Thursday, April 30, 2009

promises to keep, and miles to go before i sleep

I’ve spent a lot of time the past couple of days doing mad edits to Lilac Mines before it heads off to the printer. It’s been a flashback to my undergrad days, when I often asked myself the question, Can I read a whole book in one day? Only then it was usually a result of having spent the previous day watching reruns of 90210.

It’s been stressful, the way I hear book publishing can be (from AK, who reads Poets & Writers Magazine more thoroughly than I do), but I think I’ll be pleased with the result. Right now I’m trying to detox from the nitty-gritty part (yay for yoga!) and get excited for what comes after the nitty-gritty, which is the fun part: readings. Where I get to see all of you!

Here’s the first one, which I’m pleased to announce on the eve of Buy Indie Day:

Where: The Promising Series at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont, L.A. CA 90027
When: Friday, June 5, 7:30 p.m.
Who: Cheryl Klein, Raquel Gutierrez, Orlando Ashley and Scott Turner Schofield; hosted by the fabulous Noel Alumit

Monday, April 27, 2009

i shit in the soup of your mother, and other LATFOB lessons

For the past six years, I’ve spent the last weekend of April sweating (or avoiding rain) inside a plastic tent at the L.A. Times Festival of Books. This year my organization didn’t have a booth, meaning that I was free to roam, which was cool but also like waking up from one of those dreams where you have to take algebra again and didn’t know you were enrolled until the day of the final. I kept having to remind myself, No, I’m not working. I’m not due back at the booth to take over Jamie’s shift.

I did spend some time hanging out at the Manic D/Gorsky Press/Poetry Flash booth, home of brightly colored table cloths and some good indie reading. (I’m biased, but I’m also telling the truth.)

Panels are always a bit of a gamble—I’ve seen so many on publishing and L.A. lit that no matter how good the panelists are, I usually end up wanting to claw my eyes out. So I try to steer clear of those now. But I saw a lovely fiction panel with Susan Straight, David Benioff (who taught us how to swear in Russian: I shit in the soup of your mother!) and Achy Obejas, whose novel Ruins is now next in my reading queue.

And on Sunday I saw a lively (read: there was fighting, kind of) panel with Mary Gaitskill, Aimee Bender, Dylan Landis and Gioconda Belli. It was a jackpot of a lineup with an interesting combination of personalities: Gioconda was all, “Live! Live your life, then you will have something to write about” in her beautiful Nicaraguan accent. Aimee Bender maintained her reputation in my mind as an incredibly nice writer with a relaxed SoCal vibe (“She’s our people,” AK whispered). Mary Gaitskill was kind of ice queen-ish, or maybe she just lacked that female tendency to try to put people at ease.

Whatever it was, she had no problem telling the moderator she didn’t want to answer certain questions or telling Gioconda she was wrong. But she was honest and brilliant, and I really appreciated when she addressed the topic—exiles and outsiders—by saying (I’m paraphrasing), “All of the writers up here might all feel like outsiders because we’re shy or have struggled to fit in, but none of us are real outsiders. Even literal exiles like Gioconda have found new communities where they are insiders. Real outsiders don’t have their books published. They’re standing in the streets screaming to themselves.”

I.e., don’t get all I’m-an-exile just because people called you names in high school, you know? Writing is about being both an insider and an outsider and capturing the experience of both.

Then Aimee Bender said some equally amazing things and confirmed my belief that you can be friendly and brilliant at the same time. It’s always good to be reminded that I should cultivate my knowledge, not my aura of disaffectation. The latter wasn’t going very well anyway.

Friday, April 24, 2009

two ridiculous things that i love

In case you thought my thumbs-down for 17 Again proved I was a big snob, let me take this opportunity to say: I heart Fast & Furious. Everything about it: Michelle Rodriguez (though there’s too little of her), Vin Diesel, the way the cars are both pristine and feral, the ridiculous dialogue, the ridiculous but well-paced plot, the ridiculously gratuitous three-girl make-out scenes that are part of every underground street racer party scene, and did I mention the ridiculous hotness of Michelle Rodriguez?

(Seriously, she’s practically the only celebrity out there for girls whose tastes veer tomboyish and non-blonde. She’s shouldering that burden on very nice shoulders, but it would be great if she could have a little company.)

My favorite aspect of the ridiculous plot is that a drug lord would A) hire street racers to zip drugs across the border—because there’s nothing more inconspicuous than four pimped-out hot rods driving in formation at 120 miles an hour; and B) stage a race through the middle of L.A. to decide who should get to be his aforementioned street racer mules. Another surefire way to stay under the radar of law enforcement.


