Saturday, March 29, 2014

no one will ever accuse me of having a hakuna matata attitude

1. self-care in red boots

Last weekend was busy. The week that followed it was busy. It included a book club meeting at which we discussed the NPR story we’d all heard about how only white-collar people say they’re busy. People who work three minimum-wage jobs just say they’re tired. By the time I left work yesterday, I was both.

Which means I was in a weakened state, and it didn’t take long for me to turn my writing evening at Philippe’s into an is-it-scar-tissue-or-cancer Googling session. It’s the absolute worst thing I can do for my mental health, but it’s like I have an addiction that’s long past the point of making me feel good—and pretty much never did. Leave it to a Klein to find an addiction that was never fun in the first place.

I need 'em like a hole in my head. I need 'em to heal the hole in my head.
It bugs me that my mental health is so precarious, but at least I got my Googling bender out of my system, and I decided to devote the rest of my weekend to self-care. So far today, I’ve cleaned the house (for me, that’s self-care), gotten a smoothie and bought the overpriced boots that I’ve been lusting after in various forms for like three years now. They’re Miz Mooz, a brand I first admired on a friend who’s not even my friend anymore, that’s how long I’ve wanted a pair. I paused momentarily—would buying her brand of shoes imply that I was imitating her? That when we had a falling out, she was right? That I secretly still envied her?

Eventually I convinced myself that not buying the boots would mean the terrorists had already won.

2. suddenly i want to wear a beret

Tuesday night AK, Alberto, Suzie and I saw Bonnie and Clyde at the ArcLight. It was so stylish and surprisingly funny and visually poetic. When you think about it, the whole idea of being a bank robber during the Great Depression is a fantastic comic premise. In the movie, they mugged for their big old Kodak so much, and sent the pics to newspapers, that I think we could argue they were the mother and dad of the selfie/media age.

Anything you photograph can and will be used against you. But damn, you'll look good.
Afterward, I said, “I wish there were more opportunities to see old movies on the big screen.”

“Well, there’s Cinefamily,” Suzie offered.

“And the Egyptian,” said Alberto.

There’s also Cinespia and the New Beverly. So apparently what I really meant was, I wish I weren’t so lazy about seeking out cultural experiences.

3. this book will change your life

On Thursday, Cathy and I saw The Book of Mormon (so no, I was not busy because I was working three jobs), which was my belated Christmas present to her. You guys, I realize a lot of people have known this since 2011, but it’s really brilliant. It manages to not be truly anti-Mormon while still not pulling any punches. It’s actually pro-religion in a whatever-gets-you-to-be-nice/storytelling-is-powerful way. And storytelling is my religion, so I loved it.

It’s definitely anti-missionary, and anti people (liberal types among them) who think that humans in the third world suffer more nobly and go through life in a state of simple hakuna matata bliss. I’m guilty of it sometimes, when I try to convince myself that Isn’t it kind of about expectations, though? If you never expected to have a good life, maybe it doesn’t hurt so much when you’re denied. This kind of thinking is basically what Fr. Greg has launched a lifelong crusade against: the belief that some lives just aren’t worth as much as others, no matter how much lip service we pay to the contrary.
 
Giving God the finger since 2011.
One of the best songs in The Book of Mormon is “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” which in the faux-Ugandan of the musical translates too “Fuck you, God.” There’s nothing else you can say when the local warlord orders all the local women’s clits cut off. “Fuck you, God” is not my personal philosophy, but I interpret it as “Fuck you, Version Of God Who Supposedly Has A Greater Plan/Fuck You, Westerners Who Think We’re Either Happy-Go-Lucky Or Totally Pitiful.” As such, it was incredibly refreshing, not to mention catchy.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

cats from hell, moms from purgatory

Last night AK and I had pizza and sangria at new friend/Homeboy volunteer Kendra’s house, where we snuggled her new dog and watched My Cat from Hell. Like all makeover shows, it’s not really the cat/dog/kid/house/restaurant who needs to be made over, but the couple trying to wrangle the cat/dog/kid/house/restaurant. And for some reason, the people we seem to trust most to administer the necessary tough love are burly biker dudes with shiny sunglasses (I’ve been watching Restaurant: Impossible at the gym). One part punk, one part military. Or if not them, flamboyant gay men or tough British nannies. Apparently meanness is acceptable from those types. We like it less on naggy (American) women. And we don’t like men who refuse to kick our asses, I guess.

I don’t know, this analysis may break down, since the main lesson of My Cat from Hell is Buy Your Cat A Cat Tree.

