Monday, June 29, 2009

what i have learned in researching mermaid tattoos

1. This blog provides good ideas of what not to do, and even better commentary. It also makes me a little nervous. I wouldn't want to end up on there. But by forgoing text (I love words so much that having one tattooed on me would just be too distracting), I eliminate the possibility of misspelling, which cuts my chances of appearing in the Gallery of Regrets by at least fifty percent.

2. It's all about the tits. Even though I walked into Artifact Tattoo with a ready-made mermaid, Justin gave me a couple of mermaid art books to look through for additional ideas. "Do you want her boobs to show?" he asked. My mermaid is roughly a B-cup, not hidden by cheesy, strategically-placed hair, but kind of in the shadows. Technically her boobs do show. So what he must have meant was, "Do you want her giant porno tits to protrude into the viewer's face as if she were shot with one of those trick lenses they use for those photos of big-nosed dogs?" The answer to that would

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Our friend Joel wanted to celebrate the beginning of summer in an ancient and traditional way. So he did what modern people in search of tradition do, and went online. That's where he learned about Midsommar, a Swedish solstice festival in which revelers (and after months of Scandinavian winter, the Swedes know how to revel) decorate a may pole-like cross called something that sounds like "schlong," dance around it and drink heavily.

Joel and his wife Holly decided that Lightning Point Campground in the Angeles National Forest would be the perfect place to set up their schlong. We weren't able to join them for the official ritual (which wasn't so official, seeing as how it took place a week after solstice), but we drove up Saturday night in time to camp and appreciate an only slightly-wilted schlong.

AK and I were finally able to break in the tent my dad gave us for Christmas. My dad, who loves camping but hates discomfort, always preferred motor home camping. When I told him we cooked dinner over the campfire, he said, "Well, I guess that's nice if you don't mind the smoke."

I kind of feel like this is my travel hat now. It goes with my lots of places, but I almost never wear it in L.A.

Holly grew up in Colorado and knows her way around a mountain. She handled burning logs with her bare hands.

Joel and Holly taught us a classic Midsommar song (complete with hand motions) and were kind enough to stage a reenactment of the previous night's festivities.

At dusk, wild animals started to emerge.

L.A. puts on a good sunset. (I know, I know, it's the smog, but whatever.) In one direction: piney silhouettes and a gorgeous mountain-scape. In the other: a valley of twinkling lights to remind us that, even though there was no running water and there were only two other cars in the whole campground, the city wasn't far away. (Not to detract from the pretty-sunset moment, but I have to mention that although there were only two other camping parties, we saw them both peeing. Beware overconfidence in the remoteness of your biffy.)

We toasted to Midsommar with shots of Aquavit, a Swedish liquor made from potatoes and caraway. Soon we were slurring, "Gimme some more of that Aquanet."

Then, the moment we'd all been waiting for (you know, besides the schlong dance): Joel and Holly busted out their pie irons--a magical and wonderful apparatus that was new to AK and I--to make fire-pit pies. The recipe: Slather butter on two slices of the cheapest, squishiest white bread you can find. Place one in each side of pie iron. On top the bread, place whatever delicious sugary ingredients appeal to you (AK: apple pie filling; me: marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers, for the sheer decadence of making a s'more sandwich, which is like a sandwich in a sandwich). Clamp pie iron shut. Place on coals. Eat. Take up serious exercise routine so as not to die of butter overdose.

When the fire died down and we zipped ourselves into our sleeping bags, every noise began to sound exactly like a bear nudging the tent with his nose. As my heart pounded and my eyes refused to shut, I wished that I had a boom box and a CD of soft traffic noises to lull me to sleep. Maybe punctuated by the occasional gun shot.

But we made it to the morning, and suddenly all that quiet seemed peaceful again.

We took a walk along one of the many sunny mountain ridges, where we enjoyed the view, spotted lizards and talked about graduate programs like the pioneers we are.

