Sunday, July 30, 2006

a little more than sort of happy

It’s late(ish) and even though I don’t have anything in particular to say right now, I want to blog just because I’m so happy that my DSL is up and running again. It conked out Saturday morning, and the old unplug-and-reboot strategies didn’t seem to work. I’m not very tech savvy, and I can also be a bit of a defeatist. I thought about how B used to spend hours—days—on the phone with Yahoo’s tech support staff. I thought about how SBC/AT&T has yet to get my bill right in the seven months that I’ve been a customer.

All of this added up to me thinking,
DSL sure was great while it lasted. I will miss it.

I am this close to being the urban equivalent of someone with three rusted-out cars parked on her lawn.

Except sometimes, magically, the car starts when you cross your fingers and turn the key in the ignition one more time. DSL, I will never take you for granted again.

Some things that have been on my mind the past couple of days:

1) I am considering officially declaring picnicking a hobby. After going to three outdoor events to which food was brought, I am thoroughly smitten with this activity that is so much easier than knitting or learning German. I love the beautiful simplicity of eating out and eating in at the same time, of the cheese/cracker combo, of bartering food with friends, of drinking wine out of plastic cups. Also, I’m not a good cook, so food-to-go could be my specialty. No one expects anything fancy when you’re eating out of Tupperware.

Seriously, this one’s going on
the MySpace page as an Interest.

I am really fond of using the phrases “kind of” and “sort of.” In writing, I think I’m practicing (imitating?) a school of contemporary writing that is cynical and gentle at the same time. I feel like I’ve seen this type of writing a few different places, but the practitioner that comes to mind immediately is
Andrea Seigel.

Try it out: “I hate blah blah blah” vs. “I kind of hate blah blah blah.” The former conjures a voice that is judgmental and possibly dislikeable. The latter seems more like a helpless victim of her own subjectivity—someone honest and humble who has the misfortune of seeing the world in the unforgiving glow of a dressing-room light.

In speech, I am not such a fan of the kinda/sorta school, even though I obviously am because I use it all the time. But it’s wishy-washy. It’s a way of not fully owning your own emotions, something
the therapist I just said a tearful goodbye to would not encourage.

Try it out: I’m kind of devastated. I’m sort of pissed. I’m in just a little bit of anguish. The understatement appeals to the Brit in me, and I like the idea of being a narrator in one of Andrea Seigel’s
novels, although, you know, maybe a little bit less suicidal.

Ooh, I just did that completely unknowingly—in reality, I’d like to be (and am, so don’t you worry about me, Señor Freud) a lot less suicidal than that suicidal character. I am tempted to try giving up “kind of” and “sort of” in speech—like booze for Lent—but because I’m so into it in writing, well, I’m only kind of tempted.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

poetry in the lbc

Yesterday I emailed AK, “Here’s the info about Jen’s reading in the LBC.” Then it occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t using “LBC” correctly, and even though it was just an email, and I was using it ironically, I wanted my irony to be well founded. So I visited (because nothing says “gangsta” like a visit to the dictionary) and got several definitions. The term seems to be the source of some controversy:

1. LBC

Contrary to popular belief and usage, this term was originally coined to mean Long Beach Compton. The term was popularized in order to describe the groups who had members living in both Compton and Northeast Long Beach, which nearly border one another.

“To a place that be, call it LBC” --Snoop

2. LBC

It means Long Beach City!!!!! It’s not Long Beach Crip...they’re just “Crips.”

“I’m pimpin’ in the LBC cuh!”

3. LBC

Long Beach, California. From the context in which “LBC” is popularly used (and from simple common sense), it is clear that the acronym does NOT refer to “Long Beach Crips,” “Long Beach/Compton,” or “Long Beach City.”

