Friday, January 30, 2009

these boots were made for blogging (about)

It’s been kind of a rough week. But today the overpriced-but-discounted boots I ordered from Zappos arrived. It’s a little scary how much I can love an inanimate object. Or, I guess, two inanimate objects.

Four if you count the perfect brown boots I bought last weekend during my quest for the perfect black boots. Now I look at my shoes from so many different angels while walking around that you’d think I was checking for dog doody.

I think Rachel said it best on the first episode of Friends, when she had yet to enter spoiled-rich-girl recovery: “They’re my new ‘I don’t need a job, I don’t need my parents, I've got great boots’ boots!”

Although, since I bought them with Christmas money from my dad, I guess I do need my parents.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

no more ms. tough guy

1. my weightlifting career is in serious jeopardy

Until my best friend Shannon and I decided it was nerdy to get perfect attendance and played hooky the last day of eighth grade (though we still got our parents’ permission, which doesn’t help to disprove our nerdiness), I was always one of those kids who fought to go to school no matter how sick I was.

I think my pride in physical toughness is my one big butch quality. I was proud of making my high school’s bench-press wall of fame (if you call having your name written on a piece of construction paper in a musty, rarely-used weight room “fame”). I was proud that I didn’t cringe when getting my tattoo. I was proud that I didn’t need to take a single Vicadin after getting my wisdom teeth out, even though I might have had more fun if I did.

So when I learned yesterday that the mysterious lump on my abdomen was a hernia—meaning no weights or sit-ups until surgery—I had distinctly mixed emotions. The first was relief that it wasn’t cancer. Because while I’m tough, I’m also paranoid, and everything is cancer until proven otherwise. And “mysterious lump” has a pretty high burden of proof.

But then I started feeling all weird and invalid-y, and like maybe I’d caused this by not doing enough sit-ups to keep my ab muscles strong in the first place.

2. on the right person, eye patches are actually pretty sexy

Which is beyond dumb because it’s not like I look at other people with physical ailments and assume they did something to deserve them. My mom died of ovarian cancer (see paranoia, above), and it drives me crazy when people say that bad attitudes and stress cause such things. She was as happy as anyone, took walks every day, ate bowls of peas and carrots for lunch…and barely lived long enough to use her senior-citizen discount at Ross on Tuesdays.

But apparently there’s some tiny part of my subconscious that lives in a 19th-century novel, where you know who the villain is because he has a limp and an eye patch.

The more I think about having to baby myself—about having to answer yes to the question, “Would you like some help taking your bags out to your car, ma’am?,” as if being called “ma’am” isn’t punishment enough—the more I pout and baby myself emotionally. After going to the doctor’s yesterday, I spent my afternoon talking on the phone and reading Vogue, which I have to say was really great.

Right now it seems like a giant slippery slope, though, where by next week I’ll be Travis, this cautionary tale who was friends with my grandma. Travis had a horrible degenerative disease that resulted in loss of feeling in his limbs, amputations and the impression that the world owed him big time.

You know how, when some people are dealing with a serious illness, other people will say, “Wow, you handle it so well!”? I’m pretty sure no one ever said that to Travis. He lived to yell at nurses and people who parked in his handicapped spot and anyone who struck him as stupid, which was everyone. And he didn’t yell in a funny, loving, I’m-going-to-stab-you-with-a-spoon kind of way, but in a way where you just wanted to get out of there fast. Which made him lonelier and meaner and, as a result, lonelier and meaner still.

3. mostly complex carbohydrates, i swear

I guess I’m trying on different identities. Because hernia surgery is really not so special, I’m imagining and hoping I can milk Tough Girl for a little longer. But not forever. Someday something serious will hit, not because I’ll deserve it (unless it’s directly caused by carbohydrate consumption or playing Scramble on Facebook—but even then, Scramble happens to nice people, right?), but because I’m getting less young every minute.

And I just hope that I’ll be accepting and wise and irreverent, not an anxious ball of self-pity with a crusty shell of still-trying-to-be-tough. And I also hope that, before and shortly after hernia surgery, it’s still okay to go skiing and have sex. Because those things definitely help a girl’s attitude.

Monday, January 26, 2009

art imitates life

Two movies you should see.

1) Doubt: If I’d managed to see this one over the holidays, it definitely would have made my top-ten list (falling around number two or three). It’s so meaty and moral, with complex characters you want to dish on later like they’re your own dysfunctional family. Meryl Streep’s uber-moral dragon-lady nun character—who has a soft spot for little old ladies but wages war on ballpoint pens—kind of reminds me of my ex. Would you believe me if I said I meant that as a compliment?

