Thursday, August 30, 2007

i'm a loner, dottie, a rebel

You're One Hundred Years of Solitude!

by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Lonely and struggling, you've been around for a very long time. Conflict has filled most of your life and torn apart nearly everyone you know. Yet there is something majestic and even epic about your presence in the world. You love life all the more for having seen its decimation. After all, it takes a village.

Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

(Thanks to Tracy Lynn, a.k.a. Catch 22, of Kaply, Inc. for the quiz.)

Ironically, I’m the book that I didn’t quite finish reading my senior year of high school. It was after the AP Spanish test, and all we were required to do was read a Spanish-language book in translation, then write a book report on it en español. The night before the report was due, I still had about 20 years of solitude to go.

So I faked it—in Spanish, no less. I’m guessing Mr. Hernandez saw right through it, but after 40 years of teaching, he was even more burnt out than us senioritis-sufferers.

One day in class, Bonnie and I were talking about how we wished we could go to MacDonald’s. Mr. Hernandez overheard us and we thought we were going to get in trouble for talking (in English, por supuesto). But instead Mr. Hernandez rounded up the entire class and we all walked to MacDonald’s together. Que divertido!

Monday, August 27, 2007

slo weekend

1. get to know your neighbors

The sign said “Hostel Obispo,” but the building looked like my dream house: a beachy green Victorian with a bay-windowed front room all to ourselves. I was glad all the real hotels were booked.

In the communal living/dining room, amid San Luis Obispo city maps, long distance rate charts and a multicultural poster celebrating the golden rule, was a scroll that said “50 Ways to Form a Community.” The ways included “Shop at farmer’s markets,” “Get to know your neighbors,” “Plant a garden” and “Take a walk.”

Not too long ago, I’d commented to my sister, “There are people who are healthy because they go to the gym and eat low fat frozen yogurt, and there are people who are healthy because they ride their bikes and shop at farmer’s markets. I want to be more like the latter. But of course there are also people who eat French fries and watch TV, and I might be that kind of person too.”

While AK’s and my weekend did include some really good fries (at Fat Cat’s on Avila Beach, where all menu items are “lightly battered and gently deep-fried”), for a few days we were Community Types. We bought figs and peaches and nectarines and honey at farmer’s market. We biked and hiked.

And I appreciated that, although the hostel was a little rough around the edges, it was so much less wasteful than any hotel I’ve stayed at—we used the same towels for the duration of our stay. We cleaned up after ourselves. We composted.

The only part of being community-minded I wasn’t so into, I quickly discovered, was the part that involved other community members.

There were the requisite young, attractive Europeans. The German guy was busy flirting with the French girls (“Don’t you love how he finagled an invitation to go out with them and then was like, ‘Eh, I might come, I might not,’” AK observed), so we mostly ignored each other.

Then there were the Americans, including a guy I’ll call Ed because he seemed so much like an Ed (no offense to people named Ed). He’d never been to L.A. and asked things like, “Is Hollywood crazy?” and “Is Watts scary? You guys don’t live in a bad neighborhood or nothing, right?” I can’t remember where Ed was from originally, but he was currently living in Portland, though he was trying to stay in San Luis as long as possible, “because there’s so many Asians in Portland.”

Later he told me he’d discovered a homeless shelter nearby where you could stay 30 days for free. He was thinking of moving in. I’m pretty sure that when those “best places to live” rankings come out, they usually go:

1. San Luis Obispo
2. San Luis Obispo Homeless Shelter
79. Portland
80. Los Angeles

We also met a Santa Monica College student who was originally from Mexico City. He loved Santa Monica, he said, but he too wanted to move to San Luis because the homeless people in Santa Monica made him too sad.

“In my country, we are very family oriented,” he explained. “I don’t know how people can sit at restaurants and eat when there are people going hungry just a few feet away.”

Having done just that plenty of times, I felt a pang of guilt tempered with skepticism. On the drive home, AK and I fantasized about future travels. “Let’s go to Mexico City, where no one’s poor because the people wouldn’t stand for it,” she said.

“Good idea. We won’t even have to pack anything—we’ll just show up and people will welcome us into their families,” I said.

“He was really very sweet,” she sighed.

