Tuesday, February 26, 2008

toward seriousness

Last night Jamie and I sat in on a reading and Q&A with Anne Carson and Peggy Shumaker at the Geffen Playhouse. Neither poet was miked, so their gorgeous, striking, playful poetry had to compete with the sound of my corduroy skirt moving when I crossed and uncrossed my legs, which I did a lot because I’m the most fidgety person on earth.

Peggy had a very quiet, polite reading style, and Anne had an “I don’t really care what you think” reading style. This was also the way they answered questions. People had more questions for Anne, who kind of brushed them off in a funny, stylish sort of way. I wanted them to ask Peggy more, since she seemed so eager to help, just the way you’d imagine someone named Peggy would be.

I didn’t ask either one a question, though, because when it comes to poetry, I just shut up and listen.

Both described themselves as voracious and sloppy readers. Anne reads Proust in French over breakfast, but she started on volume five.

I read Vanity Fair over breakfast. Not the book reviews or political articles, either. I read the articles about starlets, the ones that are 90 percent photo and 10 percent bullet point.

Lately I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a Serious Writer. Don’t worry, I don’t think it means abandoning the lowbrow. But I do think it means reading more and worrying less about finishing things (I am proving to be a very sloppy reader of Murakami, thank you very much), opening myself up to all sources of inspiration and finding bigger chunks of time to write.

Because I’ve been working hard at not working so hard (ahh, it’s good to be back in therapy), the latter goal cannot mean just beating myself up for needing more than three hours of sleep per night. It’s going to mean applying for fellowships and retreats.

There’s one with a May deadline I have my eye on. I’m determined to get there by asking myself “What would Anne Carson do?” Except during breakfast. That’s Cheryl time.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

i’ve now used 6:54 of my 15 minutes

Hey kids, remember this story? It takes place entirely outdoors, so it seemed like a good choice to help launch my friend Bronwyn’s guerillareads series, in which emerging authors (for now that would be me and Bronwyn) read site-specific work with the help of a tiny workhorse of a video camera and Bronwyn’s very impressive DIY editing skills.

It occurs to me that some of you out there in Blogland have never seen me live-and-sort-of-in-person. If you thought I had a sexy, gravely voice or eyebrows that did not move at random like a crazy person’s, then what you’re about to see might disturb you.

Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the transportation-themed mural in the background:

Now check out Bronwyn and her normal eyebrows:

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

for my own protection

I’m all for the paperless office, and for identity theft protection, but these online security questions are way too complicated, especially for those of us who have trouble providing a one-word answer to anything:

What is your spouse’s nickname?

I’m not married, and I call AK “AK.”

Where did you go on your honeymoon?

Um, still not married.

What was the last name of your first girlfriend/boyfriend?

Okay, that’s easy: “Ko.”

Error: Answers must be at least four letters long.

Fuck you. Some people are Korean.

What was the name of your first roommate in college?

Amber, but I’m so not going to be reminded of that girl every time I want to check my Visa balance. Next question, please.

Who was your arch rival when you were growing up?

Hillary, this girl who made it into advanced gymnastics a whole year before me and went on to be bitchy to me on our high school cheerleading squad, but I’m not sure she knew she was my rival. I’m pretty sure I was a completely unthreatening blip to her. Does a one-sided rivalry count? Also, see previous answer.

Who is your favorite athlete?

Nadia Comaneci, but I have to look up how to spell her name every time I type it. Next question please.

If you needed a new first name, what would it be?

We’re getting kind of existential, aren’t we? If you’d asked me when I was five, I would have said, “Anastasia.” More recently, when I’ve needed an alias, I’ve gone with Samantha Netherby, the name of a character in a novel I only wrote three chapters of. But if I actually really needed a new first name…can you clarify what happened to me? Am I in the witness protection program? Because then I’ll want to pick a name that’s totally untraceable, even to partially written grad school novels. I’ll want to pick a name I may not even like, and it probably won’t be one that will pop into my head readily when I log onto Visa.com.

What is the name of your favorite novel?

Do you know who you’re asking? No, I guess you don’t. Hello, I can’t pick just one. Song of Solomon is an all-time favorite that profoundly shaped my adult reading and writing life, but it’s been a while since I read it, and if I read it now, side by side with, say, Middlesex or The Hours or The Poisonwood Bible I’m not sure I would still declare it my favorite.

Who is your favorite musical group?

