Wednesday, February 28, 2007

the poetry of busy

Every now and then, someone makes me want to write a poem. Most recently, it was Tess Gallagher and Eloise Klein Healy, who read and talked poetry Monday night at the Geffen Playhouse. It hasn’t happened yet (the writing of the poem); in fact, even the writing of this blog entry is barely happening. Yep, it’s one of those weeks where I forgot to book any real downtime for myself.

Chronic over-bookers are annoying because:

1) They tend to act like it’s not their fault. Like God instructed them to work a serious job and take a writing class and go to two readings and one movie and one mysterious sales pitch about something that their friend swears is not like Amway all in the same week.

2) They then proceed to play the I’m-sooo-busy card in discussions with others, which implies that others are not busy, which of course they are. They’re just quiet about it, and they manage their time better. Think about it: Do you know anyone between the ages of 12 and 80 who’s not busy? In America, we only have the busy and the busier.

3) When you do get to see them, they are tired and cranky, because they’re all about quantity over quality.

4) They don’t tend to write lovely poems like Eloise’s or Tess’, because poetry takes space and breath and controlled inefficiency.

Then again, poetry also takes a little busy-ness. I just visited Eloise’s website in hopes of finding some of the aforementioned loveliness to excerpt here. I was thinking of trees and birds—and Eloise does have a beautiful poem about a grackle—but I found poems about war and AIDS and immigration and working at a diner. Reminders that trees and birds are both more and less than lovely—they’re here with us on the ground, wanting what we want, beauty and sustenance. The job and the movie.

From the grackle poem:

It’s so simple, she’s like a person.

She wants the beautiful thing.
She wants to eat.

She’s like a person, she wants to live
with that beautiful blossom and she wants to eat.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

very special youtube

Have you noticed that a lot of blogs aren’t so much chronicles of the blogger’s life or opinions, but more depositories for their favorite YouTube videos?

I’m not saying that I’m above this, just that I’m a little late to the game. Until recently, I’ve been a passive YouTube watcher, watching only what people send to me or, well, post on their blogs.

But last night I crossed a line. After coming home solo from my sister’s birthday party (AK and I both wanted quality time with our cats—not to fill any lesbian stereotypes or anything), I had some post-party energy that took the form of watching old episodes of Punky Brewster on YouTube.

It’s amazing how much new technology is used for nostalgic purposes.

First I watched an episode from the third season (by which Punky had stopped wearing the same thing everyday and started teasing her bangs) called “Metamorphosis.” While Cherry is despondent that she’s “a pirate’s treasure, a sunken chest” (big canned laughs—I guess the studio audience hadn’t heard that one before), Punky, on her way to the D cups that the actress would become famous for having downsized, doesn’t want to get a bra because she’s worried that Henry won’t love her anymore if she’s not his little girl.

I was surprised how much the episode made me squirm—I was completely transported back to my days as a reluctantly boobed 10-year-old caught off guard by sitcoms featuring very special storylines. I remember sitting red-faced, trying to avoid my parents’ eyes, as Darlene got her period on Roseanne and Suzanne’s beauty pageant buddy came out as a dyke on Designing Women.

Thank goodness for the relief of a lighthearted second episode of Punky, in which Punky misses the big DeBarge concert because she cheated on a book report. Luckily DeBarge is free to come to Punky’s apartment and teach her that reading is cool, and to sing a couple of songs.

Having never cheated on a book report—or been a particular DeBarge fan—I could sleep easy.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

girls, interrupted

1. rhymes with bitch

One great thing about driving down highway 99 in a rental car (and there are not a lot of great things) is that you can listen to the CD of the Wicked soundtrack that your sister burned for you over and over. That’s how I spent Thursday and Friday of last week, and by last night, I was fully prepared for opening night at the Pantages (Cathy’s awesome Christmas present to me).

I knew that Stephen Schwartz’s score was as catchy as his earlier musical Godspell and that the lyrics were even better (no offense to Matthew). He is a master of breaking words in half and sewing them together to make unpredictable rhymes. For example:

And helping you with your ascent al-
lows me to feel so parental


Uh, Nessa,
I’ve got something to confess, a
reason why I asked you here tonight.