Here is my favorite spam of the day. Spam is getting very queer-theory—I think sender “Kirschenbaum” (was there ever a more philosopher-y name?) makes some interesting points about how gender and racial identities (and perceptions thereof) create expectations of guilt or innocence in our society; also about how we internalize those identities and create self-fulfilling prophesies:

Pistaches. These things aforesaid being ready, s

You Don't Like the Other Sex, You Are the Otther Sex - Gender Identity Disorders

How do you do, mr. The speaker was none other not blaming himhe's a man,
and you're fairer complexioned do you mean she was struck on the head ?
i think things you're expected to know. He never told not accorded through
this instrument of earthly.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

excuse me, i’m off to bench press some dictionaries

As of today, my six-week post-surgery ban on strength training is up! And the ban on lifting things like boxes of magazines and buckets of cat litter, both of which I apparently have lots of occasions to lift. And I heard saunas were off limits too, although I don’t really know why and don’t use them very often anyway.

But it’s good to know I can.

I actually haven’t done any of these things (except go in a sauna in February; go figure) for three months because the rules for a pre-op hernia are pretty much the same as for post-op. And this is just a theory, but I think my totally un-diversified workout routine has been partially responsible for the recent grumpiness of my lower back.

So, in my mind, I’m about to embark on a healthy diet of yoga, weights, core training (whatever that actually involves, unless it’s Pilates, which I kind of hate), dancing and running. And why not throw in a little rock climbing? Ooh, and parkour!

In reality, I’m actually going to miss making AK lug the cat litter around and not doing sit-ups. I’ve gotten really good at not doing sit-ups.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

kid-tested, right wing mother-approved

There are some movies you want to see because you know they’ll be good, and there are some movies you see for the air conditioning.

Like 17 Again.

No, that’s partly a lie. Although AK and I did see it at the cheap-o Highland 3 during the still-scorching late afternoon yesterday, I also kind of wanted to see it because 1) most movies about teenagers have fun clothes, 2) maybe my 16-year-old mentee would see it and then I’d be, like, speaking her language (although last I checked, the movie at the top of her to-see list was Obsessed), and 3) I have a high tolerance for dumb comedies, in a way that I do not for dumb action movies.

Because of its dumb-comedy designation and its 13-year-old target demo, I tried to be patient during the scene where Mike (Matthew Perry reincarnated, sort of, in Zac Efron’s body) gets beaten ad nauseum with a variety of toy swords by his geek best friend who doesn’t recognize him. After all, I’d signed up for this.

The movie is a revival of the ‘80s body-switch genre—which is kind of meta, actually, since Mike is beaming back to his 1989 self—but I don’t think that’s an excuse for retro morality, which I didn’t sign up for so much.

Mike decides that his mission as neo-high-schooler is to help his teenage kids, and this apparently involves:
  • helping his shy, nerdy son get on the basketball team and hook up with a hot cheerleader,
  • convincing his daughter not to sleep with her jerky boyfriend
  • and giving a very sincere speech in health class about how “making love” should be delayed until you’re ready to make babies.
There you have it, 13-year-old Zac Efron fans: Sex is for procreative purposes only, unless you’re a boy.

Whenever Zac gave a big speech (such as the making love speech), he would throw his arms open wide, as if about to break into song. I really wish he had, because a good musical number would have gotten me through some rough times.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

mighty mustang memories

More stuff ripped from the Facebook headlines/notes application:

1. Did you date someone from your school?

I went on one double-date-like thing with Bonnie, Jason and this friend of Jason’s who clearly had some mental irregularities. He called me for a few months afterward to tell me the news that was coming through his police scanner. I didn’t go on another date until college.

2. Did you marry someone from your high school?

No, since I am not into police scanners.

3. Did you carpool to school?

I walked or hitched a ride with Bonnie in her mom’s VW Bug, which would sometimes stall when we tried to drive over the huge roots in our school’s crappy parking lot.

4. What kind of car did you have?

None. I wished I had an easily-stalling VW Bug.

5. What kind of car do you have now?

Ninety-seven Honda Civic. Movin’ on uh-uuup.

6. It’s Friday night in the present:

I’m probably dashing off to whatever my social-butterfly girlfriend has planned for us, complaining mildly that we’re too busy.

7. It’s Friday night your senior year:

I’m cheering (because I am a cheerleader, not because I care about the game) at the football game, then going home to watch X-Files with my parents, complaining mildly that I have no life.

8. What kind of job did you have in high school?

Dance studio grunt, gymnastics teacher, bagel server, baby-sitter.

