and…well, actually, most of the people around me look pretty normal. That means nothing, of course, but they could conceivably be a jury of my peers.

Now a guy is guiding us through the juror questionnaire: “Where it says ‘number of people in your household,’ Ima ask you to go ahead and write how many people are in your household.”

I almost never have the urge to Tweet, but now that I’m trapped in a room without internet access, I do. So I think I’ll periodically log into this notebook (not a notebook computer, an actual paper notebook) and type it up later.

8:12 a.m. JUROR: “What if you’re a student and have a final today?”

JURY INSTRUCTOR GUY: “You need to postpone, dude. Your finals are important.”

8:23 a.m. Just learned they only do criminal cases here. The judge who’s speaking says, “Criminal cases are much more interesting, and shorter. You won’t end up on some long asbestos case.” Last time I was on jury duty, I got assigned to the case of a guy named Bruce Bible who was accused of running a crack house. They ended up settling before opening arguments, but I agree with the judge when she says, “People get into it, as we used to say in the seventies.” (???)

8:30 a.m. Jury instructor guy is back. He just referred to “the section where you write down if, you know, you’re deceased or something.”

8:41 a.m. They have W and Vanity Fair in the jury room. The chances of me finishing our book club book just went way down.

8:56 a.m. Raiders, Lakers and Dodgers jerseys aren’t allowed in court. This morning on the Red Line a guy was wearing an L.A. Rams jacket. I wonder where the court stands on vintage Rams wear.

9:22 a.m. Sometimes when I encounter expensive things that are not quite my taste, I play a game in my head called “But If Someone Gave It To Me For Free, Would I Keep It?” Just so you know, I would keep Prada’s coral-rose and crystal bracelets.

10:36 a.m. A woman is showing her friend an 8” x 10” photo of a horse wearing a large, feminine straw hat. I have so many questions! 1) How do they already know each other? Can you schedule jury duty with your friends? 2) The obvious question.

11:09 a.m. I just read an article about Justin Bieber. Anything to stay awake. For the record, I don’t think lesbians who look like him are all that cute.

11:45 a.m. Fifteen minutes till lunch. The vending machines in the jury room are plastered with signs advertising the courthouse cafeterias on the fifth and thirteenth floors. They’re like, “Look, we know you’re not really into Famous Amos cookies.” I already ate the mealy apple I brought with me. Blech. It better have been full of fiber and vitamins.

11:53 a.m. Things people are reading: a biography of Cleopatra, a book open to a chapter called “Starting a New Life,” Makeup Artist Magazine, newspapers, tablets, phones.

11:55 a.m. Despite the highly advertised fifth and thirteenth floor cafeterias, I’m going out. There are so many good places to eat downtown. Maybe I’ll have one giant Big Man cupcake.

1:07 p.m. Eating yaki saba bento from Marukai, which, okay, is like a Japanese cafeteria. But so yummy. I didn’t know what all the names of the bento combos meant, so I read the ingredients. They included equally mysterious items like “wiener” and “croquette.”

1:19 p.m. Jury duty spawns ad hoc, half-assed solidarity. We’re all in this together! Or at least you probably won’t steal my bag while I’m in the bathroom. That might just be because we’re all non-felons, though.

1:30 p.m. Security guy working the metal detector, while scanning the metal studs on my jeans: “Women these days! They can’t just be simple. Why they gotta be all complicated?”

1:42 p.m. The cop seated next to me is talking about a Bill O’Reilly book: “There’s no political slant in this one. It’s pretty much just historical facts.” I am not feeling solidarity. Neither is the guy next to the cop, a man in his sixties with a dapper messenger bag. When the cop says, “He makes a lot of sense,” the messenger bag guy says, “Well…not always. But who does?”

And then I was called into a case. The judge told us to quit our whining re: civic duty and proceeded to read an obituary of a soldier who’d died in Afghanistan. I have to admit it was effective. And from there the day took a bit of a sober turn, as he read the charges against the defendant and I remembered that not everyone was in court to read W.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

live etsy

Recently I’ve developed a strange obsession with eBay (no one ever accused me of being an early adopter). It has a little bit to do with my love of clothes, a little bit to do with my tendency toward compulsion (and hey, searching online for Seychelles wedges is much less self-destructive than playing symptom roulette on WebMD)…and plenty to do with the excitement of winning.

So what if the baby gods and the literary agent gods have rejected me? With eight dollars and a bit of good timing, the Madewell utility zip pants gods will smile upon me.

Because I’m a cheapo, my new hobby hasn’t cost me much in the way of money, but I’m pretty sure I would have read an extra novel last month if I hadn’t been busy stalking these amazing Fenton/Fallon for J. Crew jaws earrings.

