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Showing posts from 2010

tops of 2010, and some unwarranted natalie portman hating

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The nice thing about top-ten/-five lists is that they give you a chance to reassess your initial raves and pans. Sometimes what dazzles is not what sticks. There are still a lot of said-to-be-good 2010 movies I haven’t seen yet, which may be why my movie list is low on Oscar-bait releases. But I like to think I just have original tastes. Shutter Island was awesome, okay? Also, I may be avoiding Black Swan because, even though it was crazy in just the right way and expertly, physically depicted the implosive nature of perfectionism, I’m kind of pissed at Natalie Portman for getting pregnant despite having zero body fat and a fly-by-night boyfriend.* The first seven books on my book list are ones I indisputably loved—they said something big about the world, or they struck a nerve personally, or they were lushly textured, or they were more clever than I realized until the very end. The last three and my two honorable mentions are more or less interchangeable in terms of rank—all real

fire and fragility

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It’s 1 a.m. and I’m awake right now, jacked up on adrenaline, because nine fire fighters just left our building. A fire started upstairs (note to all: candles and heaters shouldn’t mix), and I don’t want to think what would have happened if Alyssa and her friend hadn’t acted fast, if we hadn’t been home to lend our fire extinguisher and/or if there hadn’t been a fire station two minutes away. Thank you, tax dollars. All human and feline residents involved are safe, and there wasn’t much damage to the building. Ferdinand , who believes even the siren-free garbage truck is a dinosaur, hasn’t come out from under the bed. Our improvised evacuation plan was to shoo all the cats outside and let them take shelter where they could find it. It turns out that, when someone pounds on the front door after midnight, their instincts don’t tell them to head for the hills but instead for the least reachable place in the house. When the fire trucks arrived, I was unsuccessfully prodding an embedde

words just like us

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Sometimes the metaphorical becomes literal: It rained for days. Then there was a ray of sun. Then it rained harder than ever, but everyone agreed it would stop again soon. A lot of nice people lent their umbrellas. Okay, that last part is still just metaphorical. I don’t need to borrow an umbrella because I have a couple I probably stole. I don’t want to know what the metaphorical implications of umbrella theft are. I like that Jesus was born in the dead of winter, and if it’s a story that evolved from pagan solstice traditions, that makes me like it even more. Every culture needs a birth-as-rebirth story. We got a card from our friends Una and Henry that said, “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” I tend to be a little wary of religious cards—as I mentioned, I find even Santa slightly suspicious —but it hit me what a lovely sentence that is. The “lived among us” part is my favorite. I like the idea that an idea could be so powerful it could come hang out with us. It seems ver

santaetheism

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“As Christmas icons go, I was never into Santa,” I told Work Cathy, explaining why I never bought Santa cards. “I’ll take a nice reindeer or snowman any day. But maybe that’s because my parents never told me that Santa was real, so I never had those magical associations with him. He was just some old fat man.” My parents’ rationale was that 1) they didn’t want to lie; they always expected honesty from me, so it was only fair, and 2) if there was a present they couldn’t afford to buy, they didn’t want me to think Santa had put me on his naughty list. My parents were/are very sincere people. When I was a teenager and wanted to be like my friends in every way, I resented them for depriving me of glowy childhood memories. Later I thought they made kind of a cool, nonconformist choice. But today I realized that I move through my adult life exactly as if not getting something I want means I’ve been bad. My parents never told me Santa was real because they wanted to create a fair world, one

britney wishes and potato skin dreams

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I subscribe to the school of thought that says dream sequences can and should almost always be cut from novels and movies. Save that shit for your therapist, you know? Dreams work a little better in sitcoms, usually because they’re an excuse to act out a New Gidget version of A Christmas Carol or some such wackiness. I’m pretty sure dreams are not meant to be recounted in blogs either, but man, I’ve had some weird ones lately, so here’s a quick executive summary: 1. I was attacked by a puppy that looked like a cartoon sheep. Its mother was waiting in the wings, ready to get all mama-bear on me. AK rescued me from its scary-looking puppy talons. 2. I was babysitting Jamie and Lee-Roy’s baby , Kohana. We had a great day on the town; she laughed at all my jokes. But on the drive home I realized we had no car seat—Kohana was just sitting in my lap—and I was like, “Aaah! I’m Britney Spears!” 3. I was ordering some potato skins at some sort of food court and the checker suspected me of

