Friday, March 30, 2007

guess which one is my sister

Some photos from yesterday’s rally and march to renew the charter of Academia Semillas del Pueblo.

calling all women with a 10" bust

Great news, T-Mec watchers: The tumor was benign. A big, black, bumpy, two-inch, perfectly harmless tumor. The bad news, as far as Mec-Mec herself was concerned, was that she had to wear a little sweater to protect her stitches. It was actually more of a wife-beater—ribbed and sleeveless—and she looked like a bad-ass, in a cuddly sort of way.

I took a bunch of pictures, which quickly became historical artifacts. Girl figured out how to get her sweater off about 20 minutes after getting home from the vet last week.

Yesterday morning I took her in for a check-up, and told Dr. Marks (subbing for Dr. Wong, who’s out of town this week) that T-Mec has been wriggling out of her sweater.

“You could try to find a tighter T-shirt for her,” he said, looking me over. “You’re pretty big, but maybe if one of your girlfriends has one of those itty-bitty baby tees….”

I’m still not sure if he was calling me fat or telling me I had big tits, but either way, I can see why he works with animals rather than people. And I know men are notoriously confused by women’s clothing sizes, but I think it’s safe to say that even my skinniest, most flat-chested friends do not own T-shirts that would be tight on my cat.

Friday, March 23, 2007

good-bye writing group, hello orangutans

Okay, I’m back from Crazyville, more or less, thanks to ramen with Steph and Nina (right), some mellow quality time with AK, a lot of phone calls to my very patient dad and sister, and a really sweet get-well card from Sara’s cats, Chaucer and Schro. It was especially nice of them considering that they’ve never even met T-Mec in person—but they used to all live in the same building in Northern South L.A., so I’m sure they’ve had their eyes on many of the same pigeons and free-range pit bulls.

Now I have new cause for bittersweetness: On Tuesday I let my writing group know that April 25 would be my last day with them. I’m at a stage in my novel where I need to do a bunch of research, and being in a regular writing group brings pressure to turn in pages rather than study the rainforest conservation movement in Eastern Malaysia.

That’s right, I’m quitting my writing group because it was causing me to write too much.

Also, I’ve been in it for almost three years, longer than most MFA programs. I love my classmates and Terry, our workshop leader, and I’ve gotten a lot of priceless feedback from them. They’ve seen me through the most meandering of plotlines and they’ve kept me on track—or, as the case often is, helped me find a track in the first place. Nevertheless, I think it might be useful to get some new influences. My class tends to focus on plot, something I will always need a lot of help with, but I wouldn’t mind hanging with some theme types or language types for a while. I loved my time at UCLA and at CalArts and in therapy (which is sort of like school for your psyche), but I don’t think it would have been good for me to stick with any one of them forever.

My therapist told me once that there’s a school of psychology that recommends doing everything just slightly before you’re ready. That’s how you learn, and how you keep from burning out. So even though I’m thoroughly sad to say goodbye (even temporarily—there’s a good chance I’ll be back post-research), and I’m nervous about what will happen to my writing routine without that weekly structure and guidance—I guess that means I’m ready.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

darkness and light

1. sometimes the balance came out wrong

Turns out I am not fluent in vet-speak. “The full mammary line” actually only means one side—in this case the three left boobies, which would make her lopsided if she weren’t an A-cup anyway.

And, it turns out, “the X-rays are clear, but her tumor was big and nasty and bumpy” means there’s a fairly good (meaning very bad) chance that it has spread in some small way and could recur, which wouldn’t give her all that long. After Friday’s cautiously optimistic blog post (during which I was secretly feeling very optimistic), I came crashing down and stayed there for 16 excruciating hours.

I was feeling strange and stir-crazy, and since T-Mec was scheduled to be at the hospital overnight, I decided to meet AK in Hollywood for a movie. She indulged my need for the lightest of light fare and let me drag her to (she even suggested it) Reno 911! Miami, which I’m pretty sure was pretty funny. (On Thursday, the first of what’s shaping up to be the monastic life of a cat caretaker, I rented A Prairie Home Companion, which, despite being billed as a comedy, is actually all about how people survive loss after loss until they are wise and kind and a little archaic, and then death comes for them too.)