I think this sign had something to do with ATVs or maybe horses, but we took it as our cue to head back to the city.

Friday, June 26, 2009

black and white and days that burn bright

If I were to post a proper tribute to Michael Jackson, I would track down the video of the dance I choreographed to “Black or White” in eighth grade. But I’m not such a fan as to post a proper tribute, so I will just describe it to you, to the best of my recollection:

Costume: thigh-length biker shorts, white V-neck, scrunchie.

Choreography: I began in a crouch similar to what yogis call “child’s pose” and stayed in this position throughout the long, irrelevant-to-the-rest-of-the-song dialogue between Macaulay Culkin and Norm. When the music began, I jumped up into a straddle-squat sort of thing, then took big, jammin’ steps backward, pulling my arms back in a similarly funky fashion.

The moves that ensued were stolen from three main sources:
  • Gymnastics: I never did a dance that didn’t have at least one cartwheel or back-walkover in it. I had to distinguish myself from my fellow middle-school dancers (especially the ones gifted with, like, rhythm) somehow.
  • Routines learned at Act III, the tiny Redondo Beach studio (now a plumbing supply store) where my friends and I took lessons.
  • Routines learned at Act III and choreographed by Anita. Although Michelle, Stella and Phineas were arguably the best teachers, and I idolized them to no end, Anita was in her own category. Mostly she was a fellow student, but she subbed for a couple of classes, and I spent many long sessions of stomach crunches trying to convince myself I wasn’t in love with her. A video that opens with a title card saying, Dance by Cheryl, Choreography by ANITA!! says otherwise. She was an ex-gymnast with ass-kicking thighs and burgundy hair cut into a particular style of bob that, I’m realizing, still makes me swoon whenever I see it on a girl. Or even an emo-ish guy, really.
What? Oh, right, Michael Jackson. That’s who we were talking about.

Even after rewinding the tape the hundreds of times it took to perfect my moves, I still couldn’t get the lyrics of “Black or White.” I took my baby on a Saturday sun? I had to tell you I ain’t second to none?...Damn it you’ll agree with me, the truth is either wrong or it’s right? Doop a doop a doo yeah yeah yeah? A quick internet search tells me this is not how it goes.

But I got that the song, and Michael, had a queer and vulnerable edge. Not that it was particularly edgy, even in the early nineties, to advocate for racial harmony (or, um, the freedom to play loud music? Still not sure what Macaulay was campaigning for). But something about dressing like a soldier and looking like a girl—a frail one whom Anita could easily beat in a fight—was intriguing, even sexy.

If Facebook is any indication (and that’s about the only thing Facebook ever is), people are feeling nostalgic and generous, with a touch of meta (status update: “On which social networking site did you first hear the news?”) and a dash of anger (“Karma’s a bitch, huh MJ?”).

Michael and I weren’t so close that I identify strongly with any of these sentiments. But yesterday’s double-dose of celebrity death coincided with learning about a friend’s close call, making it one of those strange days that burns a little brighter than others. A day that makes you wonder if you’re shaking in your car because of that Diet Coke or for other reasons. Makes you end the day talking to your mom after deciding that, while you have a strict no-asking-for-concrete-favors policy with God, your mom-as-angel is totally fair game.

You can ask her to hover over a particular apartment building in a particular part of the city and help a particular girl make the right decisions. Because she was always good at that, and if she enjoyed helping you research your undergrad thesis, she’d probably appreciate being asked to help in this instance too. Moms like to feel needed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

when the cat's away, the mouse will clean out the garage

AK has been in Seattle for the past few days. Yesterday, she called me from the road. "It's great seeing people," she said, "but it's kind of nice being by myself in the rental car for a little while and getting to stop for food whenever I want."