As any recovering alcoholic/current competitive bodybuilder knows, the best way to squelch an obsession is with another obsession. And Unique L.A.—which Amy accurately described as “live Etsy”—is a good antidote. Instead of dirt cheap brand names, it offers one-of-a-kind goods for prices ranging from reasonable to, well, what brand names go for at retail.

I got a handful of holiday gifts about which I’ll keep mum, plus a few irresistible things for me. They’ll help me get hooked on truly interesting pieces that are ethically made, I told myself. That’s how I justified a lace-print batwing shirt; a necklace woven from metal and orange string; and a felted flower headband that makes me feel a like a felted Frida Kahlo when I put it on.

What those in sustainable crafter circles don’t really talk about is that there’s a lot of very cool, highly useless stuff at places like Unique L.A. The cheese plate made out of a melted Grey Goose bottle, ceramic “barnacle vases,” beautiful cut-paper maps of Silver Lake. I mean, I guess you could put cheese on them or flowers in them or use them to get around Silver Lake? I lusted after them all, but quickly realized that I don’t have nearly enough tabletop or wall space in my life for them.

A 117th necklace for my necklace collection, though? Totally necessary.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

oc goes soho

Back in the day (sorry, Stephen—I know how you feel about that phrase) my organization shared a lovely brick building in SoHo with a fellow literary nonprofit called Poets House and the corporate headquarters of Marc Jacobs. Although my coworkers are generally snazzy dressers, it was always clear in the lobby who worked for which company.

My org was a holdover from the days when SoHo was home to actual artists, not just high-end galleries. Sometime in the mid-2000s, rent crept up so high that Poets House had to leave.* Shortly thereafter, my coworkers overheard a couple of Marc Jacobs employees talking in the elevator: “One poet company down, one to go.”

Within a year, my org was out of there as predicted (to very nice but unnerving digs near Ground Zero), and Marc Jacobs took over the whole building.

So it was more than a little ironic when they opened up a bookstore on Bleeker Street, called Bookmarc. Now there’s one in L.A. too; AK’s friend from school works there. She’s a former model who now has the two best jobs in the world, working at a bookstore and GETTING PAID TO WEAR MARC JACOBS CLOTHING. Not necessarily in that order.

But if Bookmarc really wants to establish its arty bookstore cred, it will need a bookstore cat. OC is auditioning for the job.



*They had the last laugh, though. This is their new location.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

booze, needles and santa claus

1. ivf (i’m [a] veteran [of this] fuckingprocess)

If only meeting birthmothers was as easy as meeting fellow adoptive parents.* For every subculture, there is a blogging sub-subculture, and last night I met up with a local segment of the adoption blogger sub-subculture, plus Heather of Production, Not Reproduction, who was in town for the BlogHer conference.

None of the rest of us are quite so committed to our blogging, but we were happy to commit to drinks at Magnolia. Can I just say how nice it is to be with a group of five women where I don’t have to assume, anytime someone orders a nonalcoholic beverage, that she’s pregnant? And then proceed to try to coax myself back from depressed resignation?

It was nice—and weird—to be able to talk in a sort of shorthand. “At first, I was so freaked out by the needles,” Victoria said of her IVF adventures. “It took me four hours just to do my first Lupron shot!” Hahaha! Because everyone knows that Lupron needles are skinny, and it’s the Menopur, Bravelle, and estriadol validrate needles that are really a bitch.

Right?

Heather did not know. She is the rare adoptive mom who is 36 years old with a six- and a three-year-old. In our mid-thirties, AK and I feel like we’re on the young end of most of our adoption meetings, so Heather and her husband must have felt like babies when they were going through the process. She projected the innocence (whether real or imagined by me) of people who manage to have kids just because they want to. I mean, by definition she had to work harder for it than the glass-o’-wine-and-sex crew, but she didn’t have that shroud of been-through-hell that I felt like the rest of us carried to varying degrees.

Joanne, the only other not-yet mom in the group, hadn’t tried IVF, but, as she said, she’d had enough fertility tests that she knew “I didn’t want them rooting around in there anymore.” She said it all in a lovely London accent. How is it that a British accent makes everything sound understated and manageable? I know Joanne wanted kids as badly as the rest of us, but she sounded so very keep-calm-and-carry-on about it.

2. the big things and the little things

Kristin of Parenthood Path, who organized the meet-up, immediately won my heart by complimenting our adoption profile (“Not that I’m exactly your target audience,” she pointed out) and confirmed my instant like by asking thoughtful questions and making sure everyone was included in the conversation. Eventually she said, “Okay, I’ve got a glass and a half of wine in me, so I’m going to talk about race now.”

We talked about transracial adoption; adopting older kids (Sue was surprised with an eight-month-old, and Joanne is considering a child as old as five years); the IVF reality show pilot Victoria shot (how could that not get picked up? What could be more TLC-ready than a show about highly hormonal women spending gobs of money?); and, eventually, about Santa photos and advent calendars. I suppose this is where all of it leads—to the actual parenting part. Thank god, right?

