Thursday, November 29, 2007

do my homework

Despite the fact that my head is full of paint chips, I’ve been trying to get back into writing after a prolonged break (weird how breaks are so prone to prolongation). I’m not quite ready to start draft three of my novel, though, so I’ve been trying to do some freewriting. More specifically, I’ve been trying to write the way I used to, which was to start 12 or 13 stories and see what stuck.

But so far nothing’s sticking. I don’t even necessarily need it to stick, but I need to be inspired enough to not be lured away from my laptop by exciting tasks like putting all my sweaters with holes in them in a bag for Goodwill. (Except the green V-neck. I just can’t let that one go. Or the pink cashmere I got for 75 percent off.)

I’ve been experimenting not only with retro form but with retro content as well. I’ve written some little pieces featuring subject matter that intrigued me as a budding middle school writer: babysitting (I must have been newly inspired by What Claudia Wore), haunted houses, The Popular Kids.

Maybe tonight I’ll try a murder mystery. I’m only writing the beginning, so I won’t have to worry about solving it.

Anyway, they say you should never be afraid to ask for help. So I’m calling on you, Bread and Breadketeers (I was just watching some YouTube footage of the old new Mickey Mouse Club on my friend Mandy’s blog. It’s pretty amazing), to provide me with writing prompts.

Here’s how it works: In the comments section, let me know what you’d like to read a story about (hot air balloons! Midgets! Ethiopia’s role in World War II!), and I promise to write at least 400 words about it and post it here.

Or—for you limber creative writing class pros—you can leave me a wackier, more constraint-based prompt (a cutup of my high school journal entries! A story composed only of verbs!). Except, please don’t actually ask me to write a story composed only of verbs.

And if any comment-turned-short-blog-story actually makes it to publication, I promise to share my earnings with you. So make room on your bookshelf for one complementary copy.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

life on chapel hill

So, you know that aforementioned two-bedroom duplex on the Highland Park/Eagle Rock border? We’re moving there December 21—just in time for all of our rippling- biceped friends to be out of town for the holidays.

It took a weekend of grownup conversations, the kind you have to have when there’s more at stake than what movie to see, but I think both AK and I emerged relatively unscathed. In fact, I felt even more confident about our various conversations than I did about the at-least-it’s-not-carpet tan tile in the duplex.

“I’m going to try to be very process oriented about this whole thing,” I informed her, trying to psyche myself up for a month of painting, packing and heavy lifting. If I was going to be goal oriented, I would have to wait 30 days to reach my goal, which seemed daunting.

“Um, okay,” she said.

AK, who actually is fairly process oriented by nature, was busy enjoying her evening and had moved beyond the move.

An uninhabited space is a big projector screen for all your thoughts about what your living space should say about you. AK wants her space to say she lives in a world of crown molding. I want mine to say that I live in a world where everything is folded neatly.

We’re both learning to live on Earth, which isn’t a bad little place, really, especially when painted a shade of light green that Dutchboy calls “Chapel Hill.” And although I feel like a ‘50s housewife geeking out about the washer and dryer…hallelujah, there’s a washer and dryer! (Don’t worry, Dad, I’ll still come home to visit.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

turkeys and penguins

“So you’re not having turkey and salsa with the Ybarras?” AK said, a little hurt, when we realized last year that we hadn’t made any plans to spend the holidays together. We both grew up in Southern California and our families still live here, so usually not a lot of planning is necessary. You wake up on the morning of a holiday and drive to your parents’ house.

But this year, like mature adults, we decided to spend the holidays together and to discuss how we’d do it. It was a five-minute conversation between drinks at the Of Montreal show at the Avalon a couple of weeks ago, so maybe “like mature adults” isn’t the right phrase, but it all worked out nicely: Thanksgiving with her family, Christmas Eve with mine, splitting up for Christmas morning because neither of us could stand the thought of breaking our parents’ hearts. We might be mature adults, but we’re not cruel.

So yesterday AK and I drove to Orange County where I skipped the turkey but ate lots of salsa, mashed potatoes, biscuits, rice, fruit salad and pie (only one of these things is not a carbohydrate, and that thing is a condiment. Why do people think Thanksgiving is a hard holiday for vegetarians? It’s the best holiday).

Then AK and her sister and brother-in-law and I collapsed on the couch in a sea of Target and Best Buy ads and watched Ratatouille and March of the Penguins. Eventually we realized it was getting late and the lethal blizzards were taking their toll.

“Quick, we need to leave before anymore baby penguins die,” I told AK.

We hit the 5 in a cozy, tryptophan/pumpkin pie daze. It was exactly the holiday I’d wanted. I’d been anxious about the various housing decisions awaiting us, a kind of anxiety that merges way too perfectly with my OCD, where no matter how useless thinking about something (in this case, a two-bedroom on the Highland Park/Eagle Rock border) is, my brain treats it the way a pit bull would treat the ankle of a burglar. Not letting go, chewing it to a pulp.