9. What kind of job do you do now?

Nonprofit arts administrator, unpaid fiction writer.

10. Were you a party animal?

Nooo. “Costa parties” were like a myth I heard about the Monday after, where children drank beer and sometimes popular girls made out with each other. Senior year, people would complain in English class, “Oh my god, I’m so sick of Costa parties!” My friends and I talked about how lame they sounded and how much we hated The Cute People (which I guess is like the high school version of The Beautiful People). But at least once, Bonnie and I confessed to each other that we wouldn’t mind checking one out, just to make sure it was lame. I think Amy, Jenessa and Kristy may have actually gone to a few.

11. Were you considered a flirt?

In my mind, I sometimes flirted with Mike Matt in AP English. In reality, no.

12. Were you in band, orchestra or choir?

No, that would require musical ability.

13. Were you a nerd?

Short answer: yes. Long answer: I hate how it’s almost mandatory to say you were a nerd in high school—being an insecure teenager (which everyone probably was) is not the same as being a nerd. I had a couple of points in the non-nerd category (cheerleading, friends I ate lunch with, some of whom listened to cool music) and several in the nerd column (a crush on my AP history textbook; also, see answers #1 and #10).

14. Did you get suspended or expelled?

Okay, this is one more point in the nerd column. The only time I even went off campus without a pass was when I spilled glaze all over my sweater in ceramics class and went home to change during lunch.

15. Can you sing the fight song?

Da, da, da, da-da da dah. See?

16. Who was/were your favorite teacher(s)?

Mr. Fauver (AP U.S. history and yearbook), Mr. Sumpter (world history and government), Dr. Whirry (AP English), ego aside.

17. Where did you sit during lunch?

Near the flagpole. I think that was considered medium-cool.

18. What was your school’s full name?

Mira Costa High School

19. When did you graduate?


20. What was your school mascot?

The mighty mustang.

21. If you could go back and do it again, would you?

Do you mean would I like to enter high school as a 32-year-old woman? Or will I have a 32-year-old brain in a 17-year-old body a la Zac Efron? Or will I actually be my full 17-year-old self? Or do you just mean am I happy with my high school experience?

No, no, no and yes.

22. Did you have fun at prom?

I did not go to one single dance in high school! In fact, I even quit Girls’ League because their main activity was putting on the Christmas Dance and it seemed clear pretty early on that I wouldn’t have a date. One year Amy and Jenessa and I went to see Speed instead. The next year I think I baby-sat.

Don’t feel sad. Through pain comes writing material.

23. Do you still talk to the person you went to senior prom with?

Um, I still talk to Amy and Jenessa periodically.

24. Are you planning on going to your next reunion?

If they cheap it down a bit.

25. Do you still talk to people from school?

Yes, thank you Facebook! But I talk to a handful in real life too.

26. School colors:

Green and gold—it was a big deal when our cheerleading uniforms went from kelly green and street-sign yellow to forest green and sparkly gold.

27. What celebrities came from your high school?

Probably some Olympic volleyball players. And some of my friends knew Wee Man, although he didn’t go to our school.

28. What were you listening to on the radio?

KROQ. Our school was so white.

29. What were you wearing?

Cut-offs and flannels and tiny earrings from Aaardvark’s; cords and Vans and old men’s polo shirts because I was a pretend skater chick; cheerleading uniform, always slightly too small by the end of the year.

30. What did you want to be when you grew up?

A screenwriter/actor during my drama phase, a nutritionist during my brief anorexic phase, later a social worker or a magazine writer/editor. I still kind of want to be a social worker.

31. Were you in a fight with anyone?

Half the varsity cheer squad was in a fight with the other half. Also, I remember crying into Amy and Jenessa’s arms when I got in a fight with Bonnie and Angie at one of Jenessa’s birthday parties. Versions of this fight would play out at various slumber parties, but I think that was the only time I cried. Later I think some sides switched and it was more about playing pranks on each other. Probably someone else cried.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

vineyards and velociraptors

Just like how that set of stairs in Washington, DC will forever be known as The Exorcist Stairs, wine-tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley has, since 2004, been known as The Sideways Tour. I've seen ads for actual bus tours built on this theme, a la the Sex and the City tours of Manhattan. But we had something better than a bus: We had Meehan, who'd scoped out the area a couple of times since moving to SB in August.

Ever since her friend's dad got ill from picking pesticide-drenched grapes, she's been an advocate of organic wines, so our first stop was a small but beautiful winery called Demetria, which practices not only organic but also "biodynamic" farming.