Add to that a story ripe with political allegory and literary allusions and I’m in heaven. The musical opens with all of Munchkin Land ding-donging about the witch’s death, then flashes back to the years when Glinda and Elphaba, the green girl later to be known as the Wicked Witch of the West, were classmates at boarding school. What begins as a classic tale of a snotty prep and an awkward outsider forming an unlikely friendship evolves into much more.

Glinda and Elphaba’s grudging respect for each other as well as their very real differences of opinion regarding the importance (or unimportance) of public opinion form the roots of Oz’s future. Thus, in addition to Wicked’s more obvious (but still smartly executed) allegories about mob mentality, racism and revisionism, it is boldly and subtly political in its suggestion that female friendships—the subject of so many concerned parenting books and titillating memoirs—could influence what happens on the world stage.

2. i think you’re craaazy, just like me-eee

Wicked was a nice complement to Girl, Interrupted—another story about a troubled outsider that everyone but me has already read. Whenever I get too bogged down in the literary world to actually read, AK does her best to bring me up to speed, and so she nabbed a used copy of Susanna Kaysen’s memoir at Alias Books on Sawtelle last weekend and encouraged me to read it.

It could be described as a titillating memoir of female friendships (and female insanity—do they always go hand in hand?), but it’s the best of its kind. Actually, I mostly thought it was going to slam the medical establishment and be all, “What is crazy anyway? Aren’t we all crazy?”

I thought I would come away feeling boring and conventional and resentful. Some books have that effect on me, and this one could have if I let images of Winona and Angelina creep into my brain the way they kept trying to.

But, with its simple prose and short vignettes, Girl, Interrupted is more delicate and complicated than any of my potential reductions. The narrator doesn’t deny that she was troubled and needed help, yet she also refuses to acquiesce to the labels thrust upon her. She portrays the rituals of treatment at McLean Hospital as absurd, but she doesn’t make out its staff to be villains.

Kaysen, whom I’ve decided must have had a profound influence on Andrea Seigel, has an enviably high ratio of amazing sentences to just plain good ones. So I’ll close with one of many passages I’ve liked so far:

The student nurses were about nineteen or twenty: our age…. They were living out lives we might have been living, if we weren’t busy being mental patients…. We did our best to control our snarls and mutterings and tears when they were around. Consequently, they learned nothing about psychiatric nursing. When they finished their rotation, all they took with them were improved versions of us, halfway between our miserable selves and the normality we saw embodied in them. For some of us, this was the closest we would ever come to a cure.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

what would jesus drink out of?

I just purchased a $15 purple thermos at Starbucks. In the past, I’ve looked at the overpriced coffee accessories on the shelves and wondered, Who actually buys that crap? Now I know the answer.

Ed’s sermon on Sunday was about lent. As a newbie to this church thing, I’ve never given up anything for lent before, but it’s the type of project that appeals to me. I always have a long list of self-improvement-related tasks waiting in the wings, ready to be called into action at the slightest provocation: a new year, a birthday, a Monday. Lent offers a new opportunity to reach for an unattainable goal—only this time I’m answering to God, so I better not fuck up, right?

I thought about sacrifices I might make—ideally something that would improve not just myself, but the world too. All Saints is all about that.

Ed sort of sighed and said, “It’s not really about giving up chocolate or cheap white wine.” Then he said something about embracing your enemies rather than slandering them.

Damn. My brilliant idea was more in the chocolate-and-cheap-white-wine category.

Although being nice to obnoxious people for 40 days sounds hard and won’t help me lose five pounds, I guess I’ll give it a try. But I’m also enacting my original idea, which is to give up disposable cups. Hence the Starbucks thermos, since I’m certainly not going to give up Starbucks, and I’m not brave enough to bring a non-Starbucks-sanctioned thermos onto the premises. It’s all about realistic goals, right? Then, when I’m done with my latte, I’ll fill it with cheap white wine.

Monday, February 12, 2007

the good news is i’m the “perfect editor”

This is me.