There is a framed picture of a dog in the background. And you wonder why the cat is pissed?
My friend Wendy also got a dog, who looks a little like Kendra’s dog but taller, and I met him Thursday at Wendy’s writing party. It was so nerdy and fun and inspiring. Wendy and her friends are all really fantastic writers. My writing routine is still limping along, but this week it got a tiny bit more spring in its step. Wendy had us choose from a series of prompts, and most of us ended up writing about a character in our novels-in-progress. Here’s what I came up with for “I remember my mother’s…” (loosely inspired by a story my mom told me about my aunt and filtered through the eyes of Tilly, the protagonist in my YA novel; for the record my aunt never abandoned her children).

Shake it like an Instagram picture.
I remember my mother’s belly dancing clothes. Layers of gauzy, flammable fabric in a shade of pink I don’t think they even have in Morocco, or wherever belly dancing is from. Gold sequins. Elastic at the wrists and ankles that left wormy indentations when she came home and changed into sweats. I was five, then, and she was twenty-five. This was the year before she got serious and went back to college, and eleven years before she got really serious and finished college.

She took lunch shifts at the Capricorn, even though they paid shit, she said, so she could belly dance with Monsieur Alamy and his troupe in the evenings at a little studio sandwiched between a dry cleaner and a Subway. My grandma was against it, of course. She was against all activities that took my mom away from me for reasons other than earning money. She refused to babysit, and so my mom set me up with a Subway kids’ meal and a box of crayons in Monsieur Alamy’s studio.

I still remember how the grain of the wood floor made my drawings look like they’d been done by someone with Parkinson’s. The studio smelled like wax and spicy stew. Most of the other dancers were  closer to my grandma’s age than my mom’s, Chuckwalla housewives who needed something to do while their husbands played cards, or divorcees who needed something to do while their ex-husbands played cards.

There were two other young women in the class. Even at five, I could feel how their energy was different, how they were like the princesses on the DVD’s I watched, and maybe Monsieur Alamy was a sort of schlubby Aladdin. My mom was the blonde, so I imagined her as Cinderella, a poor girl who puts her foot in the right kind of shoe (for belly dancing she went barefoot, her waitress feet free at last,  calloused on the bottom and black from the floor). A woman named Gina had hair dyed as bright as Ariel’s and a pretty mermaid voice, too. Monnie, the brunette, would be Belle, I guess, although I suspected she didn’t like to read. She had a dullness about her that she could not shake away any more than she could shake away the ring of flab around her middle. Monsieur Alamy loved that ring; it was a  thing, in belly dancing, to create the most dramatic tremors possible.

Obviously they're standing in front of a pond that Ariel just happened to leap out of.
On cold desert nights, they steamed up the windows. Monsieur and my mom and Gina and Monnie. Around the time I grew bored with drawing and started choreographing my own, inappropriately sexual dances, Monsieur decided he wanted to start a touring troupe. When my mom reported this to my grandma, she said something along the lines of, Well, that sure is too bad, isn’t it? But it was nice while it lasted. And my mom said, No, you don’t understand, I’m thinking of going with him. He says I’m  really talented. And my grandma said, Do I have to remind you that you have a child? And my mom’s face got weird and she said, Maybe two, soon. My grandma said, Jesus Christ, Kathleen, this is not how I raised you. My mom said, God forbid I be my own person. God forbid I have a life doing something really positive and artistic.

I don’t know what happened after that. Only that my mom did not go on tour with Monsieur Alamy, and within a few weeks I was back watching Nick at Nite with her in the evenings, her belly hidden beneath a big gray T-shirt. There was no baby, either. The one she’d alluded to.

Once my grandma had said, They don’t...leave you alone, do they? Her words loaded with extra meaning in that grownup way. While they do...other things? she said.

Sometimes, I said.

This one time they let me watch three princess movies in a row. It was my one great day. All Ariel, no stupid crayons. Mmm, said my grandma.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

"art resides in the quality of doing, process is not magic" --charles eames

I’ve been working like a motherfucker lately. Or perhaps like a no-one-fucker because when you work a lot, there’s less time for fucking. When things were slow and same-old-same-old sometimes at P&W, I occasionally envied people with “real” jobs—I had a kind of Mad Men image of striding into an office, rolling up my shirtsleeves and clacking away at a keyboard as part of some larger mission. Work is so American and noble.

Let's get to work here at this beautifully designed modern coffee table.
Work is such a human-sized, fortunate, un-existential problem to have. It’s not an exclusively first-world problem, but at its best it can be kind of adorable.