In other words, the extrovert had reached her limit. I've used my time to geek out introvert-style, meaning I have:
  • cleaned out the garage*
  • cleaned almost everything else, although I didn't get to wash the walls, liked I dreamed I would
  • written--just the normal amount
  • taken three yoga classes
  • finally (maybe) figured out how to use the flash drive my dad gave me for Christmas in like 2007
  • made an omelet with cheese, which AK hates
  • watched Anchorman
And now I've reached my limit. It's been fun being a nerdy hermit (and as soon as I'm done with this post, I'm going to curl up with a bean-filled Japanese dessert and my book about the supreme court), but I think I'm just about done. I need AK back, and I need her to remind me that I like talking to humans and, sometimes, listening to loud music.

It's funny how couples cast themselves in these little roles: I'm the introvert, she's the extrovert; I'm OCD, she's messy, etc. Within our sample population of two, it's true that we are at opposite ends of a couple of spectra. But if we actually looked at the whole population, we'd see that we're probably just on different sides of the middle. Maybe because I crashed an abnormal psychology class last night (long story), I'm inspired to draw a scientific diagram of the introversion/extroversion spectrum to illustrate my point.


A=J.D. Salinger
D=Heidi and Spencer

Okay, I'm going to stop now. Just by drawing it, I put myself a little too close to the whackjob end of all scales for comfort. Now on to the charming drama of the appellate process!

*We don't have a real garage. We have a garage door that opens to a sliver of storage space--basically a false front that can pass as a garage in front of building inspectors. So it actually doesn't take long to clean out.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

there is a puppy who will kill us

My real Father's Day gift to my dad was finally cleaning out a couple of cupboards in the room we always called "the playroom," which was, at various points, an office, a parakeet room and the room where our second TV lived (as in, "Fine, if I'm the only one who wants to watch These Friends of Mine, I guess I'll watch it in the playroom").

My best find yesterday was a copy of Song of the Swallows by Leo Politi, signed with big colorful flourishes by the author/illustrator to my mom in 1962. But my most blog-worthy find was more early writings by a young Cheryl Klein. You may notice that plot has never been my strong suit. Some excerpts:

Pickle the Passenger Pigeon
historical fiction by Cheryl Klein, circa age 8

Hi! I'm Pickle the Passenger Pigeon. I am the very last, but I don't mind that. In fact it makes me special.

I've had lots of adventures. I think I'll tell you about my favorite. One day when the sky was filled with Passenger Pigeons flying in the park, I saw a pond. In it was a fish. Now this was not a plain old run-of-the-mill fish. It was a Rainbow fish. The fish had every color of scales you could imagene.

I knew this was probably my only chance to meet a Rainbow fish in person. So I flew down and saw that there were one hundred Rainbow fish!

I met Tickle the Rainbow fish first. Of course I liked all the rainbow fish, but Tickle was my favorite.

That was a long time ago. Now all the Passenger Pigeons are extinct and all the Rainbow fish are extinct, but Tickle and I are still alive and we're still best friends.

The Elf and the Pony and Spot
a short story by Cheryl Klein, age 9

Once there was a Pony named Choclate and an elf named Daisy.

One day as Chocolate came walking down the road he saw Daisy. He had never seen an elf before, so he was very surprised, but he was polite any way.

"Hello," said Chocolate, "My name is Chocolate. What's yours?" "My name is Daisy. I'm an elf," said Daisy, "Could I have a ride on your back." "Okay," said Chocolate, "Where do you want to go?" "Elf Land," said Daisy. So they went to Elf Land.

When they got to Elf Land Daisy got off Chocolate's back. She looked aroud. Everybody looked sad. Finilly one elf said, "There is a puppy who will kill us. His name is Spot. We have to fight him."

Spot turned out to be a firce puppy. Just before Chocolate was about to step on Spot, he said, "If you will be nice, I will not step on you." "I will," said Spot, and he was!

Lesson: It's better to be nice than to be mean!

The Wells Fargo Museum
reportage/advertorial* by Cheryl Klein, age 9

Yesterday I went to the Wells Fargo Museum. I saw some interesting things there. I saw the Challenge nugget. That's a huge nugget of gold the size of your fist. I saw a safe that was made so heavy you can't pick it up. It is made that way so it's hard to steal. My favorite thing that I saw was the stage coach....