“We’re pragmatists,” I said.

“Yeah. We are.”

2. dykes on bikes

Friday we packed AK’s bike plus a rented bike for me into her Honda Civic. We drove a few miles, then rode the Bob Jones Trail to Avila Beach. Each of these activities—the packing and the riding—took roughly the same length of time. Putting the bikes in the car, taking them out and putting them back for each leg of our journey was an intricate task that involved geometry, choreography, mechanical thinking and a good memory. AK has a very good memory for movie trivia, but we both suck at all bike-packing-related skills.

One time we couldn’t get the bikes in at all, even though we’d done it just hours before.

“Fuck it, let’s just leave them sticking out and bungee the trunk shut,” said AK.

“We will never be able to go on The Amazing Race,” I said.

But all the sweaty logistics of bike-toting faded when we reached Avila Beach, where AK had worked as a hotel clerk while in college, and we watched sea lions dive and bark and fight on the lower level of the double-decker pier. They were mesmerizing—giant creatures with barrel chests, skinny emo rocker hips and puppy dog faces. They played chicken when vying for a coveted napping spot. They shoved each other in the water, showed their teeth, then forgot about it and were friends again.

“There’s a sad story about an English professor who used to come out here and swim with the sea lions every morning,” AK said. “One day she got attacked by a shark and died.”

“That’s awful,” I said.

“Yeah. She was swimming with sea lions, which sharks prey on, so….” Then AK added, “She was gay, she had a partner.”

“Why are lesbians always getting mauled by animals?” I said, thinking of the San Francisco dog-mauling case.

“Seriously,” said AK. “Maybe because they’re all outdoorsy and brave and stuff.”

“But I think the woman who got attacked by the dog was just walking down the hallway of her apartment building—”

“Oh, fine, I know. There goes that theory.”

3. creatures great and small

There were more animals and two human babies that weekend, and I’m proud to say we survived them all.

There were the horses on the Cal Poly campus—the Ag Unit was hot and deserted and we found ourselves eye to eye with dozens of unsupervised horses who suddenly seemed as big and strange as dinosaurs until one stuck his strong-jawed head through the bars of his stall and angled for a nose rub. Others followed suit. I marveled. They were beautiful and gentle, these immense herbivores.

Then they took big green poops in front of us and one got a very large erection and I felt a little dirty, like maybe I’d sent mixed signals.

There were the tide pools at Montaña de Oro, second only to rain forests as far as nature’s flashiness goes in my opinion. They were home to anemones and sea snails and tiny hermit crabs who inhabited dead snails’ shells (clearly they were community-minded types, if a tad opportunistic) and an orange thing that can only be described as a sea papaya.

There were Natalie and Hattie, the daughters of two couples AK knew from college. Natalie was a long-lashed seven-month-old who turned and smiled on cue whenever she heard the click of a camera and giggled every time anyone else laughed.

“We’re hoping that she keeps up the drooling as she gets older,” said Bret, her dad. “That way boys will stay back a little. They’ll be like, ‘That Natalie Rooks is pretty, but the drooling is a little strange.’”

Hattie, a petite two-month-old, was very good at sleeping and making alarmed faces. It seemed clear that her high school dating strategy would be playing hard-to-get.

4. melt-down beautiful

On the way home we stopped in Pismo Beach, a sleepy, scrappy beach town the way I imagine Hermosa once was and maybe even Manhattan a longer while back. The sky was deceptively overcast and I now have a bright pink sunburn on my back and butt to show for it.

But we were in the last hours of our vacation and we were determined beachgoers, wind chill and icy ocean be damned.

We lay on towels in our swimsuits and hoodies reading passages of Felicia Luna LemusLike Son to each other.

“This description’s so good: ‘Even though the photo was dated 1924, she was so goddamned rough and melt-down beautiful all at once that if someone had said to me, “Dude, check her out, her band’s playing tonight at Spaceland,” I would have so believed them and, I can guarantee, her thrasher riot girl band would have been my new favorite,’” I read. “I totally get that, how sometimes you can look at an old photo and see the person in a contemporary context.”

“And ‘melt-down beautiful’ is nice,” said AK.