“All Santas are not created equal,” Victoria warned. “The first year, we got one with a real beard, but last year we got the drunken pedophile Santa.”

Kristin, whose son is two, shrugged and said, “Maybe we’ll do a Santa photo when he’s five.”

That sounded about right to me. One thing at a time. Till then, I’ll keep chiming into parenting conversations with anecdotes about my cats.


*A note about the image in this post: I would never actually wear this shirt any more than I would wear the “There are two peas in my pod!” shirt or the “Pregnant, not plump!” shirt advertised in Pregnancy Magazine. The only statement I want to make with my clothes is “I am a snappy dresser” and such shirts accomplish the opposite. Also, they are assholey. I did, however, tell Keely once that I was contemplating a T-shirt that said,
“Not pregnant, I just like dessert!” At the time she was pregnant, so she said she would print one up that said “Pregnant AND I like dessert.

Monday, November 28, 2011

why i would be happy to raise amy poehler’s children but not kiefer sutherland’s

It was a lovely, lazy weekend. Yesterday AK and I hiked up the west side of the big hill that is Debs Park and discovered a lake at the top. Well, maybe a pond. A very green pond. There were a couple of people fishing in it, which seemed a little risky, though probably less so than fishing off the Santa Monica pier.

We heard a guy tell his kids, “Come look at the turtles!” and we both ran toward him because, hello, turtles!

When we saw him, we concluded he seemed a tad too urban to know much about pond fauna. We did not see any turtles, although we spotted a bunny in the brush. All this five minutes from our house. We looked out over Highland Park’s old bungalows and marveled at how wide Avenue 50 looked, and how faraway Downtown seemed. So that’s why it takes me so long to get to get to work.

Last night we saw Melancholia, a beautiful Vogue shoot of a movie about how people of different worldviews respond to opposing situations. Kirsten Dunst’s depressive character has a meltdown trying to be happy at her wedding, but when (spoiler-ish alert) the apocalypse comes, she’s in her element. Her brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland) is a happy pragmatist who doesn’t worry until given cause, and then he just checks out. I sort of hate him and want to be him. But who I actually am is Dunst’s anxious sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who can’t quite convince herself that things will be okay, or that the world is worth giving up on entirely. Hence her (my) constant turmoil.

In between the hike and the movie, I read my student’s thesis while AK watched this video of Amy Poehler at the Time 100 gala. She’s such an amazing, quiet radical that I almost fell off the couch. Here is a female star (of my favorite TV show, not coincidentally) ADMITTING SHE HAS NANNIES. She doesn’t just allude to “having help” in the vague, guilty way that most female star moms do. She THANKS THEM BY NAME. Because they are humans who are important enough to have names, and because SHE ISN’T ASHAMED to be a mom with a job other than being a mom. It takes a village, ladies, not just to raise kids but to create a culture that supports female comics. Kudos to Amy Poehler and Jackie Johnson and Dawa Chodon* for making it happen.



*I can’t tell you how many articles I read that said she “thanked her nannies by name” but didn’t actually mention their names. Way to go, internet.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

how to make cheryl's semi-famous sweet potato pie

1. Buy overpriced ingredients at Whole Foods because it is the closest grocery store to your therapist's office.

2. Read about some MTV exec's wardrobe in Elle while sweet potatoes boil. Wonder why Isabel Marant makes sneaker wedges in which the wedge is hidden, so that the wearer looks like a strangely tall, awkward person who can't walk in sneakers.

3. Discover that your mixer is missing one if its little whisk attachment thingies.

4. Discover, triumphantly, that it is possible to mix ingredients with only one whisk attachment thingy. Imagine that this is how that one-armed drummer in Def Leppard must feel.

5. Pour batter into ready-made organic whole wheat pie crusts (thank you, Whole Foods!).

6. Spill batter down inside of oven door.

7. Learn that you really can't clean an oven while it's on. Wonder if Sylvia Plath wasn't so much despairing as trying to tidy up her kitchen.

8. Pour batter remaining in bowl directly into your mouth.

9. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 21, 2011

before you hit the mall, occupy literature!

Beyond bringing blankets and soup to protesters camped out at your local city hall, what’s the best way to support the 99 percent this holiday season? How about buying books published by small presses and sold at independent bookstores for 100 percent of the people on your gift list? Small presses give voice to writers and viewpoints overlooked by the mainstream. Indie bookstores let you be a literary locavore. And subscriptions to literary magazines are gifts that keep giving all year long. Consider the lists below your holiday literary activism starter kit. Happy browsing!