Lee, the head winemaker, was happy to fill us in on the principles of biodynamics, which involve reviving damaged soil and planting according to the phases of the moon. It seemed like one part sustainable farming, one part Scientology.

But as Meehan said, "The main thing is approaching the process with intention. And if that means burying a yak horn full of manure in the ground instead of spraying your vines with nitrogen, I'm all for it."

The lavender-lined walkways and by-appointment-only peace of Demetria spoiled us a little for Foxen, a crowded shack right off the highway, adorned with wine cartoons and other wacky signage. The wine there was so-so,* but we were inspired by the wine humor on the walls (and by the consumption a fair amount wine) to take pictures of ourselves forming Foxen's anchor logo with our bodies and posing as if we were wearing barrels in lieu of clothing.

Our last stop was Sunstone, an organic winery which Meehan had recently become a member of (apparently wine club membership is the local hobby). They had a really tasty red called Rhapsodie du Soleil, I think, and a lovely/garish faux-mission-ruins motif.

We stopped in Solvang for an early Chinese dinner, where the waiter laughed in our faces for requesting brown rice, then headed home with Meehan generously acting as designated driver. We pulled off the 101 in Mussel Shoals, a tiny seaside hamlet with an even tinier, closed-to-the-public man-made island to the left of its beach. On her many trips up the coast, Meehan had grown curious about what it was--private resort? The world's smallest army base? AK was sure they were growing dinosaurs from frog DNA there.

"It's a private island owned by an oil company," said the girl at the front desk of the only hotel in Mussel Shoals. "You can't go out there. It's closed to the public." Our curiosity wasn't satisfied, but our suspicions were confirmed: Whatever was going on, it was shady. When the velociraptors decimate a beach town near you, don't say you weren't warned.

*Note: Asking me to critique wine is like asking a kindergartner who just learned the alphabet to write a book review for the New York Times. But still: Learning one's ABCs is pretty damn cool.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Claire’s comment on my previous post reminded me that it’s time for my annual Cadbury Crème Egg Experience, in which I am lured in by its fascinating/creepy faux-yolk center, then reminded that it tastes like a big gob of nasty frosting. I will proceed to finish the egg anyway, because nasty frosting is still frosting, and I like to finish what I start (thanks to This Afternoon in Drama for alerting me to this pathology).

I will repeat this exercise with Peeps, which look like how a cloud would taste if you’d just dropped acid. Except in real life clouds probably taste like water and/or pollution, and Peeps taste like stale goo.

Just as I sometimes put off eating healthy things that are delicious (mangoes, strawberries, pineapple) because some part of my brain has declared it a chore, I also get excited about disgusting things that are bad for me because my brain thinks it’s going to have a sinful good time. That part of my brain seems to be stuck in its early 20s, the years of standing in long lines to get into loud sweaty clubs with expensive drinks because you’ve been told this is what fun looks like.

Okay, so I just Googled “Cadbury Crème Egg” and found a recipe for Cadbury Crème Egg Muffins, which—besides having the claim to fame of being a carb-within-a-carb—might be the most perfect example of the nasty/crave-worthy dichotomy ever.

Happy Easter, y’all.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

slow food life

Instead of New Year’s resolutions, Jenny over at Run Jen Run always comes up with themes or role models for the year. This year she’s channeling Patti Smith. Since I’m still working on fulfilling my 2009 resolutions (sorry, dusty bike, I’ll let you out of the garage soon), I decided it was best not to be too action-oriented regarding my 32nd year.

This may not be the catchiest theme, but I think I’m going with Slow Food Life. Here’s what I’ve learned from the slow food movement (of which I’m not actually a part, having just consumed a bagel with Trader Joe’s hummus and 7-Eleven coffee), which I think can be extrapolated to the rest of my life:
  • Fast and productive are not necessarily better.
  • Organic is good.
  • Doing it yourself is good.
  • Quality is more important than quantity.
  • Your neighborhood and your loved ones are wonderful resources.
  • Sometimes recipes go wrong and you have to throw out a bunch of tomatoes and start over.
I’ll stop before I get too self-helpy. This weekend AK and I are taking a day trip to Santa Barbara to go wine-tasting with Meehan, which I think will be very much in keeping with my vision. What could be more life-loving (and, okay, a little bougie) than drinking organic wine with friends? And tonight AK and I are taking the “Healthy, Fresh and Zingy 4” class at Hipcooks, so we may do some actual slow-fooding.

Also, I’ve done an excellent job of procrastinating so far this week, which I’m choosing to view as evidence that I’m making good, intuitive decisions, not over-booking and being irresponsible.