“But other descriptions seem lazy. Like describing that girl as ‘the human incarnation of sex itself’ and using the word ‘crystalline.’ I think the book needed more editing. Or maybe it just sounded different in her head.”

We surrendered to the cold and took shelter in the Splash Café, home of the best clam-chowder-in-a-bread-bowl I’ve ever had. Let me just say that they toast and butter the scooped-out insides of the bread bowl instead of throwing them away. That’s a restaurant that understands non-wastefulness. Not to mention bread.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and transvestites

Right now I’m reading I Am Muslim, a collection of essays (first published as a newspaper column, as far as I can tell) by Malay writer Dina Zaman. It’s a heavy-handed title for a light-hearted yet sincere book.

(I felt a little weird reading it on the plane last week, not so much because I thought someone would make a Muslims-are-terrorists assumption and be afraid of me, but because I thought I might be mistaken for a pretentious provocateur just daring a TSA employee to “randomly” search me. Like I was all, “Ooh, look at me, I’m holding a sign that says ‘I Am Muslim’ at the airport. Even though I’m not Muslim. I am sooo edgy.” Also, the insole of my sneaker somehow got folded under while re-shoeing after going through security and I wanted to take my shoe off and flatten it out so badly once I got on the plane, but it just seemed too shoe-bomber-esque. This is another reason why I have to start buying nicer clothes that don’t fall apart so easily.)

A more accurate title might be Am I Muslim? because most of the essays address what it means to be Muslim in the modern world—how religious schools have become bourgeois status symbols, whether Indonesians (the “illegals-who-took-our-jobs” of Malaysia) are more spiritual than Malays, etc. Zaman writes briskly and irreverently and alludes to a lot of cultural issues in passing. I find myself struggling to figure out whether she’s A) not conducting the in-depth examinations she claims she wants to, B) writing to a Malaysian audience that doesn’t need further explanation, or C) succumbing to the constraints of a short weekly column.

For example, she ends one chapter called “After dark, my love,” a tale of her outing to a seedy restaurant featuring a drag show, by saying, “I heard more stories that night, but I’m sure you’ve heard them all before.”

I was thinking, No, I haven’t heard any of them! What’s an average night at a KL drag dive like?

But maybe Malaysians know. It’s interesting how drag queens, transvestites and MTF transsexuals seem to be highly visible in Southeast Asian culture. Zaman is a straight woman, but she mentions them frequently, as when rattling off typical temptations for young people. Apparently in Malaysia, it’s all about sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and transvestites.

I just read the chapter titled “It’s a Muslim issue: How gay are you?” which included a very sweet, sad Q&A between Zaman and a closeted gay Muslim woman who admitted she was in search of a loophole in the Qur’an but hadn’t found one that sufficiently alleviated her guilt yet: “If religion allowed it—then bring it on! Look out girls, ha, ha, ha.”

Zaman seems ambivalent about homosexuality—she has gay friends, but she seems to take it as a given that they’re sinners. The question is more whether sinning is all that bad—she sort of treats it the way you might if you had a friend who was sleeping with a married person. You’re not for it, but you can see how it happens. She does quote one gay male friend who suggests that, since Muslims believe all God’s creations are perfect, God doesn’t have an issue with gay folks any more than he would have an issue with someone who was born blind.

Which raises the question, are you saying being gay is a disability? Followed by, are you saying having a disability is negative? But Zaman doesn’t take things to their conclusions, she just puts them out there—and for all I know, that’s huge.

Monday, August 20, 2007

buat apa tu?

1. friday

Weird weekend. I got genuinely drunk for the first time in ages while consuming deceptively tasty mojitos at Sara’s and watching Hairspray (the original, not the bad new musical).

2. saturday

AK, Christine and I went to Sunset Junction. It was my first time, and I enjoy almost all street fairs for the good food and the people-watching, but I couldn’t help but notice how similar it was to the Manhattan Beach Old Hometown Fair, just with better bands, more tattoos (“One third of Gen Y has a tattoo,” Christine informed us) and booths selling punk rock baby clothes instead of ceramic soap dispensers. It was so hot that I felt like I was moving underwater (but, like, really hot water). People would have conversations that interested me, but by the time my tongue roused itself to participate, the next topic would be well underway.