But for a while I could enjoy the easy relaxedness of AK’s family, people who are far more concerned about your thoughts on cranberry-7UP punch than your intentions on their daughter. And I could console myself that I didn’t have to walk 70 miles for a mouthful of plankton. I have a lot to be thankful for.

Monday, November 19, 2007

gift recommendation

Nothing says “Merry Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/solstice, dear girlfriend/boyfriend/bff/little sis/mom” (okay, maybe not mom) like a memoir by a professional submissive. But seriously, Joan Kelly’s The Pleasure’s All Mine is funny, candid and, in more than one or two scenes, pretty damn hot.

As a woman who likes to get tied up and spanked—but hates to be bossed around in real life—Kelly addresses all the questions you’d want to ask someone in her line of work: Is it possible to meet a nice guy who can be mean on command? How do you avoid laughing when a client wants to “punish” you for being late to the dungeon? Plus plenty of questions you might not think to ask: In a threesome carpool, does the domme automatically get to ride shotgun? (Answer: Yes, if she’s pregnant.)

What enables Kelly to be a good pro is her forthrightness (“I would very much like to play with you,” she tells Mistress K, “I’m just afraid it’ll make me feel attracted to you…and I don’t want that to end up being a weird thing”), and that quality also makes her a good writer. The Pleasure’s All Mine is a simply written memoir about the very complex set of emotions that underlie kink.

I went in expecting lots of stories about crazy clients, and while there’s no shortage of adventure, I was pleasantly surprised by how much respect she maintains for her clients in every scene. Even the asshole who blatantly trades her in for a sub he finds better looking she describes as only “somewhat squirrelly.” Hardly the jaded pro, she approaches each session with sincerity and enthusiasm, making the book feel almost…wholesome. But don’t worry, there are plenty of dirty parts too.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

like crisco for chocolate

“Many recipes have added fats and shortenings, including Crisco,” said the recipe for Easy Chocolate- Covered Strawberries. “There is no need to add any extra calories to the chocolate-covered strawberries.”

The food theme of this month’s book group was aphrodisiacs, since we’d been reading The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. Sea kelp and tiger penis sounded unappetizing and oysters sounded expensive, so I decided to dip one aphrodisiac in another, refrigerate overnight and presto, love-inducing dessert.

The recipe assured me that all I needed to do was microwave a bunch of chocolate chips and dunk the strawberries. But I’m actually not very good at microwaving, maybe because my micro is on top my fridge and standing on my tiptoes every time I need to stir or check on done-ness usually ends up being just as much work as heating things on my stovetop.

I decided that chocolate chips could certainly be heated on a burner. Except instead of a bubbling fondue, I quickly found myself with a fudgy mass that looked like…well, let’s just say it didn’t look like anything that would be an aphrodisiac to anyone but Dan Savage’s most out-there readers.

As the chocolate threatened to burn, I panicked. How to make it liquid and dip-friendly? I consulted my recipe for clues.

That’s it! I thought. I’ll add some fats and shortenings!

But I had no Crisco (sorry, lovers of the trans fat), so I added canola oil and butter—except it wasn’t real butter but some organic low fat Trader Joe’s product called “Earth Balance.” I was now a good six degrees removed from any real recipe for chocolate-covered strawberries. For good measure, I poured in some milk.

Miraculously, the chocolate began to look beautiful, like something Augustus Gloop would want to swim in. And it tasted only a little tampered-with.

I dipped all my strawberries. Then, with much chocolate left over, I dipped a banana. Then I dipped two apples worth of Granny Smith slices. I don’t recommend the latter. Red Delicious, maybe. Not Granny Smith.

Now my fridge is full of chocolaty fruit, and I’m hoping the chocolate part will harden. It occurred to me that the things I added to make the chocolate more melty may also prevent it from being anything but melty.

So I may have to make a last minute dash to the store for tiger penis. Don’t tell anyone it’s not homemade, okay?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

claudia and the crazy-ass outfits

Date: Wed, 14 Nov 2007
From: AK
To: Cheryl Klein
Subject: Claudia

Hi, Cheryl-

I thought you would enjoy this blog, dissecting the outfits of one of the “crazy dressers” from the Baby-Sitters Club book series. You were a fan, no?


Date: Wed, 14 Nov 2007
From: Cheryl Klein
To: AK
Subject: Re: Claudia

Claudia Kishi—like Punky Brewster and Pippi Longstocking before her and the cast of Rent after her—may have been the subtle inspiration for some of my college outfits, and a little bit for my character Felix in Calla Boulevard, a girl who tries to be fashion forward and ends up just being weird. I might have to blog about this blog. Thanks, baby!