2) Breaking and Entering: AK and I rented this 2006 movie last night, and Jude Law and Robin Wright Penn’s characters reminded us a little of ourselves in the way they dealt with their problems (or didn’t). Penn’s character got all control-freaky and Law ran away—although, AK pointed out quite fairly, “When I need to escape, I don’t have an affair. I just go to Barnes & Noble for a while.”

Fictional characters are a good entry point to talking about relationship stuff because you can see how you act from the outside. Also, you’re not having the chat when you’re mad at each other, but rather when you’re curled up in bed with hot chocolate, appreciating that you’re just mild versions of what’s on screen. You can also pretend you’re as good-looking as the couple on screen.

But even if you don’t have the same coping mechanisms as AK and I, you should see this movie—in which the robbery of a schmancy architecture firm in a rough London neighborhood causes previously parallel lives to intersect—because it captures the fallout of gentrification and globalization in a much more human and organic way than a lot of other movies. And did I mention the cast is really good-looking?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

there is an “i” in “introvert”

I just got back from seeing a read/sing-through of Embers, a “jazz opera in poems” based on Terry Wolverton’s novel in poems, at the L.A. Central Library. It was fun to see one art form morph into another, to hear words I’d read take wing against a background of black-and-white cityscapes.

But it was just as cool to look through the program and read people’s bios, many of which said things like, “So-and-so has been collaborating with Terry for 30 years.” Thirty years! I feel like I’ve only been working with (as opposed to against) myself for about ten. Suddenly I found myself itching with inspiration, wanting to inhabit one of those loose Bohemian worlds where artistic projects flow together and apart, and you all grab drinks after play rehearsal.

The problem is, I suck at collaboration. I never liked group work in school, and I pretty much always try to wedge an “I” into “team.”

Myers-Briggs puts me somewhere between introvert and extrovert*, but closer to the former. This means I’m always negotiating our social life with AK, who’s a giant extrovert except for jags of introverted bookwormish-ness. And if I find hanging out sorta tiring, I’m thinking that creating an opera would be hard.

But earlier today, Stephanie texted me, “I’m thinking of adapting something from the commuters into a short film. Would you be into that?”

I’ve known Steph for a dozen-ish years, and we’ve already collaborated on such projects as:
  • Working for the Daily Bruin
  • Driving to Arizona to see Rent on a whim
  • Keeping our apartment very dirty
  • Staging a fake press junket
  • Making out as Ginger and Mary Anne in The Tempest performed as Gilligan’s Island
  • Giving the gift of interpretive dance when we realized we hadn’t gotten our newspaper adviser a going away present
  • Throwing Stephen Sondheim a 70th birthday party
  • Audio-recording a few stories from The Commuters
Most of this stuff happened when we were in college, and I don’t get to see Stephanie nearly as often as I’d like to. She’s a voice actor and general theatrical renaissance woman, meaning she’s usually busy collaborating with other extroverts.

So even though part of me is like, Wait, do I have to write the screenplay? I don’t know how to write a screenplay!, I texted back, “Hell yeah!”

I’m hoping that I can just hang out on the sidelines and then get drinks with the cast afterwards. And still be in bed by 11.

*I know you’re all introverts. Extroverts don’t hang out on the blogosphere so much, unless they’re the type who take lots of pictures of themselves at parties and post them on their own little wannabe Perez Hilton blogs. But those aren’t extroverts, they’re narcissists, of which the blogosphere has plenty.

inauguration, celebration

L.A. Live, January 20, 2009.

Friday, January 16, 2009

confessions of a gentrifier who’s kind of over confession

1. perplexed in the city

First of all, a shout out to Hawaii friend Mano, because not many houseguests would get genuinely excited when their host said, “Hey, there’s this lecture at the library I want to go to tomorrow night. Want to spend your only night in L.A. doing that?”

Luckily, it was kind of a kick-ass event: a Q&A between poet/KPFK guy Jerry Quickley and writer/solo performer Danny Hoch, whom I became a fan of in college when his one-man show Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop came to UCLA. The topic at hand was gentrification, the subject of Hoch’s new show Taking Over.

Jerry and Danny are both NYC natives who saw the city through the crack epidemic, the Giuliani crackdown and the era when Michelle Williams began strollering her baby through Brooklyn. Even though Jerry was quick (no pun intended) to point out how everyone likes to believe the gentrifiers are the ones who came right after him or her, I could tell he also wanted to devote some time to humorously ragging on all the white people in Harlem now.