AK got sick and couldn’t make it to Heather’s otherwise very fun 30th birthday bash (here’s a tip to anyone else planning a 30th birthday bash—it is good to have friends who have a fledgling catering business and make food like “mini ice cream sandwiches with pistachio cookies and homemade strawberry ice cream,” which they label with little typed cards on wooden skewers).

3. sunday

On Sunday my brain floated happily through church as the sermon worked its way into my novel, the perfect segue into the productive writing date that followed at Kathy’s place. But an hour later, the other Cathy—my sister—called and said in a small voice, “Can you come over?”

She and her boyfriend of three years had just broken up, and I dashed off to Westchester to try to be even half the amazing sister she was when B and I broke up a couple of years ago. She had just had dental surgery and was on Vicodin. It was probably a good time to be on Vicodin, although, good kid that she is, she refused to mix it with the booze I brought over.

“But there’s nothing crunchy in Mike’s Hard Lemonade,” I said.

She did freely indulge in the butterscotch pudding and brownie ice cream, though.

We talked and talked, in that way you have to do when somebody breaks up, where they repeat the story of What Happened enough times that it starts to make sense to them. Until they can see that not being with him could be right and possible, even though it was unthinkable just a few days ago. Cathy’s still feeling very tender towards her ex. She’s not ready for friends and family to say they Never Liked Him Anyway, which would probably not be accurate anyhow. But I was proud of her for deciding what she needed and calling things off, because the Klein girls aren’t always their own best advocates, and they tend to resist change. She did what I didn’t do two years ago.

Then we watched four back-to-back episodes of What Not to Wear on TLC, some of which hit too close to home. It turns out a T-shirt with a hoodie and a peasant skirt is not an acceptable look. Who knew?

I came home, threw a bunch of clothes in a bag for Goodwill, and talked to AK, who’d had a crappy day owing partly to the fact that I canceled dinner plans with her.

Part of the weirdness of my weird weekend, though, is that I didn’t feel that bummed out. A little intensity can be cleansing. I felt like the ground beneath AK and I was really strong, even if we were a little weary staggering around on top of it. I felt like my writing had achieved new texture and verve just by inserting a few Malay phrases (“Buat apa tu?” means “What are you doing?”…I think). And I felt inspired to buy jeans that really fit right in the butt.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

call me cindie

Seattle stays light until 9 p.m. in August. The late-night sunsets make you want to be outdoors.
Did I mention there's lots of good coffee to be found?
After two and a half days of worky stuff, Daisye picks me up and we flee to an island (Bainbridge), where we do what we do best: shop for books, old clothes and antiques, and drink coffee and talk.
It's an artistic island. This dog is clearly a local muse.
Back in Tacoma, there's an art festival going on. Really talented students draw perfect copies of famous paintings in chalk on the sidewalk. We wonder what it would be like if they did their own stuff. But a few feet away, a group of guys who seem like they belong in a Judd Apatow movie are doing improv that involves a lot of slow motion and fake swordplay. They are not as funny as a Judd Apatow movie. Maybe doing your own stuff is overrated.
Daisye and I hang out at her very cute apartment, home to Kinks, Necco and many antiques and cool crafty inventions. Daisye is currently considering turning a 1950's Japanese box featuring a puppy and the faded words "Leave a note!" into a shrine.
With Necco's help, she takes needle and thread to the vintage jacket I just bought. It's wool with some patches I like sewn on the back, but unfortunately the middle patch says "Indie," which we agree makes the jacket the opposite. "You could change it to say 'Cindie,'" Daisye suggests, but since I don't know anyone named Cindie, she covers it up with a less loaded patch.