I’m a singer-songwriter kind of girl at heart. There are lots of bands I like—Spoon and Rilo Kiley and R.E.M.—but I don’t have the passion for them that I have for Rufus Wainwright and Dar Williams and Fiona Apple, none of whom would be valid answers to this question. I guess “the soundtrack to Rent” is also not acceptable, huh?

Which foreign country would you like to visit?

Oh good lord, there are like 72. But fine, fine. Spain. Okay? Spain.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

team gato and the great outdoors

For weeks, it went like this:

A few minutes before I leave for work, I pick a cat—OC or T-Mec—and hold the front door open a crack so he or she can get out without letting the other out.

Chosen cat says, “Outdoors! Awesome! I’ve been hearing about this place.” Sniffs patch of weeds under outside stairs for approximately two minutes.

Puts paws up on wrought iron fence separating yard from yard next door and says, “Hey, doesn’t Ferdinand usually leap through this fence and have all sorts of adventures?”

I say, “Yes, but Ferdinand is much skinnier than you and has been going outside for years. I realize these things may be related, and that’s part of the reason I’m letting you go outside. But my worrywart heart can’t make the leap all at once.”

Cat slinks around the backyard, admiring such sights as:

  • plastic tarps shielding our weirdly banked house from the rain
  • unopened can of Tsingtao
  • decomposing lemons from the next door neighbor’s tree
  • upstairs neighbor’s front porch, which means I have to climb up their stairs to retrieve cat, feeling creepy.

I pick up annoyed cat and carry him/her inside, as cat squirms and yells, “Put me down, lady! Let me have some dignity already!”


Last Monday, it went like this:

As soon as I wake up, I let both OC and T-Mec outside.

I close the door and stay inside.

I open the door obsessively every three minutes to see if they’re ready to come in yet.

After 15 excruciating minutes, OC is ready to come in. “It was nice out there,” he says, trying to look cool instead of slightly rattled by his brush with independence. “But, um, I have a lot of stuff to get done inside today. Like that armchair. It doesn’t have nearly enough orange hair on it.”

I force myself to eat a bowl of cereal and banish mental images of T-Mec confronting large, fast trucks.

After 37 minutes, T-Mec is ready to come in. “I’m back for now,” she says, “but you’ll be waiting by the door to let me out again in five minutes, right?”

I skip into the bedroom, where AK is still sleeping. For weeks, I’ve felt like a control freak and an impatient meanie. My interactions with my cats have been vivid tableaus of all my worst traits. But now I shout, “Baby, I did it! I loved something and I set it free! And it came back to me!”

So does this mean they’re mine to keep? In a more convenient world, yes. In this world, there are big, fast trucks and stray cats and dogs and so many differing ideas about what constitutes acceptable risk.

But there is also MaxCat Gourmet Classics in Oceanfish Formula, and if all else fails, that will bring a loved one home.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

yes we can look really cool in a fedora

I finally saw the Barack Obama “Yes We Can” music video today. It’s a pretty amazing specimen—a (sort of) grassroots political creation that has the look of being inspired by a Gap commercial that was inspired by a grassroots political creation.

I totally teared up as Jamie and I watched it in the office. When it was over, I told her, “I’m really inspired to vote for Barack Obama and believe in things that seem impossible and maybe buy a pair of jeans.”

Of course wherever inspiration goes, parody follows: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjbknhX383A. (Thanks to Nicole for the link.)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

vacation, all i ever wanted

If you've been reading a lot of Bread and Bread recently, you know that, when I'm not busy voting for Barack Obama, I've been spending my time being all stressed out. This weekend, I discovered an amazing cure. Get ready: It's called vacation.

It can be as short as two days and as close as the nearest major city (San Diego, in AK's and my case). We drove down Saturday afternoon and met up with Lenise, who's good at knowing all the fun things to do, even in a city she hasn't lived in very long. Look how much fun she is:

First stop: Ray at Night. I know L.A. has dozens of little gallery walks, but I've never been to one. Maybe they'll become like cable TV, something I only indulge in out of town. Here's a painting by one of Lenise's coworkers. He's a tech guy, which sort of makes sense--this painting reminded me of those PBS specials you see about mathematical patterns found in nature.

AK and I both loved the work of Veronica Gonzalez, and we bought a little painting she did of a big-eyed, brown-feathered owl. If I'd had a few hundred extra dollars, I would have bought the painting below. Veronica was wandering around and I told her how much I liked it. She was in her early to mid-20s with thick black bangs and glitter on her eyelids. "Oh, thanks!" she said, with not a hint of artsy angst or MFA snobbishness. "That one was so time consuming! I kept messing up and I had to start over." She made me want to buy all her work and introduce "do-over" into the critical lexicon.