Southern California-based Presses:
Ammo Books: one-of-a-kind titles featuring amazing design, thoughtful writing, and exquisite printing
Angel City Press: nostalgic yet cool illustrated books
Arktoi Books: poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction that give lesbian writers access to “the conversation”
Beyond Baroque: books by local, emerging, overlooked, and previously out-of-print poets
Cahuenga Press: poetry that honors creative freedom and cooperation
Cloverfield Press: books as visually beautiful as they are intellectually and emotionally stimulating
Dzanc Books: literary fiction that falls outside the mainstream
Green Integer: essays, manifestos, speeches, epistles, narratives, and more
Les Figues Press: aesthetic conversations between readers, writers, and artists, with an avant-garde emphasis
Otis Books/Seismicity: contemporary fiction, poetry, essays, creative non-fiction and translation
Perceval Press: art, critical writing, and poetry
P S Books: micro-press that publishes conceptually motivated series on a project by project basis
Red Hen Press: works of literary excellence that have been overlooked by mainstream presses
San Diego City Works Press: local, ethnic, political, and border writing
Santa Monica Press: offbeat looks at pop culture, lively how-to books, film history, travel, and humor
Tebot Bach: strengthening community and broadening the audience for poetry
Tsehai Publishers: literary fiction and serious nonfiction, with an emphasis on first-time authors and writers from under-served communities
What Books Press: books by L.A.-based writers whose work spans the full scope of the past quarter century

Independent Bookstores:
Book Soup, West Hollywood
Beyond Baroque, Venice
Chevalier’s Books, Larchmont Village
Diesel, Brentwood and Malibu
Eso Won Books, Leimert Park
Family, Fairfax District
Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse, La Cañada
Hennessey + Ingalls, Santa Monica and Hollywood
The Last Bookstore, Downtown
Libros Schmibros, Boyle Heights
Portrait of a Bookstore, Studio City
Skylight Books, Los Feliz
Small World Books, Venice
Stories, Echo Park
Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore, Sylmar
Village Bookshop, Glendora
Vroman’s Bookstore, Pasadena

Please forward this widely to those interested in books and writing. Happy holidays from the Future of Publishing Think Tank*!


*The Future of Publishing Think Tank is an ad hoc group of writers and representatives of independent publishers and bookstores, nonprofit literary organizations, and community radio. Our task: to consider the changes occurring in publishing, distribution, and marketing of literary work and to envision new ways for writers to engage readers and build audiences for their work. Visit us at www.foptt.com to see the results of our reader survey and find more bookstores and literary activities in your area.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

take the cannoli

1. like a bucket list, but tastier and less depressing

When Jonathan Gold’s “99 Essential L.A. Restaurants” guide came out last week, I immediately tallied up how many I’d been to. Eleven: Border Grill, Bottega Louie, Casa Bianca, Euro Pane, Good Girl Dinette, Guelaguetza, Huarache Azteca, the Hungry Cat, Musso & Frank, the Oinkster and Waterloo & City.

Not bad for a cheapo and non-foodie. (I love good food, but I can also thoroughly enjoy a vending machine donut or five.) It doesn’t hurt that Jonathan Gold’s tastes veer toward cheap ethnic holes-in-the-wall. Waterloo & City, where we went for Nicole’s sister’s birthday, has plates of charcuterie that look like a painter’s palette. But Huarache Azteca has plastic forks and random vendors who wander through the eating area selling bootleg DVDs.

The other 88 restaurants make for a nice to-do list. But it’s harder than it looks. When we first read the list, we just started reminiscing about Guelaguetza, where we held “planning meetings” for our Oaxaca trip. So that’s where we ended up last Saturday, with Lori and Brett. The mole, as Jonathan Gold promised, was “as black as Dick Cheney’s heart” (but much more full of love).

Last night we went with Christine and Jody to Maximiliano, which apparently hasn’t reached “essential” status—it just opened—but got a shout-out in Gold’s write-up of the Oinkster, which has the same unpretentious chef. Maximiliano is definitely fancier—with its mosaic tile oven and walls painted to look like abstracted bean sprouts or rice noodles (or maybe spaghetti would make more sense). But it’s not too fancy: Its tag line is “Kinda old-school Italian” and you can get a big-enough-to-share pizza for $12.

Christine has this amazing ability to make demands with a big grin on her face. So they don’t do flights of beers? Well, could they? Shouldn’t there be more cream in the apple brown betty? But somehow everybody wins. The waiter/bartenders (we ate at the bar—apparently it’s good to have a reservation, which makes me uneasy about the future of Highland Park) seemed to enjoy their day a little more, and Christine got what she wanted.

We all did: eggplant pizza with big dollops of burrata and a bubbly crust; roasted fennel, which is the rare dish that tastes completely indulgent while making you feel vaguely like you just brushed your teeth; and a warm salad with squid and blood oranges.

2. why i’m not a chef or a drug addict

Every now and then I think about my eighth grade home ec teacher instructing us to add mandarin oranges to a salad. I was like, Gross! Fruit in a salad other than a fruit salad?! Now it seems like the weirder the shit you throw together, the more delicious it is. Roasted Brussels sprouts and bleu cheese on a raisin bagel? Bring it on!