Yoshiko picks me up for part two of my weekend in the greater Seattle/Tacoma area. I worry that it will be a little weird because Daisye and Yoshiko are exes and haven't seen each other in a long time. But it's fine, of course, because we're all grownups here, or at least the cats unite us. Yoshiko has recently begun what I want to describe as a personal journey, except that sounds like it would involve crystals or something. Suffice to say she's doing big things in her life. And big inside changes sometimes necessitate outward representation. Hence our first stop: a tattoo convention (just for ideas). Pirate ships seem to be big this year.
After an amazing soul food dinner (in a restaurant packed with white people; such is the current nature of Capitol Hill), it's back to Espresso Vivace.
Then on to Yoshiko's new house in Des Moines, a simultaneously old school and postmodern arrangement--she lives upstairs, her dad lives downstairs, and two half-sisters (her dad's ex-step-kids), a brother-in-law and three nieces live in the front house. There are zucchini and swiss chard and basil and strawberries growing in the yard between the houses. There are chickens and I think one of the nieces mentioned bunnies. And of course there is Yoshiko's Shiba Inu, Kenji the one-eyed wonder dog. He is shy but smart and sweet. He's very good at guarding the bathroom should anyone try to sneak in at 2 a.m.

AK welcomes me home.

a PSA for straight people

Dan Savage has this advice to two men who write to him essentially saying, “Dear Dan, I’m terrible with women and can’t get any action. Am I gay?”:

If being an inept heterosexual made a man gay, then gay men would not compose a measly 3 percent of the population…. You're not fags…you’re socially maladapted straight boys.

Thank you, Dan, on behalf of a queer girl who has heard a few of her straight female friends say, “I’m so fed up with men. I wish I were a lesbian” or “If I don’t meet a guy soon, I’m going to start dating women.”

Ladies and gentlemen, consider the implications of what you’re saying. 1) That dating your own gender is what people do when they’re not attractive or charismatic enough to draw a member of the opposite sex (even if you pose it as an “I wish I were a lesbian” compliment, it’s still insulting). 2) That dating your own gender is easier.

Of course it’s easier when you’re actually straight. There’s a very low possibility that someone you’re not emotionally invested in will break your heart. Dating someone you don’t care about is always easier than dating someone who brings out the crazy in you. All you girls who are fed up with becoming giggling, I-hope-he-calls losers over some guy, guess what? I’ve become a giggling, I-hope-she-calls loser over many girls in my life. And I’ve been surprisingly good at playing cool and hard-to-get with boys.

I will concede that if dating the opposite sex isn’t working and you’re attracted to folks of your same gender (or have weirdly intense friendships or find yourself terrified-by-yet-fascinated-with gay culture), you can give the “maybe I’m gay” theory at least a little credence.

Otherwise, follow Dan’s advice, get a makeover and read the dating tips on (Well, maybe not the latter. I’m not sure anyone of any sexual orientation should take dating cues from Dr. Phil.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

what happens at espresso vivace...

Even though I’d been to Seattle twice before, this was the first time I really got the whole coffee thing. I’ve been a coffee drinker ever since I discovered the open mic at the Hungry Mind in high school, but I’ve always drunk it for A) the caffeine and B) the sugar.

But since cutting out sweets (except for that muffin last week, those elephant-shaped graham cookies on Saturday and all those sweetened dried cranberries yesterday), I’ve been forced to become a plain latte girl. (Black coffee? What’s that?) And over the course of four days in the greater Seattle area, I drank so many amazingly good ones—strong but not bitter, frequently featuring a little leaf drawn in the foam (shout-outs to Espresso Vivace, Black Water Café and the Blackbird Bakery)—that I may never be able to return to Starbucks.

But Starbucks must have sensed that my loyalty was waning, because I arrived home to a gift (a mix CD of all its favorite new indie bands) accompanied by a passionate if embarrassing love letter:

Surprise—and thank you!

You’re truly one of our most loyal customers, and we just wanted to make sure you knew how much we appreciate your passion and support for Starbucks….

You’ve been in our stores, so you know all about the great music we have there. Along with our collection of unique DVDs and books, it’s all handpicked to be the best we can find….

We’ll see you soon.

Your friends at Starbucks

I think we all know that I’ll go running back.

More Seattle stories and pictures soon.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

tut, tut, looks like civil war in iraq

One of the things I love about public radio is that you don’t have to have a radio-friendly voice to be a star on its airwaves. Long live David Sedaris! And the guy who does Middle East in Focus on KPFK, who sounds exactly like Winnie the Pooh.