At the Museum I also learned some of the history of Wells Fargo. It was started in 1852 by Mr. Wells and Mr. Faro. It was a bank & an express company. There stage coach took people aross the country. Unfortunetly Wells Fargo was robbed by Black Bart alot. They quit the express part of the company at the begining of world war 1. Today Wells Fargo is a well known bank across the state.

Excerpt from Kimber's Crisis
a short story by Cheryl Klein, age 12

[Our protagonist, Kimber McGee, has just been sent to a strict private school as a result of her bad behavior. When we pick up, she's experiencing a bit of a culture shock.] Recess might as well have been called oat bran break (all the snobs were into health food). All the kids did was sit around and talk about stock market prices and cocktail parties. Kimber was about to drift off to the sound of a kid with the I.Q. off 201 droning on about the importance of proper dental care when...BRRRIING! The bell rang. "I've GOT to get out of here!" she thought.

*Note: Our elementary school was sponsored by Wells Fargo. We took field trips to the Wells Fargo Museum, rode on a Wells Fargo stagecoach in the Manhattan Beach 75th anniversary parade, had a stagecoach-drawing contest and flew the Wells Fargo flag just below the American and California flags in front of the school. It may not be entirely coincidental that I went on to become a fan of The Young Riders and write a novel partially set in the turn-of-the-century West.

Friday, June 19, 2009

my so-called summer reading roundup

What’s all this talk about summer reading? Living in a relatively season-less city, not being much of a beach person, not being a student or a teacher or anyone else with three months off, I’m both envious of the opportunity to curl up with a pink drink and a pink-jacketed book, and troubled by the implication that this may be the only time of year that some people read.

But I never miss an opportunity to pimp out books I like (or chat about ones I’m ambivalent about). Below is actually just a list of the last five books I read, mostly in coffee shops or on CD in my car, none of them at the beach. But let’s call it a summer reading list. Because in spite of what my pasty skin and curmudgeonly attitude might imply, I really do like sun, and having fun in it.

Beg No Pardon by Lynne Thompson: Lynne Thompson isn’t just an amazing poet, she’s a versatile one--there are persona poems in here, prose poems, short clever poems, long allusive poems, mysterious near-cut-ups, dense and troubling poems, funny poems about fitting into jeans. She describes the moon (she’s a writer who dares to describe the moon) as “a subversive magnet,” which could double as a description of a certain really brilliant poet.

Ruins by Achy Obejas: Usnavy is a great and sympathetic character. In a parallel universe, he would be an absentminded professor, prone to daydreams and idealism, but in Cuba he’s a true believer trapped in poverty as his more pragmatic friends (who aren’t opposed to a little black-market capitalism) pass him by. As he investigates his one glamorous possession, an old Tiffany-style lamp, he strangely grows both more practical and more dreamy, realizing its dollar value while chasing after glimmers of broken glass in ruined buildings. In this way, I wasn’t sure what the book was concluding politically, but that’s probably okay. I just enjoyed Usnavy and the threads of mystery and magic beneath the simple story of a man trying to care for his family.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: I’m usually a contemporary fiction addict, but this book made me want to read more 1950s lit. It’s like witnessing the birth of our current language. (Although David’s tortured soul definitely made me glad to be living in the 2000s.)

The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich: To say that this book helped me understand Native American identity seems like the worst kind of over-simplification--but by juxtaposing the stories of various struggling Ojibwe tribe members with those of local animals (ravens, wolves, a dog with “one hungry eye and one friendly eye” who escapes her yard but caries her heavy chain leash with her until her death), Erdrich shows how all kinds of creatures can maintain dignity and a lust for life in the face of innumerable cruelties. The mystery of the drum in the title--its origins and purpose--unfolds beautifully in stories layered on top of each other, from the 19th century to the current one. All her characters, right down to the ravens, are as complex and real as we all deserve to be.