I realize it’s probably not quite that easy. It’s more about types of flavors working well together than whether the ingredients are traditionally found in the same dish. To be a chef, you have to know chemistry and stuff. Still, doesn’t my Brussels sprouts bleu-cheese bagel sound kind of good? Kind of?

Okay, maybe stick to what Max (actually, I don’t think there’s a Maximiliano; there is an Andre Guerrero) has on the menu. Dessert was the aforementioned too-dry apple brown betty. But I pointed out to Christine that I’d never had apple brown betty before. Maybe it was supposed to taste like diet cobbler.

The cannolis made up for it, though. Jody, who grew up on Long Island and has tasted his share of great Italian food, declared these the real thing, though he thought they were a little heavy on the nutmeg.

“Are you sure that’s nutmeg?” I asked. I was distracted by the dusting of crushed pistachios and the sweet spoonful of heaven that is mascarpone* with chocolate chips.

“Definitely nutmeg,” Jody said. “We used to try to trip on it in college.”

“Really? I had no idea you could do that. Do you, like, snort it?”

“We just mixed it with a bunch of water and drank it. It didn’t work very well.”

I think I will continue taking my nutmeg in the form of my true drug of choice, cannoli.


*Spell check informs me that it’s not spelled “marscapone,” like the planet and the gangster. Spell check and I also struggled with cannoli and burrata, which tells you how often either of us writes about food and/or goes to Italy.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

it’s really just damn lonely sometimes: the adoption bloggers interview project

As part of my ongoing exercise in magical thinking (in which blogging a lot about adoption = getting a kid sooner), I signed up for Production, Not Reproduction’s Adoption Bloggers Interview Project. Apparently being only an occasional adoption blogger didn’t disqualify me. The idea was that adoptive or prospective adoptive parents would exchange some Q’s and A’s and post the answers on their respective blogs.

When Heather of PNR paired me with Jenni of Sincerely, Jenni, my first thought was, Is this, like, some kind of odd-couple stunt? I’m a queer, childless, marginally fertile, urban liberal planning to adopt an infant through an agency. Jenni is straight, has bio kids and step kids, lives in a tiny town in Iowa, links to a blog called Getting Down with Jesus, and is so fertile that she got pregnant accidentally at 19 and placed her son for adoption (more on that later). AND she’s planning to adopt an older child through the foster care system.

But after emailing with her and reading her heartfelt and good-humored blog, I started wishing our kids could have interstate play dates. I imagine that this is good practice for matching with a birthmother. Maybe you don’t have a ton in common on paper, but shared experience brings you together.

Here’s what Jenni had to say about home studies, racial issues and reindeer food:

1. Your family is planning to adopt an older child through the foster care system. Why did you choose this route?

My husband had a vasectomy in 2001 after our youngest daughter was born, because we had decided we were done having children. About five or six years ago, it came up in random conversation that we might consider having another child, but neither of us felt like we wanted another BABY. We felt like we were past the baby phase of our lives, as our children all are very busy with sports and other activities. Over the last several years we talked about it more and more and finally decided our children were old enough that adoption of a younger school-ager was a real option for us. We decided we would look into adopting from the foster care system. There are so many children in our state needing a family, and we want more than anything to add another child to ours!

2. I just read your post about the supermom myth--did you ever feel like the home study was some kind of interrogation to find out whether you and your husband could be super parents (or is that just my own paranoia)?

We just finally found out our first homestudy appointment is going to be Monday the 21st (YIKES!!!), and to say I am nervous would be a gross understatement. I have been seeing my home in a whole new light lately. The paperwork we have needed to fill out has been so probing and so intense that if everyone needed to complete this stuff before being allowed to have children, there would be a LOT of people in this world without kids, that’s for sure! I think as potential adoptive parents, we all try to present our best selves, because we are all competing for the same children. It’s sad to think about, but its true. My husband and I are competing with other couples in the foster/adoption process in the hopes that we are matched with particular children. It’s stressful to think “What can I be doing differently to make my house/life/kids/job/past finances look better in order to make this outcome turn out the way we want it to?” As potential adoptive parents, we are so NOT in control of the situation, and I think that’s the hardest part of it all. It’s a waiting game, and a lot of hoops to jump through and it’s really just damn lonely sometimes.

3. Youve discussed how the child you adopt may be of a different race than you and/or have special needs. Unconditional love is the first and most important ingredient in making a family, but what outside resources will you look to for help?