But, in regards to the latter, I have to say it was really weird to hear sweet, innocent Pooh say, “Egypt has outlawed female genital mutilation” on my drive home today.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

i’m good enough, i’m smart enough and doggone it, someone tagged me

I’m sitting here feeling hot, because it’s hot, and stupid, because a couple of days ago I sent my manuscript off to a writer I know and respect, who recently started a new imprint for lesbian fiction, poetry and nonfiction—and I just got a very thoughtful email from her reminding me that they’re only reading poetry this year, not fiction, which I would have known if I’d read the submission guidelines more carefully.

What do I always tell budding writers who want to know how to get their work published? Read the fucking submission guidelines. Only I don’t say “fucking” because I’m at work when I tell them.

Sometimes I’m a very careful and thorough person. Sometimes I’m not.

To distract myself from my embarrassment, I’m going to respond to Bronwyn’s meme, 8 Random Facts About Me. She tagged me, which is exciting—like getting picked not-last for the volleyball team, or what I imagine that is like, since I never actually experienced it.

This meme has some rules:

1) Post these rules before you give your facts.
2) List eight random facts about yourself.
3) At the end of your post, choose (tag) eight people and list their names, linking to them.
4) Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they've been tagged.

Okay, now for the eight facts, which will all be braggy, because I’m trying to make myself feel not-lame right now.

1) I won a one-pound chocolate bar from Trader Joe’s in 10th grade for writing the best “Modest Proposal”-style satirical essay in my honors English class. I wrote about how Americans liposuction patients should have their extracted fat shipped to Ethiopia where it could be fried up as a tasty meal for famished villagers. I think I was ahead of my time.

And now that I think about it, the prize was kind of ironic, huh? As was the speed with which I ate it.

Although I’m not sure if I trust my teacher’s judgment. I was telling my book group about this guy last weekend—how he gave us the first paragraph of every essay we wrote (well, except for the “Modest Proposal” contest ones) and how he once spilled 7 Up on a stack of papers he’d taken home to grade, then tried to dry them out by placing the soggy essays in Ziploc bags. He was surprised when they disintegrated.

2) In second grade, this kid Ashwin and I were tied for first in a contest to name all 50 states. We’d both been able to name 27. Then Ben Bogart came along and named all 50 in alphabetical order.

3) In kindergarten, first, second and third grade, I won the Best Costume prize at my elementary school Halloween parade (which was not so much a parade as a small circle on the playground). I can’t remember what I was in first grade, but in kindergarten I was a flower (with a tutu around my face and felt leaf arms); in second grade I was an Olympic gymnast (with medals from the March of Dimes Reading Olympics and blue felt stars pinned to my red-and-white striped leotard); and in third grade I was a veterinarian (with one of my dad’s white lab coats and a fake parakeet on my shoulder).

I realize that bragging rights here actually belong to my mom, who had a way with felt.

4) I’ve run two or three 10Ks. The reason I can’t remember if it was two or three is because I have three 10K T-shirts, but one of them may be from when I volunteered to pick up trash with my high school Key Club after the Manhattan Beach 10K.

I’m not saying that I found the shirt on the ground, just that they may have given us a free one for helping out.

5) I’ve been known to impress people with my ability to eat and like anything. Well, anything that doesn’t include poultry or mammals. But smelly durian, finger clams, fish eyes? Bring ‘em on! And domestic weird foods too: garlic ice cream, anchovies, wine from the 99 Cents Store, all types of things ending in “-furky” and starting with “tof-.” I’ve never tried escargot, but I totally would.

6) I can tell the difference between a ’55, ’56 and ’57 Thunderbird. It’s all in the fins.

7) I taught myself how to French braid. This was a really impressive skill in 1989. As recently as 2001, I gave myself a head full of cornrows (also known as inside out French braids). Even though the ‘80s are coming back (and have been in various forms since the late ‘90s), I think I may be too old for white-girl cornrows.

8) Yikes, I’m really resting on my laurels here, aren’t I? I must have a recent accomplishment. What have I done this week that took some skill? Um…how about this: After an unfortunate day that involved so many cookies and cinnamon twists I started having hallucinations about diabetic comas, I decided to take a dessert hiatus. I’m not going all crazy Whole-Foods-no-sugar—there is still yogurt and cereal and jam in my life. And, okay, one piece of peach pie at the book group, because I’m not going to be rude.