Before AK arrived on the red line, I wandered around Hollywood Boulevard, something I haven’t done in a long time but used to do a lot as an undergrad. Back then—when there were more graffitied empty lots and about the same amount of homeless people—it seemed weird and magical, a promise that the world beyond graduation held more beautiful and terrible things than I could imagine. I even got a tattoo, eventually, that related to this passage in Cynthia Kadohata’s In the Heart of the Valley of Love:

I thought of Hollywood Boulevard as a place that made you all of a sudden crave both darkness and light, and feel satiated with neither by itself. But you couldn’t be sure what the right balance was that you craved, so sometimes the balance came out wrong, and you ended up with middle-class white guys in shiny black boots, or right-looking girls who were somehow wrong.

On Friday night I wandered through Sephora, with its rainbow aisles of lip gloss and its pristine black-and-white exterior. I watched teenage girls glide their hands across nail polish displays and try to impress each other with sarcastic comments about anything they could latch onto, including the music pumping forgettabley through the speakers: I hate remixes, and I really hate techno remixes. I watched a woman, who may have been high and who may have technically been a man, apply layer after layer of tester makeup to her already mask-like face: orange-bronze skin with white-silver eyelids and pink-silver lips.

I felt like a rag that had been wrung out, and, newly dry, I was able to absorb more of what was around me. Happy and Busy were so far away. So was Kind, but so too was Judgmental. In their place was a floating intensity that was new but also ancient. That, if I wanted to be cold about things, was probably good for me, useful in some way I could not use right now.

2. transition to normal

I snapped out of it a bit when I saw AK emerging from the hole in the ground that is the Metro station. She too looked brand new—even cuter and friendlier than I’d remembered—and also familiar, of course, the person who could save me from all this.

The other face that saved me was Mec-Mec’s. All my worrying, my quickly shamed optimism and superstitious pessimism—all of it more or less dissolved when I went backstage at the vet’s Saturday morning and saw her in her interim cage. Yes, there was a big, meaty sewn-up gash running the length of her shaved belly, but there too were her blue eyes and sudden purr, saying, Hey, where’ve you been? Save me from all this, will you?

I scratched the side of her face and whispered that I’d do my best.

When I’m sick, I like to keep my routine as normal as possible, because then I feel less like a Sick Person and more like a Person Who Happens to be Sick. Either Mec-Mec is more intuitive than I give her credit for, or she and I have very similar personalities. Although Dr. Wong suggested all sorts of sicky measures, like feeding her with a syringe full of cat food and keeping her in the bathroom, T-Mec made it very clear that things would be business as usual.

She immediately climbed out of her carrier and used the litter box. She scratched on the door to be let out of the bathroom (and OC cried to be let in), so we ended up spending the rest of the night on the bed watching six episodes of the Sundance Channel’s TransGeneration on DVD.

The documentary series chronicles four college students (two FTM and two MTF) at four universities across the country who Happen to be Transitioning Genders while in school. The show is candid and, while it does provide some Trans 101 info, for the most part it just lets the kids be themselves, who are very different people: Geeky, self-involved anime fan Gabbie; sweet and wise Armenian grad student T.J.; Lucas, a southerner who finds himself one of the only guys at Smith (“I’m going to have to explain that on my résumé for the rest of my life”); and, Raci, a hearing impaired Filipina immigrant who shares a bedroom with her aunt in East LA and is too busy giggling and styling her hair to realize how much she’s up against.

There was something comforting about watching a journey so frequently portrayed as heart-wrenching at best unfold on the gorgeous, unlined faces of kids who, sure, have a lot of serious shit to deal with, but who all have the necessary support (from the sheltering environment of college itself to surprisingly accepting relatives to empathetic queer friends) to get through it just fine.