We are so fortunate to have a wonderful family and a great group of friends that are so open and willing to support whatever child we welcome into our family. We have discussed with all of them the fact that we are not ruling out any children at this point, other than we are looking for a specific age range (4-7) and sex (boy). Our children have such wonderful hearts and are so open-minded and ready to welcome a new brother to the family, whatever the ‘package’ he might be wrapped in. We are also lucky to have a great school district with a fantastic special education program (if needed). As far as race, that is the one issue that is a bit of a concern for me. We live in a small community and it is mostly white. There are a few African-Americans, and they are children (most of them have been adopted by Caucasian parents). As far as I know, there are not any Hispanic or Latino members of our community. We would make sure that we make every effort to seek out cultural opportunities in communities around us (Our state’s capital is within a few minutes from us, where the minority demographic is quite different).

So I guess what I am trying to say is… while our family is very open to accepting any race the child happens to be, we will probably have to stop outside our small community to expose him to his own culture more often.

4. In addition to the two biological children youre raising, you also have two stepchildren, right? How do you think being a stepmom has prepared you to be an adoptive mom?

I have two stepchildren, ages 16 and 14. When I first met their father, they were 4 and 2 years old. My husband is also a stepfather to my 16-year old daughter. She was 3 years old when he and I met. I think the most important thing it has done to prepare us for adoption is that it has taught us how to bond with and parent children that are not our own. Being a step-parent is not an easy job. Shared parenting with a birth-parent that is not all that excited to have you around is pretty similar to being a foster parent, when you think about it. The kids sometimes compare me to their “real mom” and it can get frustrating. Sometimes I have to get used to ranking lower on the totem pole, but really—it has made us a stronger family because of it. We have learned to be so much more accepting of different types of families.

5. You also placed a child for adoption when you were 19 (so you've been pretty much every kind of mom--birth, bio, step and now adoptive--there must be some kind of prize for that!). How does your own experience shape your attitude toward the birth family of the child youll adopt?

A lot of people think of kids being removed from their home and put into foster care and they automatically assume the parents are horrible people. They assume abuse, neglect, drugs, alcohol… the worst. In many cases, this is true—unfortunately. What I’ve come to learn, both through placing my own child for adoption and also through taking classes to become an adoptive parent, is that we all make mistakes in our lives. Some people are just not ready to parent. Some people just have fallen down, and have a hard getting back up. Many times the children need a place to go temporarily while the parents pick themselves back up and get the help they need. Then there the times that the children need a permanent home because the parents decide they can’t parent the children or the courts make the decision for them. In my case, I made my own decision that I was not ready to parent. I was too young, the father wasn’t in the picture, and I knew there were couples out there that couldn’t have children that could care for my child so much better than I could.

Now, all these years later, having met my son, I know I made the right choice. I am so grateful that his parents have let me be a part of his life. We have a wonderful relationship. I still grieve missing out on 18 years of his life, but I know he wouldn’t have turned out the way he did had I chosen to keep him. Now, WHERE’S MY AWARD????

6. You have a full time job outside the home. What tips do you have for other working parents (or future working parents)?

Consistency is key. My kids are very active in sports and activities and I have tried so many different tools and gadgets over the years to keep our family organized. For me, nothing works better than a regular old planner and pencil. Everything gets written down. I use one planner for everything – work and home. Everything that my husband and kids do go in there—practices, church, school events. Everything. And its all in pencil, because things change all the time. I also keep a big calendar on the fridge. Everything also gets added to that.

My other biggest tip is this: Don’t try to be a supermom and do it all. You are only setting yourself up for failure. I find it is so much more important to spend quality time with my kids than making sure my kitchen floor gets mopped on a weekly basis or that I am a part of every committee at my kids’ school. (On that note, why the heck am I on so many committees at my kids’ school? Sheesh.) It has taken me some time, and I have learned through trial and error, the fine art of MODERATION. I can do a little of everything, but I now know when to draw the line when I am over-scheduling myself or my kids.

I am also very fortunate to work for a company that is VERY family-friendly. They are so accommodating to employees that have children and offer flexible scheduling, and are always willing to work with me if I need to leave early or come in late. I don’t know how I would manage if it wasn’t for that.

7. I dont know too much about the process of adopting an older child through foster care. Is there a chance that he could be returned to his bio family without your consent? If so, how do you think youll handle that?

There are two ways to adopt through the foster care system. One is foster-to-adopt, where you take a foster children with the intent of eventually adopting one (or more) of them eventually. These children do not have a TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) in place already. Your home might be the first foster home they come to after being removed from their birth parents. It can be a lengthy process, and sometimes even though you think the child is targeted for adoption, they might end up being returned to their birth parents—or another family member of theirs steps and wants to take them.

The other way to adopt from the foster system is just a straight adoption, which is what we are hoping to do. There are listings of children already in foster care—whether in group homes, or living with foster families. They already have their TPR in place, and they cannot be returned to their birth families.

8. Are there any circumstances that would make you choose to end a foster placement? If so, what?

Right now, we are not planning to do foster care. We may consider it after our older children leave for college and we have some extra room in our house. But, I think the only reasons we would consider ending a placement would be if the child was physically harming one of our children or one of us. Since we have the option of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a placement before taking a child, I would hope we would get as much information as possible before bringing the child into our home in the first place.