The Writing on My Forehead by Nafisa Haji: The story of Saira Qader’s journeys back and forth between the U.S. and Pakistan, between familial obligation and adventure, is a good one. The family tree produces many winding, viney stories that make for some serious page-turning. There’s an interesting meditation in here on the truths revealed by fictions--the idea is initially presented in a journalist’s guest lecture at Saira’s college, but plays out most fascinatingly in her personal life.

But because the book lacked a bit of the finesse that a more experienced writer might bring, some of the best plot twists felt sudden or glossed-over, and some of the themes were alternately pounded home or ignored for large sections. Nevertheless, I’ll be curious to see what Haji writes next. She’s clearly as enthusiastic a storyteller as the characters in this novel.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

banana post #3

I have to come to terms with the fact that I cannot go to CalArts-related events alone. I inevitably end up feeling shy and intimidated. But my own social-anxiety problems aside, last night was pretty cool. Giant photos of bananas and banana workers. Video interviews with banana workers—all in Spanish, so I felt proud of myself when I was like, Hey, that girl is talking about how bananas are a phallic symbol! She chanted a song whose lyrics seemed to be something along the lines of, Take off your clothes, take off your clothes, take off your clothes so we can eat the banana.

(And Nelly thought he was being coy with, It’s gettin hot in here, so take of all your clothes.)

It did get hot in there, there being the LACE gallery in Hollywood, and pretty crowded. I said hi to a couple of people, ate some free snacks from Whole Foods and watched a giant projected video of plantation workers washing and bagging bananas.

At one point, I left the room and came back in, and when I saw the video again I thought, They’re still bagging bananas? This is getting a little tedious.

Then I was like, Oh. I guess that’s the point. If WATCHING a guy bag bananas for FIVE MINUTES is tedious, try actually being that guy.

So for a few minutes I was really glad to have a non-banana-related job. Then I went back to feeling awkward. Then I spotted a writer who rejected my work not too long ago and felt more awkward. She had done so very graciously, and if I avoided every person who’s rejected my work, I wouldn’t have many people left to talk to, but some days you’re just in no mood, you know?

I went outside and texted AK with these updates. While I was doing so, a guy with a blond ponytail said, “Can I draw you?” I said yes, and texted, Now a guy is drawing a picture of me so i feel like i can’t leave this spot and go eat more bananas.

Then a woman I met a few days ago spotted me and we talked for maybe thirty seconds. After she went back to her friends, the ponytail guy shot her an evil look and said, “Did she notice I was drawing?”

Me: “Um, I don’t know. I think she just wanted to say hi.”

Him: “I think she knew. People do that—they’re catty. They’ll see me drawing and try to interrupt.”

Me: “Uh, I don’t really know her that well, but I don’t think—”

Him: “I mean, I don’t know what her personality is like, but I’m just saying some people do that.”

Me: “Okay. Sure, I’m sure they do. Anyway…so…are you a student?”

Him: “No. I’m just a rogue artist. I’m probably jaded, but some people do that, you know. Just interrupt like that.”

A middle-school-ish realization came over me: I was a loner among cool kids, and the resident weirdo had sniffed me out. This thought felt a little petty: So I only like artists if they’re paying thousands of dollars a year in tuition? But I was, like I said, in no mood. Not even for empathy. I took my banana and got out of there.

Monday, June 15, 2009

orange you glad i said banana?

Matias was one of my favorite profs at CalArts because he was living proof that it's possible to be critical and nurturing at the same time. There was a period of time when I thought he looked at my boobs a lot, but then I realized he was just kind of short (and gay, which made a boob obsession unlikely).

Anyway, lately he's been posting these great "25 Random Things About Me" lists on Facebook that are like long prose poems. Full of texture and nostalgia and sweetness and sharp edges. I think he's going for a hundred of them, which also seems very Matias--an ambitious and experimental project that is also meandering. He always seemed like maybe he just woke up from a nap; he had that malleable and innocent quality, though if his lists are any indication, his life has generated plenty of fascinating, not-so-innocent stories.