“With so much drama in the LBC
It’s kinda hard bein’ Snoop D-O-double-G”

4. LBC

Long Beach Crip

So, um, it doesn’t mean “Long Beach Crip”—except when it does? What is clear is that I’ll be there Saturday night for this sure-to-be-pimpin’ event (okay, I admit it, the pimpin’ may be minimal. But experimental poetry will definitely be in the house):

Please join us for the third installment of Long Beach Notebook, this Saturday, July 29 at 8 p.m. at 43 Ravenna Dr., Long Beach, CA 90803, for readings by Aaron Kunin, Jen Benka, and Ara Shirinyan:

Jen Benka’s collection, A Box of Longing With Fifty Drawers, which is comprised of one poem for each of the 52 words in the Preamble, was published by Soft Skull Press in 2005. She is also the author of the Eisner-nominated indy comic book series, Manya. She is the recipient of grants and awards from Intermedia Arts, the Poetry/Film Workshop, Wisconsin Arts Board, and the Xeric Foundation. She works as the managing director of Poets & Writers, and on the side, organizes poetry events, which have included a 24-hour marathon reading of the complete poems of Emily Dickinson, a protest reading during the 2005 Republican National Convention, and currently, a five-night festival celebrating women poets ( She lives in New York City.

Aaron Kunin is the author of Folding Ruler Star (Fence Books, 2005), a collection of small poems about shame. The Mandarin, a novel, is forthcoming in 2007. He lives in California and teaches negative anthropology at Pomona College.

Ara Shirinyan is writer and editor of make now press in Los Angeles ( He curates the Last Sunday Reading Series at the Smell in Los Angeles with Stan Apps and Teresa Carmody. His chapbook Handsome Fish Offices is due out later this year on Insert Press.

Monday, July 24, 2006

how hot is it?

--So hot that my cats have actually gotten into the new game I invented for them, Chase The Ice Cube Around The Bathtub—which, if you think about it (and if your entire species is naturally averse to water), is not really all that fun.

--So hot that I woke up at two in the morning Saturday night—awakened by my own body temperature, I think, but kept awake by my neighbors, who were in the hall singing along loudly to R&B songs. I’m not really the tell-the-neighbors-to-keep-it-down type, but even if I was, I would have been too hot to do so. They seemed like they were having as much fun as two people can have at two in the morning when it’s at least 15 degrees too hot to have sex.

--So hot that AK and I spent even more time in Borders than we normally would have, reading the entire, brilliant Pigeon series by
Mo Willems. As with many series, the original Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is a tough act to follow, but The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog doesn’t disappoint. It offers a subtle but delightful twist on the established Pigeon pattern, thanks to the introduction of the Nermal-esque Duckling, who gives the Pigeon a taste of his own medicine.

Which makes the third installment, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late, a bit of a let-down, given that it follows the exact same arc as Bus, but with less of an absurd flair, as it is somewhat more realistic that a pigeon would stay up late than drive a bus. I suspect that Willems may have succumbed to pressure from parents’ groups to include a “lesson” (go to bed early), but to his credit Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late valiantly (even subversively?) maintains its Pigeon’s-eye-view perspective: The reader, despite being entrusted with making sure the Pigeon gets to bed on time, can’t help but relate to the Pigeon’s frustration and persistence.

--So hot that…. I was going to write about our long trek to the
Hollywood Bowl and the delight of eating shrimp cocktail in the dark while watching the Flaming Lips, and how even-more-exhausted Christine and Jody looked stretched out on the bench behind us because they were unfortunate enough to move frickin’ apartments on the hottest day of the year, but the current heat is now preventing me from doing so. Who can type when the backs of their knees are sweatier than…oh, I don’t know, something really sweaty.

I give up. I’ll be in the bathtub batting around an ice cube if you need me.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

sleepless in tacoma

1. the 98 percent

Travel is healthy, right? Expands your horizons and all that? Helps you discover who you are?

Apparently who I am is a neurotic mess, although honestly I didn’t need to go to Seattle to figure that out. Maybe I did, though, because in LA I’d been coasting as of late, enjoying my life, my lady, and the thought of having an extra $75 a week when I quit therapy, which I’m planning to do…any…minute…now.

Seattle was 98 percent lovely, as was Tacoma, where I spent the weekend with the perennially awesome Daisye. We indulged in such Western Washington activities as rummaging through antique stores, eating farmer’s market raspberries and shopping for custom-blended hand lotion. I got to meet Laura, Daisye’s new love, who is ideal for Daisye because (besides being really nice, funny, engaged and engaging) she A) is into rummaging through antique stores, B) likes wearing jewelry (Daisye likes making jewelry) and C) sees ghosts, which is just fucking cool.