And Danny (a white guy with some hip-hop street cred) kind of did too, though in a manner that was a bit more nuanced. His basic point was that gentrification is a kind of colonialism because it involves bringing wealth to a place and using that wealth to displace those who are already there.

Even if you really needed to get out Kansas.

Even if you spend your money at local businesses.

Even if you teach or volunteer or advocate for your new community.

You’re still a colonizer.

“People keep saying to me, ‘Okay, so what should I do? What do you want me to do? Just give me an answer,’” Hoch said. And sure enough, a couple of people in the audience said just that, trying in subtle ways to exclude themselves from gentrifier/colonizer status. “I don’t have an answer,” Hoch kept saying.

2. return

Except he had one small and radical answer, which was: Go back to where you came from.

No one wanted to hear it—not even me, and I only live 25 miles from where I grew up, but about six classes and 75 cultures lie along that stretch of freeway.

He had a good point, one that I haven’t heard anyone else make, which is that all those people who found their hometowns in “flyover” land stifling owe it to their former communities—and to the “real” and “gritty” urban lands they want to adopt—to try to enrich their cities of origin. If you stay it will get more progressive. You can build an artistic and cultural community there.

It just doesn’t bring the hipster cache and instant gratification that setting up shop in Brooklyn or, say, Highland Park does.

After the talk, we ran into Raquel, a member of the Butchlalis performance troupe. “Are you a Danny Hoch fan?” I asked, just making small talk.

“No, I don’t think so,” she said. “He’s so paternalistic. I heard he owns all this property and has a PhD. His methods are so ‘90s—playing the guilt card. I think I’m over hip-hop theater.”

Raquel is waaay more tapped into the performance world than I am, and it seemed like she was already exhausted by a dialogue I had just caught a few enticing words of. In some ways, I didn’t really get what she was saying: Hadn’t Danny Hoch just implicated himself all over the place, admitting to having a fridge full of soy milk? And didn’t the Butchlalis also play a bunch of characters and draw on a mix of spoken word traditions and academic ideologies, not unlike Hoch’s shows?

But it also snapped me out of my Danny Hoch dazzle-ment a little bit. Like my favorite college professor Chris Cunningham, Hoch was a funny, educated white guy who waved my own privilege in my 19-year-old face until I cried, sometimes literally. As a descendent of British oppressors and Jewish grandmas, raised in love and comfort by parents who grew up in poor and/or dysfunctional families, I was a perfect storm of guilt.

3. then what, now what?

And then I got over it. Well, not like over it over it, but through it. Awareness is important. Guilt is mostly a waste of time. But sometimes a little awareness gets lost in the guilt-shedding process, and hearing Hoch again blew the dust of my awareness antennas. I’d be lying if I said that my masochistic heart didn’t warm to the possibility of more guilt, but I also felt like I was genuinely in a different place than I was a dozen years ago.

Like I could own my privilege but not be crushed by it, for no other reason than the fact that me getting crushed is not going to save anyone in the third world, or even any Highland Park natives.

(And maybe Taking Over takes this on, but what about all the gray-area gentrifiers? People like my friend Alberto, who grew up in HP but left for a long while and has a college degree and the most hipster-y music collection of anyone I know. People—myself included—who’ve gentrified an area only to be priced out of it five years later. People who might have been able to make a living in small-town Kansas but who, because they’re gay or trans, could never make a life there, as one audience member pointed out last night.)

So what do we, the gentrifiers, do? Last night AK—who left not-so-privileged Santa Ana for not-so-privileged-but-cooler L.A.—and Mano—who got bombed out of Vietnam as a five-year-old but now feels weird about displacing native Hawaiians in Honolulu— and I ate really good burgers and veggie burgers and grilled cheese at the Redwood Bar & Grill: a downtown venue that is not quite hipster, definitely not Skid Row, and brazenly pirate-themed. And we talked about all this stuff, and we waved our pirate flags.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

big house in the little woods

Originally our idea had been to go camping for AK's 33rd birthday, but as seasoned camper Christine pointed out, you can't camp anywhere north of Mexico in January. So we found ourselves at a "cabin" in Idyllwild that featured cable TV, a jacuzzi tub, a fireplace, a kitchen island, two garbage disposals, a pool table, and a small collection of creepy porcelain dolls, none of which I have at home.

Some members of our crew schlepped up Rock Band and Guitar Hero too, and whenever there was a debate over whether a Boggle word was a real word, Amy looked it up on her BlackBerry. So you can't really say we got away from it all, but I think it's safe to say we had fun.