This is me reading at UC Riverside earlier today. This is the flyer that was posted on campus to promote the reading. I’ve Googled my name enough times to know that this Cheryl Klein is a children’s book editor. I’ve always wanted to email her and say, “So, we’re both named Cheryl Klein and we both do stuff with books. Crazy, huh? Want to hook me up with a publishing deal or something?” This may be my in.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

like a hot pink, swarovski crystal-encrusted candle in the wind

Isn’t it frustrating when someone you could look to in your shallowest, least empathetic moments—someone you could count on to be so vapid and sluggish and selfish that you felt completely comfortable judging her and sooo the opposite of those things—goes and dies?

Then you’re like, Oh shit, she was a real person. As much as I’m all for laughing at spoiled people, maybe sad things happen when those spoiled people are also kind of dumb and have family issues. I sort of feel like I contributed to the demand side of a really ugly economy.

In other news, Britney and that guy who looked like K-Fed but wasn’t K-Fed have broken up.

Monday, February 05, 2007

glorious nation of america

1. site-specific moviegoing

Because AK and I like to stay on the cutting edge, we just saw Borat. (I’ll agree that it’s funny, and that that Sacha Baron Cohen kid is a smarty, but I’m not sure it was the big exposé of America that people have said it was—I just came away thinking, Yeah, America has some nice folks and some assholes.)

It was only playing at a second-run theater on Hollywood Boulevard. The good news is that tickets were only $7. But these days, seven dollars apparently gets you a seat in the world’s longest, skinniest theater, where, when you shift to try to dislodge the metal spring from your butt, the whole row of seats moves back a foot.

The ticket taker was a tall, lurching man with a birthmark covering much of his face. It was hard to understand him because the speaker in the plastic wall of the booth was broken. When we walked in, a smaller man scampered down the stairs to ask if we wanted him to open up the darkened snack booth. We didn’t.

The theater was also dark when we walked in. After we groped our way to our seats, I whispered to AK, “When the lights come on, I feel like we’ll see that the room is full of dead bodies.” Luckily it was just a few snoring homeless people.

Ultimately I enjoyed the stale smell of the theater and the crumbling tile and exposed wires in the bathroom—it was like we’d just seen Borat in Kazakhstan.

2. starring will smith as horatio alger

Later we saw The Pursuit of Happyness, a movie with a lot more faith in America. So much faith that, when Chris Gardner (Will Smith) tells his son he can do anything he wants in life, there’s an actual American flag waving behind him.

That makes the movie sound painfully heavy-handed, which it wasn’t. It was sincere and refreshing and riveting in a way you might not think watching a guy try to make $21 last a week would be. Most movies about money are about people trying to get rich—and while this movie ultimately was as well (Chris is trying to become a stockbroker while raising his five-year-old son), he spent most of the movie being poor. Not just pan-across-a-crappy-apartment-to-show-the-gist-of-it poor, but the kind of poor where you have to think about every dollar all the time. In forcing the viewer to do the same, the movie brings us $10.50 closer to knowing what it’s like to be really and truly broke.

But while I give Happyness an A+ for its depiction of real problems, I give it a D- for offering real solutions. Because of course (spoiler alert—but not really) he does become a stockbroker. He lives in a homeless shelter, sells medical equipment to pay off his debt and stays up till the wee hours of the morning studying for the exam that he will ace, surpassing his fellow interns, a bunch of preppy white boys who can work for free because everything else in their lives is also free.

The “haves” in Happyness are depicted as nice if slightly oblivious guys—the head exec thinks nothing of borrowing $5 for cab fare from Chris because he would never consider that he only has $7 to his name. And Chris, who learns the rules of all games quickly, knows that he can’t inconvenience his bosses with his poverty. I liked that the businessmen weren’t all evil Mr. Potters, but I was pissed that the movie, like Chris, didn’t challenge the system in which they worked.

Arguably, the movie makes it clear that only an extraordinary person could do what Chris does. This is a man who takes big risks and can solve a Rubik’s Cube in the duration of a cab ride. But because it does such a good job of making us empathize with him early on, we’re subconsciously deluded into thinking he’s us, and that we too could go from rags to riches, and therefore shouldn’t begrudge rich folks their riches.

Should I be giving moviegoers more credit? Maybe—but this non-extraordinary moviegoer found herself (despite all her socialist-ish thoughts) waking up this morning inspired and determined to do no less than 25 productive things today. Chris Gardner did it—why can’t I?