This morning we drove up to the Wild Animal Park in Escondido. Naturally, when you're at a groundbreaking preserve that allows animals to live in their natural habitats, the first thing you want to do is visit the petting zoo.

My mom used to tell me stories about a place where you could drive around and sometimes the lions would walk on the hood of your car. It seemed like one part urban legend, one part Crazy Thing People Did Before The Days Of Lawsuits. These youngsters at the WAP's Lion Camp did not kick us out of our Land Rover--it was strictly an ominous prop.

"The crowd is going crazy for the lions," AK observed. "That one lion yawned and people actually applauded."

Despite its preservationist philosophy, the WAP is still an American tourist attraction. Meaning there were expensive chili cheese dogs for sale and, when we walked toward the elephant habitat, there was lots of signage aimed at lazy, lazy Americans. "The elephant habitat is just 200 steps away. There is one slight hill." Then: "The elephant habitat is 100 steps away. You're almost there!" AK measured her head against the size of an elephant's footprint.

It was all worth the 200 steps.

AK made one more wild friend on the way out, a slim little guy who lays off the chili cheese dogs.

Friday, February 08, 2008

have you hugged your reader today?

There’s a pattern to my reading list lately, which is Books That Give Me A Big Hug, like the one I wanted to give Hillary (the hug I wanted to give her, not the book—although giving her a book would be less likely to get me slammed to the ground by the secret service).

The latest hug book is The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty. It has a picture of a girl’s face and a flower on the cover, and promises “an endearing [narrator] with a wholly refreshing way of looking at the world.” My friend Daisye gave me the book years ago, saying something along the lines of, “It’s a good book, but not the kind you need to keep after you read it.” Also, there’s a blurb on the back from O, The Oprah Magazine. I thought, So it’s that kind of book.

And yes, it reads like a book O, The Oprah Magazine would like—charming and plucky—but it’s also much more tightly structured than it seems initially, and it advocates deeply for kindness toward people who are dealing with more than they can handle. It’s a coming of age story set against the backdrop of the early Reagan years, a time when the zeitgeist was anti-kindness.

These days I am trying to be pro-kindness. It’s easy to be superficially kind. I mean, I was a cheerleader in high school. I did back handsprings of joy even though I hated football and 50 percent of my cheerleading squad.

It’s harder to be genuinely kind—not just Good but Kind. Not just Kind To Other People While Secretly Making Little Guilt-Tripping Jabs but genuinely kind to myself so I can be genuinely kind to them.

I’m also reading Haruki Murakami’s short story collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, a Christmas gift from Jamie. He writes beautifully, but he does not hug me. He tells me odd and exquisite short stories, then leaves me to start the next odd and exquisite short story. But he writes a lot about sadness, and I think there’s something I should look at there, after I’m on square footing with kindness.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

suspenseful tuesday

In the end, I went with Obama. Whereas Hillary is a bit of a moderate who’s rabidly despised by Republicans, Obama seems like a progressive who’s managed to convince people he’s Mr. Nonpartisan. Also, he’s worldly in the most literal sense, which I think we need right now. But even as I inked my ballot, I wanted to give Hillary a hug.

My polling place—an Eagles lodge in Eagle Rock (how American is that?)—was pleasantly busy, making me realize how not busy the polling places in my two previous neighborhoods (West Adams and Mid-City) usually were. I could observe that both those areas were poorer and more heavily African American, whereas Eagle Rock is pretty mixed and middle class, and I could speculate that the lines were probably really long in Santa Monica.

But this election is all about optimism, right? So let’s assume that voter turnout is high all around the city today, that my previous polling places—a Baptist church and a Presbyterian church—are packed right now with people excited about electing somebody who is not George W. Bush.

That’s the best part. No matter who wins the general election, it will not be George W. Bush. Unless it’s Mitt Romney, who really is George W. Bush, but who, luckily, is as boring as he is evil and inarticulate.

If you haven’t voted yet, I highly recommend doing so. You’ll come away with a sticker, a story about how disorganized and archaic our electoral system is but how charming old people are (“I don’t see your address…oh wait, here it is. When you’re done, give your ballot to the little Oriental lady over there…well, she’s not there right now, but she’ll be back in a minute”) and that satisfied if tentative feeling that you’re doing something to get us out of this mess.