Some highlights:

The decor. Oh, the decor. It was sort of B&B meets chainsaw.

A bottle of Riesling that AK and Pedro found in town. As any discerning wine connoisseur knows, all the best vintages come in bottles shaped like pets.

Veggie chili in the super-deluxe kitchen.

Pedro's specialty drink: tequila plus Squirt plus salt plus a funky pre-seasoned clay mug called a cantarito. Stephen kept calling the mugs "camarones," which means shrimp. The drink did not taste like shrimp; in fact, it tasted better than the cat wine.

Games galore. Christine and Jody did their best Bush frowny face using Stephen's Bush-as-pinup-girl playing cards as a model. (One more week! One more week!)

Hiking the Deer Springs Trail. So what if the route was a little confusing? And snowy.

Making a human totem pole/cheerleading. (I did attend cheer camp in Idyllwild the summer before my junior year in high school. So maybe something was coming full circle. I'm proud to say that this time around, I did not come home with the world's worst '90s-slouch-sock tan.)

Looking chummy despite some throwing of snowballs.

Birthday celebrations! Check out the portrait of AK by Pedro.

Amazing food cooked by people who own their own whipped-cream-making canisters. Amy looks a little stressed out here because she was having some doubts about her potato-and-greens Indian dish made with SPICES SHE GROUND HERSELF. Her doubts were not warranted.

More birthday celebrations!

Discovering that the local antique store carried our favorite childhood toy. (Some people might be bummed to see toys they'd played with billed as antiques. But AK and I were just like, "Snoopy! Awesome! Make me a snow cone!")

Reserved parking for squirrel lovers. Kimberly had just been talking about her dream to have a little squirrel ride around in her pocket, so I think she qualified.

And of course Rock Band. Even when it quickly dissolved into a band meeting.

Lots and lots of Rock Band. (Thanks, Christine, for the video. Thanks to everyone for a great time!)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

the free market isn’t free, but cholera is cheap!

Ever wonder why some of the world (India, Brazil, many parts of Africa, some parts of China) has been so poor for so long? Your high school history class may have subtly implied that it is just is, in an almost eugenics-y way. Or your teacher may have pointed out that those areas have suffered major droughts, which caused widespread famine and disease and stalled development.

I don’t know what mine said, because I dropped out of AP history my sophomore year and took California history. I could tell you a lot about the Gold Rush.

But, anyway, as Mike Davis explains it in Late Victorian Holocausts, peasants in most countries—England and India alike—lived very similar lives up until the 19th century. They probably had some cows, grew some grain, didn’t have iPods or anything, but were mostly healthy.

Certain areas (see above), however, were in the path of El Niño’s predictable-only-if-you-have-a-PhD-in-weather path, meaning they were especially susceptible to drought some years and horrible flooding other years. This was true long before Europeans got there, but back in the day, local leaders usually distributed reserve grain or traded with other towns and mostly staved off awful consequences.

Then Westerners—and it was usually the British, my wacky imperialist ancestors—came in and imposed a “free” grain market, which wasn’t free at all because it required all sorts of rules and tricks to maintain, and by “maintain,” I mean “ensure that the British always came out on top.” Tariffs, flooded markets, uneven exchange rates, the advent of “workfare,” corrupting local leaders and removing their patrimonial responsibility to their communities…these were just some of Victorian England’s interests and hobbies.

Although it doesn’t seem hard to figure out that you can’t make a starving person do heavy labor all day, feed him a bowl of rice and expect him to have the strength to do it all again the next day, when zillions of people died—as they never had before in previous droughts—the English blamed the weather.

Starvation, cholera, plague, cannibalism and storms of locusts ensued. If rivers hadn’t been completely dried up, they probably would have run with blood.

Davis is a classic muckraker who does an admirable job of combining social and ecological history while debunking many Western myths. He’s also an academic who includes more obtuse shout-outs to other historians and economists than I care to read. I have to admit that I skipped 13 pages of the middle section on El Niño patterns and at times wished I was reading a New Yorker-article version of this book.

So if you run out and get it—and I hope you do, if for no other reason than to correct my inevitably inaccuracy-pocked summary above—then I recommend reading the first third, then spending the rest of your time on

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

in loving memory of my toshiba satellite, 2004-2009

[Mac voice]: Hi, I’m a Mac. All your friends have me. I’m shiny and pretty and easy to use, and made for people who like to think of themselves as arty, as you clearly do, Ms. Thrift Store Sweater. I’m also perfect for people who really hate when things break or become completely obsolete after four and a half years, and let’s face it: You’re technologically very lazy. I’ll look so cute sitting next to AK’s little black Mac—-you should get the white version of me so we can be all ebony-and-ivory. Oh, by the way, I cost a bazillion dollars.