2. the two percent

Yet for some reason, along about Saturday night, my brain decided to take a little vacation from my vacation. It was as if my brain said, “This is just too pleasant. We need something to stress about!” So it decided to snag on the fact that I hadn’t heard from AK for like five whole minutes which must mean that A) she was lying in a ditch or B) she was no longer interested in me, since I wasn’t there in person to smother her with kisses and regale her with fascinating tales of the nonprofit arts sector.

Actually, my brain did not say, “We need something to stress about.” I know exactly what it said, thanks to a couple of years of the aforementioned expensive therapy. It said, “Remember how your last relationship ended following a prolonged period of travel on B’s part? And how even though that’s not really why it ended, the extended absence wasn’t entirely unrelated either? Oh, and remember how you tend to think, in general, that you’re only as good as your last thoughtful gesture? Well, Cheryl, that’s all gonna add up to a new little phobia for you. Have fun!”

So there I was, wide awake in Daisye’s dark, beautiful, probably haunted apartment, already mourning my good times with AK, even as I rolled my eyes at myself. I probably could have left it at that and just willed myself to sleep (I am really good at sleeping), but I decided that if I’m going to quit therapy, I need to take advantage of free substitute therapists wherever I can, and I knew from past heart-to-hearts that Daisye was a pro.

“So, um, I’m realizing that I have some serious post-B anxiety about being apart and disconnecting from the person I’m with,” I said.

Daisye jumped right in. “That’s completely understandable. And I would imagine that you also have some anxiety about loss that relates to your mom’s death.”

Yeah, she’s good. She’s actually in therapy herself because she has a tendency to set aside her own needs so that she can play therapist to everyone around her. She’s getting over it, but, fortunately for me, old habits die hard.

She’s not a bad psychiatrist either—she prescribed some homeopathic stress drops that took miraculous effect at the exact moment when AK sent me a really sweet text message.

3. the mercy of the easily stressed-out

Dar Williams has this beautiful song called “Mercy of the Fallen” that includes the lyrics:

If your sister or your brother were stumbling on their last mile, In self-inflicted exile,
You’d hope they’d meet a humble friend. And I hope someday That the best of Falstaff’s planners
Give me seven half-built manors, Where half-dreams may dream without end.

There’s the wind and the rain, and the mercy of the fallen,
Who say they have no claim to know what’s right.
There’s the weak and the strong and the many stars that guide us. We have some of them inside us.

Which is way more deep and wonderful than the meaning I’m taking from it right now, which is: Don’t get all sneery at those “Oh no, he didn’t call” girls because, guess what, you’re one of ‘em (and worse, because he—meaning she—did call).

I’m appreciating the mercy and active listening skills of others, and trying to be merciful to my own fallen self and neurotic girls everywhere. Thanks, Dar. Thanks, Daisye. Thanks, Señor Freud (as AK calls him).

P.S. I’m thinking of changing AK’s blog-name to “De Mille.” When I look at “AK” on the page, I’m like, “Is that ‘ack’ or ‘ay-kay’?” and I don’t handle ambiguity well (see much-aforementioned therapy). What do you think? AK or De Mille, as in Cecil B.?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

getting it wrong since 1543

I’m back, and figuratively jetlagged if not literally, since I never left the Pacific time zone. I’ll tell you more about Seattle and San Francisco in a bit, but for now I’ll just steer you towards a fascinating exhibit at SF’s Asian Art Museum, where Jamie and I killed some time before our flight yesterday.

“A Curious Affair” consists of paintings, sculptures, tableware and furniture—dating from the 1600s to the 1900s—that trace Asia’s influence on Europe and vice versa. There are wildly inaccurate maps, landscape paintings that deposit Chinese pagodas in the midst of Thai villages, Japanese triptychs that merge a couple of French cities and call it “Paris,” and absurd ethnic caricatures from both parties. Eastern and Western cultures were fascinated by each other (though the West tended to drool over the East a bit more than the other way around, apparently), but not enough to be sticklers for detail. They just sort of rounded off to the nearest lotus-leaf hat.

Part of the reason I’m a fiction writer is because I’m a lazy researcher, and “A Curious Affair” reminded me of the myriad ways you can go wrong when writing about a place or culture you’re unfamiliar with.