Fallen Fruit (various puns intended, I'm sure), founded by Matias and two friends, is a very Matias-ish project: "an activist art project which started as a mapping of all the public fruit in our neighborhood." They lead groups of hungry people on fruit-picking expeditions around L.A. It's radical in a silly way, artistic in a useful way.

And tomorrow night, they're going to be exhibiting the, ahem, fruits of their labor at LACE. They'll be showing photos and info from a recent trip to South America and staging the "participatory performance Are You Happy to See Me?" Consider the title, and consider the fact that the banana is the focus of this particular show. Good times, no?

While I'm normally dubious of "participatory performances" (Scott Turner Schofield's show Saturday night required me to hold one half of a silky red trapeze-ish apparatus--that wasn't so bad), I think the participation tomorrow night will be mostly of the eating bananas variety. Which I do almost every day anyway, so I'm ready.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

let them eat banana heels

1. the mark of zorro

I just started reading Isabel Allende’s version of the Zorro story—I don’t know the original version, or even the Antonio Banderas version, so I don’t have anything to compare it to, but it’s a great book so far, set in L.A. when it was just barely L.A. (Her Zorro is the swashbuckling kid of a Spanish soldier-turned-ranchero and a mestiza female-warrior-turned-ranchero’s-wife.)

Most of the Spanish characters are pretty nice people, even though they make a living oppressing natives. Father Mendoza is secretly impressed by Jesuit theories and is more into teaching his neophytes than whipping them; Zorro’s father is not exactly a deep thinker, but when he’s attacked by a band of rebellious Indians, he decides to marry their leader (she likes him too) instead of executing her.

Somehow this story got me thinking about slavery and how the south was so economically dependent on it. When it stopped, the whole region was devastated for at least a few decades. I had this weird realization that, if I’d been a white southerner in the 19th century, my stance probably would have been, Yes, slavery needs to end, but let’s transition gradually, okay? Because I would see the cruelty inherent in the system, but, being a white southerner, I wouldn’t have experienced it on a level that made me think, Slavery needs to end NOW. And I wouldn’t want to be poor for a long while.

2. pesky ideas

How do I know this unpleasant fact about myself? Because it’s sort of how I think about environmental issues now. I know that if we want to make it as a species (which will require not killing off all the other species that make up our ecosystems), we’ll need to change how we live.

I get pretty excited about green jobs and reusable shopping bags. But I also spent a good hour or so last night shoe-shopping online. Because I like shoes (particularly pumps with those chunky rounded heels that seem to be so prevalent right now—do you know the ones I’m talking about? Is it called a banana heel?) and am not ready to party like it’s 1799, back when most people had one outfit and one iron pot and nothing in abundance except lice.

So that makes me the equivalent of a slave owner who maybe taught his slaves to read but nevertheless got annoyed when they started mentioning pesky ideas like freedom.

I’m not on a guilt spree here (some of you know I’m prone to them). I just like to know where I stand, and where I would have stood in 1853, and to be accordingly disturbed if necessary.

It’s a little bit of an obsession of mine. In fact, I wrote Lilac Mines, which follows two young women exploring queer life in the 1960s and 2000s, respectively, partly to figure out what your average non-confrontational non-activist (i.e. me) would have been like in the pre-Will & Grace era.

I’m curious: Is it just me, or do you guys occasionally project yourselves back to Gone with the Wind times or Zorro times or Little House on the Prairie times or biblical times…you get the idea. Are your other-times selves as disappointing as mine are?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

the girl without the mermaid tattoo

Maybe if I put it in writing it will be true, like The Secret says it will. So here goes: This summer I’m getting a tattoo.