Sorry, towel rack. I’ll put you up soon.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

inspired by birds

Nothing like dancing on a bar top to keep you young. Unless, of course, you're super drunk and even the gentle Christmas lights strung throughout the bar can't hide your crow's feet and you yell out, "Oh my god, you guys, I'm so crazy!" and what everyone hears is, "Oh my god, you guys, I'm trying desperately to hang onto my obviously fading youth!"

I didn't yell on Friday night, but I did--for the first and possibly last time ever--climb on top a bar and, well, actually I hula-hooped. Apparently it's what they do at Birds if you stay past 10:30 p.m. Who knew?

We had a great time watching the absurdly comedic, semi-improvised Glass Beef Musical at UCB (and sneaking peeks at Natalie Portman, who was in the audience), then we headed next door for a few Citron martinis and the next thing I knew, Alberto was pushing me toward the bar. I would be lying if I said he had to push hard.

Soon it was clear that it was all part of Alberto's plan to get on the bar himself and prove that straight boys can move their hips. It was good he went second, because he would have been a tough act to follow.

Unfortunately none of it was captured on film, so for all you know this is a belated April Fool's joke. (Also not seen here: the zillion hours of family videos my dad painstakingly copied to DVD for my sister and I, a project that has taken most of the first two years of his retirement, but which I'm too lazy to figure out how to format for YouTube--not that I'd make anyone watch a zillion hours, but there are a few choice minutes that are very "Kittens, inspired by Kittens!" which I'd like to share in the spirit of self-humiliation.)

But here's what the rest of the evening looked like.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

an homage to my penny-marshall* future

1. duplicity, duality

As I head into my late early thirties, I’m developing a mild obsession with actresses who haven’t had plastic surgery. When I was younger, all grownup faces looked the same to me, and that look was “boring.” But just as I’ve discovered that people over forty can do things other than make you dinner and pay for college, I’ve also learned that some of them freeze their faces into little shrines to their former selves, and some of them age.

After seeing Duplicity, AK and I had this conversation:

Me: It’s really nice to see Julia Roberts looking so great but also normal. I mean, maybe she’s had a little Botox here and there, but I don’t think she’s had any full-on surgery. And she’s skinny, but not so skinny you can’t imagine her eating. She looks like she has a life, you know?

AK: Yeah, it’s nice to see. But I’m not against people getting face lifts if they want. We do lots of stuff that’s unnatural to our bodies, so it seems hypocritical to judge them for taking it one step further.

Me: I don’t judge it either. I don’t think it’s immoral or anything—-but you have to acknowledge that it is an act of denial.

AK: That seems a lot like judging.

Me: Okay, so I do judge. But not in a judgmental way. I’ll probably dye my hair pretty soon. Not for fun but to deny the gray.

2. old-lady pride

I appreciate the Julia Robertses and the Jennifer Jason Leighs and the Diane Keatons because by going natural (or at least appearing to), they’re putting forth the radical notion that having lived longer than thirty years is not something to apologize for.

(Of course it helps that they were all gorgeous to start with. I might age a little more like Penny Marshall than Julia Roberts.)

Back in the day, being gay used to seem really unappealing because I had never actually seen a grownup gay person whose life looked fun. So yeah, we need some old-lady role models, not closet cases trying desperately to pass as thirty when they’re fifty.

But even though I’m saying, Be proud of who you are, I think I’m also saying, Be an enviable example of what you are, which is a problem that I and our whole culture seem to have. Like, it’s okay to look your age as long as you’re still beautiful and you’re calm and wise all the time. It’s okay to be gay as long as you’re funny. It’s okay to be fat as long as you don’t have visible cellulite. It’s okay to be “ethnic” as long as you’re not poor.

And it’s only okay to be stressed-out and dramatic and poor if you’re young and white and thin and pretty. (It’s never okay to have cellulite.)

There’s a darker, messier world in which all types of people are flawed at all stages of their lives. I was watching a young mom interact with her toddler at the store today, and I caught myself daydreaming about what a fun and kickback mom I would be, the kind whom you’d overhear saying witty yet educational things to her kid in Cost Plus World Market.

Then I caught a glimpse of my messy hair in the mirror next to the Indian jewelry display and I thought, If I’m a deeply imperfect, high-strung non-mom, what makes me think I’m going to become totally cool once I’m getting three hours of sleep a night?

I guess I want it all: the fantasy of a perfect and endless future, the semi-fantasy of beauty that results from chaos and complexity, and the reality of human fragility. But hey, it’s my birthday tomorrow. I’m allowed to have a wish list.

*No offense to Penny Marhsall. Really, I could do much worse.