Currently I’m trying to write a story set partly in Malaysia. I thought I at least had enough material to write convincingly from the point of view of a 20-something American woman who spends a week there, but right now I’m working on a scene where my main character rents a bicycle, and I find myself wondering, What brand of bicycles do they ride in Malaysia? Is the bicycle rental industry dominated by the Chinese or the Malays or no one in particular? Would it be realistic for the bike to have a basket on the handlebars or is that just so American?

It’s enough to make me want to write tiny little myopic stories set between Manhattan Beach and Mid-City. Except I really don’t want to write tiny little myopic stories set between Manhattan Beach and Mid-City.

The other thing that “A Curious Affair” drove home was that postmodern pastiche predated the concept of postmodernism (not to mention modernism) by a good 400 years. Like many people of my generation, I trip out on Japanese T-shirts with poorly translated English phrases (and the American goods that now imitate Japanese goods that imitated American goods).

But this back-and-forth, this lost-in-translation and lost-in-re-translation, this global game of telephone, has been happening since the Portuguese first docked in Japan. Maybe even since Pangaea cracked apart and people started wandering across footbridges to get to newly formed continents. Authenticity isn’t dead; it never lived. Which is a huge relief.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

a not so funny thing happened on the way to my car

Well, maybe the petty thief who broke in thought it was funny. I didn’t. The good news is he (she? It totally could have been a minor league Angelina Jolie in Gone in 60 Seconds) didn’t take all that much, although I now owe Sara one power drill and I owe my trunk a 24-pack of Crystal Geyser. Actually, I got the sense that this was a quick, polite, utilitarian break-in overall. Not an I-want-to-fuck-with-your-life kind of break-in. I’ll take the former, given the choice.

I’m about to head out of town for a bit, so the blog will be quiet for a few days. But if any shady types ask, I’m totally in town hanging out with my angry rottweiler and polishing my gun.

Monday, July 10, 2006

a funny thing happened on the way to my car

Two funny things, actually, on two occasions within the past week:

1. It appeared that my car was eating a pizza. No one was around, but there was a paper plate with a slice of cheese pizza on the hood, just sitting there peacefully. There was maybe one bite out of it.

I looked around. I didn’t want to deprive my car—or, more likely, a nearby human—of a tasty snack, but I also needed to go.

Finally a man walked up. “This your car? Sorry about that.”

“I’m sorry it’s not cleaner,” I said.

You know the phrase, “so clean you could eat off it.” That doesn’t apply to my car. My hood was covered in dust and bird shit. Really, any other car on the block would have been a cleaner choice, but maybe Honda Civics are just the right height for eating.

2. My car was parked next to the mural that adorns the side of Aceptamos Estampillas. A chunk of the mural—which is already pretty graffiti-wracked—had fallen to the ground.

Now, I love murals probably more than the average person. I wrote a 25-page term paper on the topic in college, which is what nerdy middle-class white girls do when they really love something. If I’d been a member of a different demographic (specifically one that can draw things bigger than two inches high), I would have been a street artist. So my first choice, of course, would be for the mural not to get all graffitied and broken (although there’s a theory—‘cuz I’m down with mural theory—that says murals stay untouched as long as they serve the community, and are sort of organically eaten when they cease to do so).

But…since it was falling apart…and no one was around…I decided that I could provide a good home to the chunk that lay on the sidewalk. I picked it up and opened my trunk. At which point I heard voices behind me. I heard a “she” in there somewhere and worried that they were talking about me, the Mural Stealer.

Without turning around to face them, I looked up at the mural and sort of held the chunk up to it, like I was trying to figure out if I could stick it back on. I wanted them to see that I was wrestling with a moral dilemma here, that it’s not like I had chiseled the piece off or something.

“Are you gonna take it?” One of them asked. They were two boys, 15-ish, dressed like basketball players but on the short side.

“If I leave it here, do you think they’ll fix it?” I asked, as if the boys had any connection whatsoever to the mural or the store. “Because if they would, I’d totally leave it.”

“Nah, they’re going to paint over the whole wall,” said the boy with red shorts and matching terrycloth headband. I had no idea how he knew this. Maybe there was a local grapevine I wasn’t part of. Or maybe he just knew everything because he was a teenager. “You should take it.”

“I just don’t want it to go to waste. It’s so cool. I was thinking I could put it up somewhere.”