It will be my second, so it’s not like I’m working up to it. I’ve known what it will be (mermaid, ankle…not as lame as it sounds, okay?) for a long time. When I was making plans to get my first tattoo (vine, wrist), I had a dream that my mom, who’d recently passed away, was drawing a mermaid on my chest, sort of between boob and clavicle.

She probably wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that her stubborn child went ahead with the vine on the wrist, but come on—when your dead mom comes to you in a dream and tells you to get a mermaid tattoo, you have to do it at some point.

Especially when, later, you’re going through some old drawings she did and you find three or four mermaid sketches. (This is not as Twilight Zone-ish as it sounds. My mom drew fairytale creatures all the time, so there was like a ninety percent chance she’d drawn a few mermaids in her time. I’d probably already seen some of them and filed them away in my subconscious.)

So that’s the plan: mermaid, ankle, winding down onto foot because foot tattoos rock. Because of the aforementioned stubborn streak, I’m not following my dream-mom’s advice and getting it on my chest. I don’t believe in tattooing body parts that are likely to sag and/or get fat. I don’t want my poor mermaid to end up with a deformed face just because I get pregnant or old, or rekindle my love affair with creamy foreign cheeses, which happened Sunday at our book club meeting (book: Giovanni’s Room; food theme: Gay Paree).

Anyway, the reason I’ve been putting it off is because tattoos are fucking expensive! It boggles my mind when I see tatted-up homeless people or 15-year-olds. I’m like, Shouldn’t you spend that $6,000 on an apartment or college or something?

Then again, if you’re willing to make certain hygienic sacrifices, you can find some good bargains. And while I’ll play roulette with expired milk, I prefer my needles clean.

I’ve discovered that there’s never a time in your life when the answer to “What would be the smartest thing to spend this extra $400-$500 [just guessing, I really don’t know] on?” is “A tattoo of a mermaid on my ankle.” So instead I’m taking the piggy bank approach, stashing random $20 bills in a box on my nightstand every once in a while.

There’s no practical difference between this and putting it on my debit card, but psychologically it seems to work. There’s something kind of fun and old school about paying for a tattoo with a wad of cash. Like I’m a sailor. With a mermaid tattoo.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

fun! i like fun!

I'm still on a high from Friday night, thanks to all of you folks who came or encouraged me in myriad ways. I think you're even responsible for the fact that links to me and my site actually come up when you Google "Cheryl Klein." Take that, Harry Potter book editor Cheryl Klein!

As loyal Bread and Bread readers know, the path to Lilac Mines becoming an actual book has been as rocky as the mountains it's set it. (Um, it's not actually set in the Rocky Mountains, but the Sierras are rocky too, right?) And as of Friday at 6:45 p.m., I had yet to physically see a copy of the book.

But there it was waiting for me at Skylight, looking quite lovely--no upside-down cover, no obvious typos on the back or the first few pages (I have yet to check beyond that). And, just as importantly, there was Noel, corralling the four of us writers and performers into the upstairs office at the bookstore and reminding us that we were there to have fun and support our community.

Oh yeah, I remembered, fun! I like fun! And this whole damn book, like everything I write more or less, is about the search for community. Maybe I could take a lesson.

Scott Turner Schofield (whose Highways show I'm now inspired to check out next weekend) asked us what the tone of our pieces was. Raquel said that hers was moody and poetic. So even though Scott, who went right before her, performed pieces that were mostly incredibly funny, he ended with one that was moody and poetic, saving Raquel from the unpleasant task (one I think most readers on multi-person bills have encountered) of having to make a sharp left turn in the tone of the evening.

I was like, Scott is the most thoughtful guy ever, and a pretty bad-ass performer to even be able to improvise like that. I was going to read the piece I'd practiced nine times and nothing else.

After the reading, which went pretty well thanks to practicing nine times, we migrated over to the Dresden Room, where AK had surprised me by reserving a space and bringing my favorite tres leches cake from Andy's Bakery. It occurred to me for like the 12th time that night that I have amazing people in my life and that I couldn't be the kind of writer I want to be (and on certain special nights feel like I am) without them.