[PC voice]:
Hi, I’m a PC. An Acer Aspire, specifically—-don’t you like how my name implies that you’re already hoping for something better? Kind of like the Ford Aspire, and we know how well things turned out with Ford! Your dad found me on the sale shelf at Best Buy and assures you that I’m “as good as an eMachine.” If you go with me, you will feel worthy of your dad’s love and generosity. You might as well just stab that MacBook through his heart, not that he would ever say so. And admit it, all you ever do is type and blog and cruise Facebook, which I think I can handle-—I just won’t do it with the culty flourish of Mac Attack over there. But hey, if you want to pray to Xenu, be my guest.

[Confused, slightly pathetic Cheryl voice]:
Suggestions, anyone?

Monday, January 05, 2009

if he could see them now

Here's what had AK and I geeking out Friday night:

Who knew that white ladies in bell-bottoms were krumping waaay back in the day? "Bob Fosse was always at least 20 years ahead of his time," I said to Jamie as we were watching this video today.

"Yeah," she said, "but he probably stole those moves from a jazz club somewhere."

Dance is always references within references within references. And damn, the result looks good.

Friday, January 02, 2009

the mormon church: facebook of the ‘80s

1. it would be nice, for once, if just one person i grew up with had gotten fat, but no, that’s not how they do things in manhattan beach

My sister’s best friend from elementary school just Facebook-friended me, so I’m now updated on the fact that she is as tall and gorgeous as ever, is married with a cute little boy, threw some sort of New Year’s Eve party that her friends declared really fun…and is a member of “I Support the California ProtectMarriage Constitutional Amendment.”

This isn’t a big shocker because H is Mormon—as in blonde, one-of-five siblings, never-drank-soda-at-my-sister’s-birthday-parties Mormon. In case I sound like one of those anti-Prop. 8 Mormon-haters, I should add that H’s entire family was always incredibly nice. My sister spent so much time at our local Mormon temple—which was always putting on awesome kid-friendly events—that there was a time when I thought, Maybe when I grow up, if I’m not married and don’t have any friends, I’ll become Mormon and everything will be built right in.

In those pre-Facebook days, I saw the Mormon temple as the ultimate social networking site. Of course, the reason I was worried, as young as 11, about growing and not being married was because a little part of me knew I was gay. (As a chronic worrier, I also found my mom’s advice—“If you want to get married, you’ll get married”— suspiciously simplistic. Surely someone got left without a chair when the music stopped. Why not the girl with the big nose and bad bangs?)

So yeah, becoming a Mormon wouldn’t have really helped. Not even with the hair.

2. facebook is the real “social experiment” here

But my thoughts at the moment are about H’s thoughts when she befriended me. I know my Info page is a little cluttered, but did she see that I’m a member of such groups as “One Million Strong For Marriage Equality” and “Gay Families Are Not a ‘Plague’”? At the very least she must have seen my relationship status.

So were her motives:
  • Conversion?
  • Conciliation?
  • Spying on the other side?
  • Pluralism?
  • Pent-up libertarianism?
  • Love-the-sinner-ism?
  • Oh-well-she’s-Cathy’s-sister-ism?
  • The-election-is-so-November-’08-ism?
  • Actually-reading-text-on-people’s-pages-is-so-2003-ism?
AK was involved in an evangelical Christian student group in college—many of whose alumni are totally anti-8, for the record—so she’s had a bit more experience negotiating Facebook politics than I have (and by politics, I mean actual politics, not whether it’s okay to write on someone’s Wall in lieu of returning a phone call).

Sometimes she has engaged in healthy debates, which have gotten less healthy at moments but ultimately changed a few minds. Other times she’s decided to avoid the shittiness of reading people’s right-wing status updates and de-friended folks.

In a way, I think Facebook is a cool and interesting place to see all these issues play out. Less high-stakes than a dinner table, less anonymous than a message board. In another way, I think anything that lures me away from playing endless rounds of Scramble via the Scramble application is a good thing.

I accepted H’s friend request—it never really occurred to me not to. And maybe it never really occurred to her not to send me one. But I probably wouldn’t have sent her a request to after seeing she was a member of that group. Because I would have assumed she’d reject me on principle? Because I was too good for a hater? I’m not sure. The annoying thing is, as with the election itself, the ball is always in their court.