“You should take it,” he said again. “You draw?”

“A little bit.”

“Yeah, me too, I do art,” he said.

“Yeah?” I said. “Maybe when they paint the wall, you can paint a new mural on it.”

That’s the ending I’m hoping for. Maybe the magical grapevine will allow for it. In the meantime, I’ve decided I have local approval for my Mural Stealing, thanks to my poll of two. So it looks like the mermaid painting will now have a giant brown eyeball in the middle of it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

feel free to leave comments in verse

Usually, the last Friday of the month is Poetry Exchange Day at work. (Hi, we’re geeks, nice to meet you.) No one remembered last Friday, and I wasn’t about to send out a reminder, as the only poem I wrote in June is still in the sucking stage. But in honor of our aborted exchange, I present my weekend in haiku.


She and her sister
have the same earlobes.
(Oh, right, watch the game.)


B’s laundry weighs more
than just a bunch of shirts and
sheets I once slept on.


Ramones and red wine
fill Hollywood Forever.
The dead rock out too.


I think of Petco
too late—thoughtful-adjacent.
But she calls it sweet.

Her mom’s conclusion:
If you won’t date boys, at least
choose a girl who’s tall.

Fireworks near and far
sprinkle light on the 5 North,

the best view in town.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

the devil is in the details

AK and I were in search of air conditioning.

“I sort of want to see The Devil Wears Prada,” she admitted, “but you said you thought it looked bad.”

“Oh, yeah, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to see it,” I said. Although most people have guilty pleasures, or ironic pleasures, sometimes I want to see movies because they A) are shiny, and B) will make me mad. I like the sensory pleasure of fashion montages followed by the righteous indignation that follows inevitable clichéd storylines or stereotypical characters.

But on this front, Devil was thoroughly disappointing. I genuinely liked it (unlike my friend
Heather, with whom I will now have to engage in fisticuffs…just kiddin’; I liked it, but not quite enough to fight for its honor).

Whether or not you read the book (I didn’t), you probably know the plot: Girl applies for journalism jobs, girl get stuck as assistant to subtly whip-cracking fashion mag editor, girl must decide if she wants to sell out everyone she knows so that she can be a whip-cracking celebrity editor herself when she grows up.

NPR review that I heard complained that Anne Hathaway’s character wasn’t likeable because she pretty much does sell out everyone she knows along the way. But I liked that her fall was genuine and significant. The devil doesn’t want to hang out with Hilary Duff.

Mostly, however, I liked the movie because it made the right choices—details that saved it from being an over-the-top send-up of an easy target. Instead, it was unselfconsciously smart and weirdly realistic.

As we crossed the parking lot of the local Magic Johnson Theatre (because while the devil may wear Prada, this mortal is on a budget), I initially lamented that Hathaway’s transformation from mousy journalist to fashionista was too subtle. But AK argued that that was kind of the point—she dresses like a normal 20-something New Yorker, meaning she has slightly messy hair and a cute, preppy coat. But the fashion world is obsessed with details, and so adding bangs and changing her sweater make all the difference. Similarly, the famous running joke is that Hathaway is fat because she’s a size six. When she diets her way down to a four, she’s no longer a pariah.

Meryl Streep, who plays the titular editrix in chief, is also refreshingly subtle. She murmurs instead of yells, expertly conveying how people in positions of power, or with certain personality types, get away with the shit they do: They strike so much fear into the hearts of their underlings that by the time they walk into a room, everything has been frantically prepped to perfection. One icy criticism assures that, next time, the underlings will work even more frantically and achieve even more perfect results.

Those scenes kind of stressed me out, actually. Most of the bosses I’ve had have been incredibly nice, but in life in general, it doesn’t take much to strike fear into my heart.

We left amused and cooled, and headed downtown for
KCRW’s free Kinky concert in California Plaza, one of those semi-spontaneous outings that turned out to be awesome. Kinky was groovy and danceable and smooth in a way that still had heart.

AK and I did some dancing of the still-diligently-watching-the-show variety, and toasted with our styrofoam Robeks smoothie cups as we watched the lovely crowd. Hipsters and families and hipster families, and an excited clique of 20-year-old girls who jumped up and down in unison on the balcony, waving their glow-bracelet-clad wrists. I couldn’t think of a better fashion accessory.