But I’ve actually gone more than a week without cookies, muffins, cake or ice cream. For a member of the Klein family, this is a very big deal. I don’t plan to keep it up forever, just until the coma seems believably at bay, or until I find myself face to face with a dish of flan.

But hey, enough about me. I tag:

Alanna of Mindy Chiu/Inside the Mind of a Philosophical Iraqi

Amy of AmyRottencore

Claire of Taller Than Average Tales

Erin of Ereils

Jamie of Morning River

Mike of MySpace blogdom

Patricia of wasabi press

Tracy of Kaply, Inc.

Some of y’all haven’t blogged in a while. You know who you are. I want to read you. Warm up that “new post” button, troops.

Friday, August 03, 2007

rescue me

When I told Terry I was trying to write a domestic family saga that opened up part way through and turned into a more global story, she mentioned Aimee Liu’s novel Flash House, which, she said, “starts out as a character-driven drama, but turns into a political thriller.”

She meant it partly as a cautionary tale: “Aimee had a really difficult time marketing that book,” she said.

But to me such a statement is often a selling point, and so I bought Flash House (used, I’ll admit—but in hardcover!) and I just finished reading it an hour ago. Genre-related schizophrenia or not, the entire thing is a page-turner. I read it at breakfast instead of Elle, and if you know anything about the OCD intensity of my morning routine, you know this is a big deal.

The character-driven-drama part of the book involves Kamla, a half Kashmiri, half Chinese child prostitute living in Dehli in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Early on, she tells us (and I like that Liu chooses a non-American narrator), she singles out Joanna Shaw, an American reporter’s wife who runs a halfway house for brothel refugees, as the woman who may save her from a life of poverty and abuse.

And she almost does—but although Joanna takes Kamla in, schools her and even adopts her, Kamla’s girlish heroine-worship gives way to a deep skepticism that is one part molestation survivor (would you trust anyone if you’d been raped by a police officer?) and one part true. Joanna is well meaning and not as naïve as most of her contemporary ex-pat ladies who lunch, but she’s still far from fully understanding how difficult it is to truly escape the streets.

The political-thriller component revolves around Joanna’s husband Aidan who goes missing while on assignment in Kashmir. Joanna goes looking for him—with Kamla, her son and Aidan’s Australian war buddy Lawrence in tow—in the mountains near the Chinese-Indian border just as China is beginning to fall to Mao’s Communists. Rumors abound. For the next few years, Joanna is left to wonder whether Aidan left her or was taken from her, and who’s side he’s on.

Flash House is a deeply ambivalent book, and that is what unites quiet, calculating Kamla with the spy games storyline. The book is wary of the idea of rescue, whether the hope comes from a mother, a lover or a political party. It’s a warning Americans should probably heed—we’re fond of trying to save people, and we tend to mess things up much worse than Joanna does.

At the risk of going against New Criticism (if I’m correctly remembering what New Criticism is), I’ll say that Flash House is more intricate in plot and expansive in subject matter than most books by women. I was glad Liu took the project on, and I frequently found myself stepping back and gaping at the amount of research she must have done, though I felt the level of craft wasn’t quite up to that of Richard Powers, who writes similarly dense and intense books.

I’ll also say that there is a resonant femaleness to the story, a literal unwillingness to sacrifice character to plot, as Joanna tries to comprehend how her husband can abandon his wife and son for a cause, whatever that cause may be (even as she virtually abandons her children for the cause of her husband). Ultimately Liu suggests that men and women aren’t so different in their desire to rescue and be rescued. They just go about it differently.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

elizabeth ong is missing, but stephanie sheh is alive and well

My actor friend Stephanie starred in short film called “The Dress” as part of AZN Television’s 72 Hour Shootout contest. It’s a noir piece featuring guns, a missing girl and a laundromat. Go to and cast your vote for your favorite movie (there’s some logging-in business, but it’s not too painful—you don’t have to set up a password or anything, although they do want to know your race for some reason, but you could make something up).

If you know what’s good for ya, kid, you’ll vote for “The Dress.” It’s a gem of a flick, and Steph’s a classy dame.