And now that work is so very much in front of me, the problem of too much work feels bourgeois and un-artistic and banal and a silly thing to stress about because I have my health (at least I think, knockonwood), and I’m mildly embarrassed and ashamed that I’m letting work stress get to me. But how could anything you do ten hours a day not get to you? I don’t know why I should be ashamed of the fact that life doesn’t just pass over me like lukewarm water. It’s good to be engaged and affected.

But after a day in which I declared to Lauren, “I’m trying not to overuse the phrase, ‘crazy day’ because I think it might apply to every day,” I left the office anxious that I might never write again, or never even think a thought that was not about a grant deadline.

I drove to Art Center’s Hillside campus, tucked away in the part of Pasadena where there are deer and mountain lions, to attend a talk about Ray Eames with AK. We were celebrating our eighth anniversary at her place of work, which tells you a lot about the eighth year of our relationship—wonderful and deep and fortunate and hardworking and multitasking and breathless. The talk didn’t actually have that much to do with Ray Eames, so we ducked out early.

Someone must be working on Charles and Ray: The Musical, right?
But after seeing a couple of contemporary artists talk about their work, I said to AK, “I just felt like, ‘Oh, art. I miss you. Will I ever write again?’”

She said, gently, “It’s always personal, isn’t it?”

Later I said, “I’m going to ask an ironic question, which is: Am I that person who always makes it about them?”

I already knew the answer. This whole blog is devoted to Making Art About Me. I mean, I make art that is about me, and I also make other people’s art about me and reflect on it here. In this space, at least, that is the point.

We ducked into the Ray Eames: In the Spotlight exhibit, which was better than the talk. I finally got out of the me space—although it did make me long to live in a perfectly curated/designed house and wear beautiful clothing, rather than in a house where there are just so many haphazard piles of things—and into the Eames space, where I learned that they are more than just chairs for tasteful people.

The hang-it-all. But imagine it hung with random key chains and baseball caps instead of perfect vintage sweaters.
What surprised me: the breadth of their work (who knew they did that Powers of Ten movie we were always watching in school?) and the sweetness/playfulness of their work. Yes, there were the elegant chairs. But Ray also drew little hearts on everything and looked and dressed a little like Judy Garland. They made a variety of things for children and there was something very kid’s-eye-view about their approach.

I heart Ray.
They were putting a bird on it before anyone.
We rounded out the night sharing cocktails and a pretzel at Haven, a very low-key gastropub in Pasadena. The cocktails were good and the pretzel was amazing. The company was someone I want to spend my life—hopefully a very long life—with, as in-love as Charles and Ray, even if our collaborations only extend to bickery grocery-store runs and too-quiet adoption websites.

The past couple of weekends, I crashed hard on Saturday mornings. So the fact that I’m up and reading my friend Wendy’s fantastic, envy-inducing novella and journaling/blogging—if not “seriously” writing—bodes well, I think, for a future that might have space for both hard work and creativity. Maybe even a returned phone call or two (sorry, everyone; I’ve been kind of a sucky friend).

I will close on my favorite quote from Wendy, which I think sums up the whole life-and-carbohydrates thing perfectly:

There is no fair. Except for the kind with blue ribbons and fried food.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

the arts district and artisan tortillas

I’ve been thinking about space lately. I’m finally living the Eastside dream I’ve had since I started making pilgrimages to Silver Lake in college. I start the day with a train ride that takes me across trestles and over a cement river. I eat lunch in the middle of 1938’s idea of China—neon-outlined pagodas and bamboo lettering. And then I go home to Highland Park’s rolling hills and gold-pink light. I took a long walk on Saturday and found an old glass-works studio I’d never known about.

Old New Chinatown.
Sometimes, even now that it’s (nearly) all familiar, L.A. still takes my breath away. Other times I wonder if the magical space I longed for in my twenties is made magical only by my longing. It’s like having a crush on someone and then marrying them. Your love dives deeper than you ever knew possible, but the exotic twinkle fades.

A little while ago, a writer I know, who recently moved to L.A., asked her Facebook friends what their favorite coffee shops to write in were. There were the usual suspects: Intelligentsia, CafĂ© de Leche, the Coffee Table. Someone wrote a poetic reply about the best writing spot being the one you stumble into that no one else knows about. Fair enough answers, all of them, but I was tempted to go the anti-hipster route (but I didn’t, because nothing is more hipster than being anti-hipster) and mention some of my true favorites:

·      The Starbucks inside Target (not as overly air conditioned as regular Starbucks)
·      McDonald’s (better and cheaper coffee than Starbucks)
·      LAX (the sweet un-anxiety of early arrival + the good feeling of multi-tasking by traveling and writing)
·      Philippe’s (49-cent coffee + a weird circus-themed wall)

The original French dip! Unless Cole's is!
Right now I’m writing at an El Pollo Loco, where I just had the Mango Taco Plate. It included an “artisan tortilla,” which was pretty good, even though I’m not sure what made it artisan.