For every reverent nod, I also cringed when they tried on academic lingo like a too-big jacket and rolled my eyes at their youthful ploys and preoccupations. It was especially fascinating to watch Raci sob, “I’m so all alone” to her concerned drama teacher. They were both clearly playing roles—the “I’m here for you” adult and the desperate but charming freshman—and yet those roles were as genuine as they were practiced.

I have two more episodes to go. Another cold compress, another dose of antibiotics, a load of laundry. Then it will be time for bed, and then it will be another weird normal day.

Friday, March 16, 2007

pink ribbon times six

For those of you kindly tuned into the T-Mec saga, I just got an update from the vet, the super nice, energetic, seemingly 17-year-old Dr. Wong: Mec’s X-rays came back clear (though it’s possible she could still have tiny bits of undetectable cancer floating around in there, but hey, so could any of us).

She’s still having surgery to remove the lump we knew about as well as what Dr. Wong calls “the full mammary line.” I.e., all six boobies. Luckily, when you’re covered in fur, you don’t need to worry about how you look in a bikini.

Thanks for all your nice comments, Bread and Bread peeps. T-Mec couldn’t have more cyber-support if she had a Catster page.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

voice of the medium-satisfied people

I’ve developed a strange new hobby of filling out consumer satisfaction surveys. It started with a questionnaire about an Excel class I took at the Center for Nonprofit Management. They’re nice folks down there at the Center, so I filled it out. And I won a digital camera as a result.

Now, even though most surveys don’t enter you to win anything, I can’t stop. Earlier this week I let the Miyako Hotel in San Francisco know that I that the cleanliness of their bathrooms exceeded my expectations. I even typed a nice note into the optional “comments” box. Today I informed that the staff at Payless Car Rental was slightly below average in friendliness.

Part of it is the fake power: Expedia is listening to me! Part of it is empathy. Someone on the other end of the DSL line is compiling the results of these surveys, and I feel like it helps to balance their conclusions if not all the respondents are crazy, retired or venting about the worst customer service experience of their life. (Though the survey I filled out for Symantec probably landed me in the latter category.)

And part of it is the simplicity of being asked nothing more than whether you strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree with a statement. As I’ve mentioned before, it would be nice if voting were so appealing and potentially lucrative (the Miyako offered me a free upgrade with my next visit as a thank-you).

Nevertheless, I was starting to feel guilty about the time I’d devoted to Expedia when I still hadn’t responded to my friend Jo Anna Mixpe Ley’s email plea to help the undeservedly controversial multilingual charter school she works at renew its charter in the face of some crap from the LAUSD powers that be.

So I emailed all seven school board members. It was really easy, and it felt even better than a scented bath in one of the Miyako’s spa-style tubs.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

my girls

One year ago Monday, I was driving to Akbar, decked out in a red thrift store skirt, black T-shirt that said “Denise Rossi’s Dance Ten Presents Into the New Millennium” and a scarf with owls on it. It was my idea of a cute blind date outfit, though later I would find out that my date’s first impression was, She’s wearing a skirt. Weird.

But I guess it wasn’t all bad, because there was a second date, during which I choked on empanada toppings and lost my car in downtown LA.

“God, I hope it didn’t get towed,” I worried.

“No, you just forgot where you parked it,” she assured me. “Don’t worry, I do stuff like this all the time.”

Our attempts to celebrate one awesome year of looking for our respective cars after many fun days and nights on the town were somewhat thwarted by AK’s sudden and nasty cold and my discovery that my cat Temecula probably has breast cancer.

Yeah…I’m not taking it well. She’s scheduled for X-rays and surgery on Friday, and if the vet discovers it hasn’t metastasized, there’s a very good chance she’ll recover completely and live many more years (T-Mec is only six). If it has spread…well, I’ll take that even less well.

The only good thing about being depressed and spending the day in bed eating Shredded Wheat straight from the box is that it doubles as a nice way of spending quality time with your cats.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

good books and garlic knots

Friday I showed up late to Noel’s reading at Vroman’s. While you can count on many authors to read for a good (or not so good) 45 minutes, it was just my luck that Noel kept things short and sweet—so I only got to hear a few minutes of his seemingly really interesting new novel, Talking to the Moon. Noel is a sometime actor, so he read well, too. Sigh. At least I was there for the inspiring Q&A and tasty samosas.