9. Does your family have any wacky habits or rituals that you think will make the kid you adopt just scratch his head?

One of our weird rituals at Christmas time is to make reindeer food instead of setting out milk and cookies for Santa. I always told my kids that so many people leave milk and cookies but forget about the reindeer, and you know they probably get hungry flying all over the world! So we always made reindeer food! We’d mix up reindeer food (a.k.a. oatmeal) and add in the special “magic spices” (a.k.a. gold and silver glitter) and shake it up really good. Then we would sprinkle it out in the snow. The reindeer can see the magic spices from up in the sky and so they could not only find our house easier, but they would also get some yummy reindeer food as well!

A wacky habit in our house is more to do with our dog, Bella, more than anything. Our yellow lab, is absolutely devoted to me. I have no idea why. She follows me everywhere. She sleeps in our bed every night (under the covers, of course!) and has conditioned herself to wake up and hop out of bed when she hears the “beep-beep” of me shutting my alarm clock off. She also knows when I shut the TV off at night and it makes a “beep-beep-beep” shutting down sound, she runs upstairs and knows its time for bed. My husband and kids are amazed when I show them these little tricks, because I am the only one she will do them for.

10. As someone whos been on both sides of the adoption experience, what do you think birthparents and adoptive parents should know about each other?

I think the most important thing to remember is that no matter what, everyone is in this for the child. That’s who matters most. Our main goal is to do what’s best for that little boy or girl.

Monday, November 14, 2011

USA! USA! USssigh….

I’m at Starbucks right now, ostensibly doing some freewriting in preparation for a possible future novel, which is a huge indulgence because the circus novel isn’t anywhere near done. But a few drafts in, I get itchy to start something new, and I’m not nearly practical or short-winded enough to just work on a short story.

I’m also drinking a salted caramel hot chocolate, another huge indulgence (360 calories; thanks, stupid new law requiring Starbucks to inform me of this).

But I was distracted from my indulgences by these wristbands that Starbucks is selling. They look like little loops of bungee cord sealed with a metal square. I have to admit they’re more attractive than the LIVESTRONG-style bands. The red and blue bungee bands promote “Americans Helping Americans Create Jobs.” If you buy the $5 wristband, some money will go to a domestic micro-loan program.

My first thought when I saw this was Oh my god, we’ve become our own third world charity case.

I’ve done my fair share of holiday shopping at The Hunger Site, and I would definitely prefer to give someone a fair trade Taureg* ebony and coin silver cuff bracelet from Mali than sweatshop-made Muppet-fur boots from Claire’s Boutique. Nevertheless, I’m always a little skeptical about shopping for any cause. Is making ebony and coin silver cuff bracelets for Americans as helpful as, say, making food or clothing for fellow Malians? Does buying a bracelet lull us into a false sense of good deed-doing and prevent us from writing our congresspersons or donating cash to an organization that would make a bigger impact?

I genuinely don’t know the answers to these questions. I just know that such transactions smack of paternalism in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe just because they let us pretend we didn’t create our own crappy post-colonial world in the first place.

According to some statistics I’ve heard,** the U.S. is officially a second-world country now, meaning that while we have stuff like the internet and Chipotle, we also have a giant chasm between rich and poor. So now we’re treating ourselves in the same well meaning but half-assed and unsustainable way that we treat Mali or Haiti or Guatemala.

Because let me tell you, every mug, thermos, and eco-friendly reusable Starbucks lunch bag they’re selling here is stamped Made in China. Call me crazy, but I have this idea for how we could create jobs in the U.S.


*The site says Taureg is a “term used to identify numerous groups of nomadic peoples in the Sahara Desert.” Is that why Volkswagen named their SUV “Touareg”? Because driving around in an all-terrain vehicle is kind of like being a nomadic person of the desert?

**The Second World by Parag Khanna. Also, my yoga teacher.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

unbirthday

As anyone who’s been surprised by a tiny thirty-week baby or gotten induced for a second time knows, due dates don’t mean much. Still. Tomorrow would have been mine. 11/11/11—which I only found out because I used one of those online due date calculators, not because my poker-faced doctor ever encouraged me to look so far ahead. (And he was right, but still, fuck that.)

Except that it wouldn’t have been my due date, because I was carrying twins, who never hang out in utero for the full forty weeks. Sometimes it boggles my mind that I was pregnant, and with twins. Even just typing it feels like a lie, or at the very least some kind of dubious legend passed down from a long time ago. But my body knows. My body always knew. And when I fell apart so spectacularly, I think it was partly the result of my mind pushing one idea—You can’t possibly be this sad about babies who were never babies, so there must be something else terribly wrong with you—and my body pushing another: You were sheltering two little people and then they just left and now you’re all alone.