Clearly, I pride myself on an anytime/anywhere approach to writing. I was raised on stories of women writers who scribbled on legal pads in their cars while waiting to pick up their kids from soccer practice. But it’s pride born largely of necessity (not entirely, though—we do have a spare room in our house that gets called “the office” and, when we’re being honest, “Ollie’s eating room”).

This morning I tagged along to the new art class being taught by Fabian, Homeboy’s resident artist. (This is the awesome part of my job. But I also spent a lot of time today reading the fine print on government grant applications.) For years he painted at home, but as his work started getting out there, a patron offered him a studio. I followed a dozen homies to the third floor of an old hotel on Main Street. There was oyster-cracker tile and filigreed columns, all in a state of blissful disrepair that made my heart ache when I wondered how much of this—the homies, the ruins, the art—might be pushed out of Downtown in the next few years.

There is a more ruined kind of ruin too, of course, which is the other side of this coin. The hotel back when people used it to shoot up. The homies when they—some of them—shot up. First thing you see in Fabian’s studio is his altar, with pictures of his  grandparents and fallen homies and the gods of Chicano art: Rivera, Kahlo, Orozco, Siqueiros. Then you see Fabian’s art, which has evolved, in his words, from “folklorico stuff, straight from the tube” to glowing, nuanced portraits that reflect a growing thoughtfulness about cultural solidarity. He showed me one of his latest, the back of a rabbi overlaid by Hebrew words from the Torah.

"Falling Star" by a rising star.
He put his students to work drawing spheres and cones and cubes, getting to know the range of their pencils. This was no just-express-yourself art-therapy class.

“If you’re getting upset, it’s ‘cause your brain is working out some shit,” he said. “That’s art, ese.”

Neuroplasticity meets street art.

The mid-morning sun came through the fuzzy windows and I thought fondly of MacDowell and considered giving up writing in favor of drawing spheres in beautiful places. I think it’s fair to say, at least, that it beat El Pollo Loco.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

stream of consciousness, stream of water gushing down my street

I just realized that my last four Facebook posts were about the rain. I’m a predictable SoCal native—like my cat OC (also a native), I am surprised and a little unnerved when water starts falling out of the sky. I’m one of those freaked-out drivers you hate. I stay home and ruin the economy, although I did clean the house. Eventually.

When you put up barriers, you miss out on the love, Grumpy Cat.
First I went back to bed and read Sharp Objectsanother creepy-good Gillian Flynn novel—until noon, and felt guilty about it, naturally, because people with more important lives don’t do this, right?

I might have a mild case of SAD, or I might be mildly under-caffeinated. I griped at AK for having an overbooked day. I thought about how I would be more confident if I lost six pounds. It’s March 1, which is a great day to be ambitious about such things, except today feels like gloom, not rebirth.

I listened to This American Life, an old one from 2002, where they spent the day on a Navy aircraft carrier. Every time a plane landed on the ship, it was sort of iffy as to whether it would crash or not. There were also reports about ship romances and ship vending machines. Ultimately, everyone felt very committed to each other and like they were part of an important mission. It reminded me of Homeboy that way, and then I felt depressed that a mission to kill people and a mission to stop the killing of people could look so similar.

Just when you think aircraft carrier life can't get any more fun, this guy shows up.
About twenty-five percent of the people I know are in Seattle at AWP right now, posting about how much they hate AWP, which is half humble-brag, half what happens when you force a bunch of anxious introverts to network. They’re being rained on too, but I’m tiny bit jealous.

Also in my feed: pregnancy and cancer and more rain. The irony is I turned off a TED Talk about how technology is a cheap substitute for actual friendship and vulnerability (another mindblower courtesy of TED) to log onto Facebook.

On Friday my coworker Lauren got caught in the day’s worst downpour—one of the gusts of wind-water-mist that made all the homies whoop and applaud (because they are SoCal natives too). From my office window, I could see her laughing and wrestling with her inside-out umbrella, pure Mary Poppins stuff. I am so not Lauren or Mary Poppins. But I did just drink a two-teabag mug of tea, so I expect things will be looking up soon.