Sunday, November 11, 2007

flea bitten

I’m not sure how I made it to age 30 without ever having been to a real flea market. When I was a kid my family went to the swap meet periodically, where I’d search out LA Gear sneakers and short, wide Body Glove T-shirts. And my mom was a thrift store regular, to the extent that my dad, who was always trying to get her to indulge a little, referred to her “98-cent T-shirt collection,” meaning why not break down and by a $20 shirt or even something that was Dry Clean Only?

Today AK and I went to the Rose Bowl Flea Market, mostly because no less than four of her friends were planning to be there, and she and I have a tendency to always be on the lookout for a party.

But it was cold and my new shoes were biting into my ankles and I ended up spending a lot of time on my own. Not in a bad way. There were just so many booths that it was hard to concentrate on other people and on things, and there were so many things.

Some things that caught my eye, which I didn’t buy:

  • Milky white juice glasses with red stripes
  • Sparkly wrap sweater
  • Necklace with randomly spaced silvery beads
  • Necklace with a circle of fake diamonds (ever since seeing The Jane Austen Book Club, I’ve been wanting a necklace that is some variation of Maria Bello’s, which involves circles)
  • Red vinyl chair with white piping if it were in a little better shape
  • The modern-y white glass lamp that Christine and Jody bought, which will look so cool in their apartment because they are the kind of people who have the ability to make things look effortlessly cool
  • Tank top printed with small castles
  • Everything on the many $5 racks

I was overcome with greed and longing, which is what happens when I enter an arena of shiny, reasonably priced objects. I’m flooded with thoughts of what my life might be like if I had a lot of space for decorative items or the ability to upholster or if I gave dinner parties. The only solution is to buy nothing or everything. Today I leaned toward “nothing,” although I got a couple of Christmas gifts.

It was a nice Sunday, capping a really relaxing weekend. But tonight I’m feeling wistful and bored and I’m wondering why.

If all goes as planned, AK and I will find a place together later this winter. We spent some time this weekend talking about Gold Line proximity and washer-dryer hook-ups and rent control. So maybe some of my blueness is antsy-ness. Nesty-ness. I want as much of my life as possible to be in one place and I’m ready:

I want to come home knowing that I won’t be leaving again in an hour. As much as I like to be the pared-down, sustainability-minded urban girl on a train, I also want to spread out, steam up a kitchen, turn on a lamp, invite friends over, have chairs for all of them.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

top chef

1. S.A.D.

Fall makes me sad. Well, I think not-writing also makes me sad, but I’d prefer to blame the weather, because that can be addressed via such things as:

  • coats (I love coats)
  • baking (I love carbs)
  • those light bulb hats that they give people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (I’ve never worn one, but I bet I’d love it if I could find the right coat to go with it).

Last night AK and I baked a frozen pizza (that counts as baking, right?) and watched Ratatouille, which very much lived up to the hype. Whereas lots of talking animals in movies are really just people with fur, Remy and friends maintain many rat-like qualities which create much of the plot and humor of the film: A rat wants to be a chef, but the problem is, he’s a rat.

Brad Bird chooses just the right moments to ask us to suspend our disbelief (of course a rat can cook, and with a little help from his human friends, he can open a restaurant) and to keep it intact (of course the health inspector isn’t going to stand for such a thing). It’s a testament to his filmmaking that the movie’s precise (il)logic always feels seamless and organic.

2. buy me a drink and ask me about pokemon-as-vietnam-war sometime

I like to read cartoons as political allegory whenever possible, so watching Remy constantly debate whether to emerge from under his human beard’s chef hat and come out as the real star chef, I couldn’t help but get all Queer Studies 101.

In the end (spoiler alert!) Remy opens a bistro that is staffed behind the scenes by rats, a fact that only an enlightened few know. The health inspectors of the world have not yet come around. The message seems to be: We’re on our way, but the DL is alive and well. Kind of bittersweet for a Disney ending.

3. i got up at 6:15 and went to my day job

I also loved food critic Anton Ego’s speech about the critic’s most useful role being the discovery of the new, not the bashing of the bad.

And I usually don’t get excited about DVD extras—I figure deleted scenes were deleted for a reason—but I highly recommend the bonus features “Your Friend the Rat” and “Fine Food and Film.” The latter juxtaposes Brad Bird and chef Thomas Keller talking about the ways they work and get inspired, underscoring the universalities of the creative process. One similarity: Both those dudes work long hours and are clearly perfectionists.

Just like when I see movies about professional athletes, I was hit with an overwhelming desire to be really hardcore. To get up at 5 a.m. to do something—write, run five miles, whatever. To tear my hair out over something that appears, to mere mortals, to be complete. To be a mad genius whom other people feel they can never really know.