Now both my mind and body are wondering about the parallel universe in which I’d be the sleep-deprived, grouchy, terrified, self-doubting blissfully happy mother of two one-month-old-ish boys.* AK would have been sleep-deprived, grouchy, messy, socially starved and blissfully happy.

I’ve been helplessly, absurdly, gut-wrenchingly envious of pregnant women over the past six months (well, really, the whole year, from when we first started trying). I’ve been more envious of pregnant women than women with babies, which is weird because I never saw pregnancy as more than a means to an end. But that’s my mind talking. My eyeballs saw baby bumps and transmitted wishful telegrams to my heart and uterus.

I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know how the mind and body work, or how they’re connected. I’ve learned that the body does in fact carry knowledge, but I’ve also learned that that particular truth is a slippery slope into thinking that your mind caused a baby to die or a tumor to grow or whatever, and I’ve racked up some serious therapy bills trying to learn that the universe’s math is not nearly so neat and tidy (or so mean).

Still. I wonder, as my parallel universe self proceeds from pregnancy to motherhood, if I’ll stop reserving my most intense envy for pregnant women and start directing it at parents of infants. And then toddlers. And then…but hopefully, by the time we would have had a toddler, we’ll actually have an infant. (If not sooner. If not tomorrow. The fun of adoption is that it could, in theory, happen any minute. This is also the craziness of it.) And by that point, I’ll be so in love with our actual baby that I’ll be glad to live in this universe and not that other one.

There’s also a world in which I never got pregnant at all, and one in which I’m still with B, and maybe one in which I lived out my ninth grade dream of marrying the guy who played Sodapop in our high school production of The Outsiders. But the Squeakies were in this universe for a minute, which is why I’m glad to be here now, in one of the worlds in which I got to love them.


*Did I ever tell you they were boys? We know this only because they did an autopsy, or whatever you call an examination of a body that was never a body. They were “genetically normal males” with a pesky neural tube defect. I am glad and not glad to know all of this, like so many of the things I know.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

this friday, let's do something different

Yoga and movies are getting a little old. Instead, let's go to a dive bar on the industrial outskirts of Santa Ana, near the John Wayne Airport. A place where guys dress like this:


We'll meet up with Lori, Brett, Maria, Calvin, Pedro and Stephen, plus Stephen's sister and her crew, who told us about this night.


So that's a Huey Lewis and the News cover band onstage? I don't actually know any of their music, but if you say so. I do remember shelving their CD that summer I worked at the Wherehouse. Remember the Wherehouse?

Let's pretend like we're being followed by paparazzi.


I guess the next band, Lady Zep, is the only thing it could be: an all-girl Led Zeppelin tribute band. What do you think their day jobs are? I mean, assuming this isn't a full-time gig yet.

You're right, the lead singer is definitely an admin assistant. The kind who sounds very authoritative on the phone but takes a lot of smoke breaks. Except, she doesn't really sound like she smokes. She sounds pretty good, actually.


And how about her? She looks like she likes animals. "Do you have your Petco card with you today?" Yeah, I can picture it.


The drummer is a dispatcher for a trucking company. She will not take any shit. Not any.


Have we really been here two hours? I can't believe Stephen's sister and her crew have been in the dive-bar equivalent of the mosh pit this whole time. I admire them, seriously. Endurance is a very important trait, like, if you're in the CIA and being waterboarded or something.

Oh wait, the headliners are finally here! Metalachi: They do mariachi covers of heavy metal songs. Get it?

From far away, they look like a mariachi band.


Up close they look like Kiss, or pirates, or vikings. Or all of the above.


They sound kind of great. I mean, they're jokier than Mariachi El Bronx, which is my new favorite rock/mariachi hybrid, but they can play the hell out of their instruments.

The between-song banter is starting to annoy me, though. Why did they invite that girl onstage and spend like ten minutes mixing her some wacky drink and then pretend to hump her? There wasn't really a punch line. I feel like I'm in a weird dream.

They all talk in these fakey Mexican accents, except for the guy who sounds inexplicably Bostonian/New Zealand-ish. I mean, I know they're Mexican and all, and it's supposed to be okay to do stereotypical impressions of a thing if you are that thing. But it doesn't feel quite that well thought out.

Oh, and now they're joking about some slutty girl. I hope she's fictional. One of them just said, "Ay, I heard that girl's a dude" and someone else yelled, "Nasty!" Ha ha! Girls who aren't pretty are lame! Girls who were born dudes could never be pretty! The concept of a girl with a penis strangely intrigues and therefore angers me!

Okay, we're outta here. We ordered some sodas to stay awake, but they were the flattest sodas ever. And I like flat soda. The fish and chips we had earlier was pretty good, but seriously, what kind of bar cannot make a Coke? Next Friday, let's go to yoga.