Even my dad stayed out until 11 and had a second piece of cake. If you know my dad at all, both of these acts essentially amount to pigs flying. But hey, it was a night of flying.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

cradle to page

Today I drove up to Valencia to buy a used desk I’d seen listed on Craigslist, because this is how you acquire office furniture if you are a nonprofit. The girl selling the desk was a theater student at CalArts, and it wasn’t until I pulled past the school’s always-empty security kiosk that I realized how long it’s been since I was on campus.

I loved CalArts, but I wasn’t that involved in campus life, so I was surprised to be hit by a wave of nostalgia—the museum-y smell, quiet hallways, friendly receptionists. I even found myself thinking, Actually, it doesn’t look that much like an ugly 1970s hospital.

I realized that I was wearing the exact same shirt that I wore to orientation in 2000—almost the same outfit, just substitute tan corduroy pants for light blue ones. I concluded that I probably need a new look. I’m not even sure if cords and bandanas-on-the-head were cool in 2000.

But then I happily flashed back to other CalArts routines: listening to Colin make jokes about zapping to it (I worked for a company called Zap2it) in the computer lab; reading old issues of Elle in the library between classes; sleeping in the library between classes.

I wasn’t the best student.

Then I flashed to spring of 2002: I was walking uphill toward the back entrance of the main building. My thesis was done. The giant contact high that is CalArts graduation was a couple of weeks away. And in my head were three characters: Felix Ketay and her two roommates, Crane and Robbie. Just puttering around, not doing much yet.

Mostly I was keeping myself amused—I always start stories in my head when I’m walking to the mailbox or sitting on the toilet (that’s normal, right?). I was also excited to be thinking about writing something that would not get torn apart in a workshop with CalArts-style insults like, “This piece seems to be all about the seduction of the reader.” (Me, in my head: But I want to seduce the reader.)

I was surprised when those keeping-me-entertained-on-the-way-to-class characters hung on all summer as I wrote them into various scenes. I was even more surprised when the scenes added up to hundreds of pages. I joined a new workshop at Writers at Work to try to make the hundreds of pages into an actual novel. You know, like with a plot. Slowly, I learned two skills that I had managed to get an MFA in writing without acquiring: plotting and editing.

Four-ish drafts and seven (really? yeah, seven) years later, the characters in my head are a book called Lilac Mines. Which you can buy, actually, if you are so inclined. If you like queer people or small mountainous towns or ghosts or if you ever felt troubled that pieces of our history—of all of our histories—got buried, and maybe like your identity suffered a little for it.

And if you are in L.A., you can see me Friday night at Skylight Books, where I’ll do my best to seduce all my potential readers.

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

Monday, June 01, 2009

noel on 8

You may (or may not) have noticed that I didn’t have a lot to say when the California Supreme Court upheld Prop. 8 last week. Partly this was because I was planning a trip to Fresno, home of some of my favorite literary peeps and my very favorite sort-of-second-hand store.

But mostly I didn’t have a lot to add. Gay marriage? Still for it. Bigotry and government meddling in people’s personal lives? Still against it. Meehan, my only queer appellate law expert friend (everyone should have at least one), hadn’t versed herself in the particulars of the case yet, so I couldn’t weigh in on the whole revision vs. amendment issue.

Luckily, my friend Noel has all sorts of smart things to say on the Huffington Post. According to Noel, LGBT folks are an oppressed minority, contrary to the media’s portrayal of gay men as rich and fabulous, and gay women as rich and fabulous and crazy (at least on The L Word). Although it always feels weird to deny fabulousness and talk about one’s own oppression—unless you were in Chris Cunningham’s UCLA English classes in the late ‘90s, where nothing was more fabulous than one’s own oppression—sometimes you’ve got to do it.

You’ve got to admit that there’s something—maybe many things—that your people need and don’t have. Kudos to Noel for doing it, and making some important and nuanced connections.