Of course there are a million reasons why I don’t really want to be that person, and at least a few reasons why I have come to believe that many good artists live well-rounded lives. Even Remy managed to merge his chef life and his family life. I just hope that part wasn’t fantasy.

Monday, November 05, 2007

go get 'em, WGA

Thursday night I was at a party where a screenwriter was talking about the then-impending strike:

“I was on the phone taking notes from this 23-year-old executive and she was like, ‘I really want you to get script 11 to me today, because we’re trying to stockpile before the strike.’ I don’t know if she even knew what she was saying, which was, ‘Help me to fuck you.’”

I’ve heard people mutter a few comments along the lines of comments that are muttered when professional athletes go on strike—i.e. why should rich people get even more money?

If the writers were striking to take bread from the mouths of janitors, I would agree. And yeah, as a writer who has never earned more than $200 for a fiction piece (with the average being approximately two complementary copies of a literary magazine; in my neck of the literary woods, a cash economy hasn’t even replaced the barter system), I understand the temptation to roll one’s eyes.

But the writers are striking to take money from the big giant safes of executives (picture Les Moonves rolling around in it a la Scrooge McDuck). And the studios are acting—as the guys on the other side of the table always do—like the Earth would come to a screeching halt if their profit margin were to narrow slightly.

I heard a guy on NPR talking about how the copyright and royalty systems are essentially archaic, and we’d be better off with a model in which writers (and musicians) are paid more up front with the caveat that their work would then become free and reproducible to all. He was probably right—you can’t fight the steady march of technology.

But as long as studios are making money off creative products, so should the people who actually created said products, as opposed to the people who leave notes like “A Martian wouldn’t say that” in the margins of scripts.

When the writers are back to writing, I suggest they turn their experiences into a musical. Strikes and other forms of mass protest always make good ensemble numbers—see Newsies, Ragtime, Les Miserables, Evita.

In the words of Disney’s under-appreciated 1992 live-action Christian Bale musical Newsies:

Nothing can break us
No one can make us
Give our rights away

Also in the words of Newsies:

Go get ‘em, Cowboy!
You got ‘em now, boy!
Go get ‘em, Cowboy!
You got ‘em now, boy!

Okay, so not all writers are Stephen Sondheim. Still.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

actually, there were piñatas after all

Me [in car, on cell phone]: Okay, Dad, I should go because I’m almost to the Metro station. I’m going to take the train to a Dia de los Muertos thing on Olvera Street.

Dad: Dia de los Muertos?

Me: Day of the Dead.

Dad: Wasn’t that Wednesday?

Me: That was Halloween. This is a Mexican holiday. It’s like a sort of commemoration-slash-celebration of the dead.

Dad: So there will be piñatas and things like that?

Me [rolling eyes like a 12-year-old]: No, no piñatas. I don’t know too much about it, to be honest. But I think there will be a parade kind of thing, and I know that people traditionally have picnics at cemeteries…. I’ve been missing Mom a lot this week, so I just thought it would be a nice thing to go to.

Dad: Okay, well, have fun. I don’t like the idea of you taking the train, though. It seems unsafe.

Me: Why?! You’ve never ridden or even seen the Metro, so I want to know where you’re getting these ideas.

Dad: I guess it’s just the areas it goes through, and the image of the New York subway.

Me: I would argue that the New York subway is really safe as well, but it’s even more absurd to use the image of the New York subway as the basis of your judgment of a subway system in a completely different city! Someday I’m going to make you ride the Metro with me, and you’ll see that it’s just a bunch of people sitting in seats, going places.

Dad [laughing]: Okay, we’ll do that.

Me: Bye, Dad. I love you.

Dad: I love you too. Bye.


Hey, it's bread...and bread! I like this holiday.

Sara and AK, my partners in revelry.

Aesthetically, Dia de los Muertos kicks the collective ass of Christmas, Easter and even Halloween. AK asked what would be on my mom's altar. I said, "Oreos, ice cream. And she would really just love the aesthetic of all of these altars. She was really into decorating." Which I realized made both my mom and me sound a little shallow. But the colors and the burning sage and the grinning skulls gripped me in a way I knew would have gripped her too. Both of us, down to the bone. So to speak.

"This holiday seems creepy," Sara said early in the evening.

"It doesn't seem creepy to me," I said. "Spooky maybe. I think it's supposed to be a little spooky."

After the novenario procession, during which a La Llorona skeleton howled out at us, I said, "I was successfully spooked."

"See, I changed my mind," said Sara. "Now I just think it's cool."

"Spooky is cool," I said. "Those things are not mutually exclusive."

This warrior is out to win hearts, minds and skulls.

The family that paints faces together, stays together.... Although, actually, it was really crowded. It would have been easy to lose someone.

Un muertito.

AK made a new friend in one of the stores.

Another nice thing about Dia de los Muertos. You can try this at home.