I can’t wait to read Talking to the Moon, but I have about 250 more pages of Han Ong’s The Disinherited. It’s an ambitious and well written book, but it’s slow-going because A) the sentences are a lot more complex than those usually found in contemporary novels and B) it’s uber-cynical.

The narrator is the disillusioned son of a Filipino sugar mogul who (contrary to the title’s suggestion) finds himself with a huge chunk of dirty money to get rid of. He’s equally disgusted with the virtual caste system and unthinking Catholicism of his home country as with the greed and bullying that characterize his adopted one (yes, that would be the U.S., where he’s frittered away his teen and adult years getting in trouble, seducing women and teaching at Columbia).

Ong takes a dark view of stuff you can’t really take a bright view of—imperialism, globalization—and gives his protagonist the task of doing good in such a world. No wonder the poor character spends most of his time hiding behind his sunglasses. But the deeper the hole the author digs (and a few hundred years of colonization is pretty deep), the more interesting it is to watch the story climb out of it.


Saturday my family got together at C&O Cucina to celebrate Cathy’s birthday. I was in a bad mood because I was really tired and a power outage had thwarted my plan to do free laundry at Cathy’s house, but the garlic knots drenched in olive oil pulled me through the hard times.

Friday, March 02, 2007

hi, oprah

Yesterday after work, I pulled into the Chevron station near my office. When I got out of my car, the woman at the pump in front of me said, “Excuse me, do you know how to make it so the gas just keeps pumping and you don’t have to hold the nozzle the whole time?”

She was in her mid-40s, nicely but not fancily dressed. She had no accent that could be traced to a country where no one drives. So it seemed unlikely that she was either too rich or too poor to have ever pumped gas.

I said, “Maybe something’s wrong with it. I can try wrestling with it if you want.”

I hooked the nozzle into the tank, pushed down and clipped the lever back. It worked like it always does. The woman thanked me and I felt like a hero.

“My husband usually does this for me,” she explained apologetically.

When I told AK the story, she said, “Hi, Oprah.” Although that was my natural reaction too, I’d recently read a chapter of my friend Cara’s novel, in which the 18-year-old narrator, on her own after a nearly abusively sheltered childhood, feels lost and frustrated while trying to get gas for the first time. She doesn’t know how to pay or which buttons to press or how to work the pump.

Reading it made me flash back to my first time getting gas—I was 19 (I was a late-blooming driver), and my sister was with me in our parents’ Suzuki Samurai. I put the nozzle in over and over at all different angles, but the pump kept shutting off.

I was too embarrassed to ask for help—this was the sort of thing that competent 19-year-olds were supposed to know how to do—and Cathy, who was 16 and license-less, was no help either. She went through the motions of sympathy, but it was clear from her face that she knew this wasn’t her problem, and that made me madder than anything.

Eventually I must have managed to put enough gas in the car to get home, but to this day there are all sorts of things I should know how to do but don’t. Nevertheless, I was pretty proud of myself after the following conversation with our office building landlord this morning:

Dr. Temkin: Did you notice that the light in the women’s restroom keeps going off?

Me: Yeah, I saw that it was having problems.

[Calling the landlord is one of those skills I mostly don’t have, though that’s more about laziness than anything else.]

Dr. Temkin: All the women keep complaining that the motion sensor light goes out on them every 15 seconds.

Me: Oh—yeah, well, I’ve just been turning it all the way to the ‘on’ setting instead of ‘auto.’

Dr. Temkin: You’re a pragmatist, then.

Who me? Although I pride myself on being generally low-maintenance, I’m pretty sure Dr. Temkin thinks of Jamie and I as Those Ditzy Girls In Suite 211 Who Always Complain That The Building Is Too Cold. But in the space of two days, I’ve pumped my own gas, reset a fuse, pragmatically adjusted a faulty light switch and unloaded three trash cans full of paper at a recycling center deep in the industrial section of the city. There’s hope for me yet—maybe even for Oprah.