i’ll give you something to smile about

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When Work Cathy walked into a meeting yesterday, a guy she didn’t know said, “Smile! Let’s see your dimples.” “I don’t have dimples,” she said. “Sure you do—right here.” He screwed his fingers into the corners of his mouth. Later, when a plate of cookies was making its way around the room, he passed it to her and said, “Here ya go, Dimples.” Today at lunch I was walking back from Hallmark, where I’d found myself looking at a card featuring a nativity scene and thinking, God, there’s another person who got pregnant without even trying. On the sidewalk, a greasy-looking guy in his thirties called out, “Smile! It’s a sunny day!” “Fuck you,” I said. Translation: 1) No one would ever tell a guy to smile. When guys brood, it’s considered sexy. 2) You don’t know me, asshole. Maybe my grandmother just died. Or maybe I was bummed that the bread in my sandwich was a little dried out. Either way, not your business. I feel sorry that I can’t deliver Cheery Holiday Greetings Cheryl to AK on

in praise of oddity, crap and unpredictability

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AK and I were on the walking part of a run when she said she would love for our book club to read a Jennifer Egan book. “Nominate it!” I said. “But her writing is so odd,” AK said. “I think she’s great, but I don’t know if other people would like her.” The first book I forced on our group was The Last of Her Kind , which I thought was beautiful: sprawling and social but also deep and personal. But I think at least half the book club saw it as a bunch of girly hand-wringing. I didn’t really care. Book club is one of my favorite activities, comprised of some of my favorite people, so you’d think I would want them to be happy. But sometimes I forget that most people don’t have the same philosophy about reading as I do, which is that the goodness of a book is just one of many possible benefits of reading it. Every book has the potential to tell me something I don’t know about language and the world, even if only by negative example. Same goes for plays and movies. A long time ago I saw

what i read in november

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I really put the “no” in November this year—in many ways, but particularly because I read no actual, physical books. Call it the wave of the future. I call it “I have to read student work whenever I’m not driving, eating, sleeping or doing my regular job.” Here’s what I listened to: Mr. Paradise by Elmore Leonard: Probably not the best book to listen to on CD—I'm pretty sure I missed some major plot points, although I did love Robert Forster's narration (finally, an actor who can capture the mood of Leonard's neo-noir prose but doesn't go overboard trying to "do" the voice of each character). This is the first Elmore Leonard book I've read. I would point any freshman writer to his exemplary use of detail, even if the story itself—one of call girls and hit men and mistaken identities—isn't hugely riveting or thought-provoking. Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck: The main character in this book—John Steinbeck—is a successful author in his late 5

maybe my heart will grow three sizes—but I’d settle for two

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I recently discovered that Etsy has “ member-curated galleries ” of nifty crafty goods. Ordinarily this would strike me as a suspicious marketing gimmick—I mean, do we know for sure that these “members” aren’t Etsy employees or at least Etsy vendors?—but for some reason I’m into it. Maybe because if you do a search for “wallet,” you get 43,671 results, and it’s hard to sift through wallets made out of duct tape and wallets that are actually clutch purses (not the same!) to find one you like. I’ll probably do a little holiday shopping on Etsy this year, and also at All Saints’ annual Alternative Christmas Market , though sometimes I wonder if the people on my list get genuinely excited when someone in Ethiopia gets a chicken in their name. I mean, I would. So if you’re shopping for me, take note. I haven’t forgotten about my old friends, books, either. Bronwyn over at GuerrillaReads has some suggestions for where/how to buy sustainable, recyclable, indie-made reading material. I po

things i suspect are in cher’s contract, based on the movie burlesque

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Cher will receive top billing. Cher will sing no less than two solos. But also, Cher does not want to work too hard, so she will sing no more than two solos. She will get to sit in a chair for one of them. Cher does not do duets. At no point will Cher stand in direct light. Even if the actor playing the role of lighting tech says, “Do you want a spot?” and Cher, as burlesque diva Tess, says, “Yeah,” the lighting which ensues will be of a silvery twilight nature. Cher’s eye make-up will get its own trailer and a producer credit. Stanley Tucci, as gay wardrobe director Sean, will periodically comment on the hotness of Cher’s body. All art and acting direction will serve the film’s, and Cher’s, overarching brand, which is “fabulosity.” If minimum fabulosity requirements are not met, the following measures must be taken: a) Scenes will revolve around Christian Louboutin shoes. b) References to drag queens will be made as “inside” jokes to Cher’s gay cult following. c) The burlesque club wh

angstgiving

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I haven’t been in a very thankful mood lately. I’ve been wrestling with the concept of blessings and the implication that they’re the result of things people do to win favor with God/fate/whatev, which is rampant in our culture. Usually when I ponder this topic, it’s from the over-blessed end of the spectrum. What did I do to deserve all this? The answer is, categorically, not much. But lately I’ve been feeling under-blessed—I’m not getting what I want—and it’s periodically turned me into a sad, desperate mess or a petty, competitive bitch, depending on the day. And worst of all, the same little voice that hopes maybe I did do something to deserve all the good stuff now wonders what I did to fuck up my chances of more good stuff. Knowing this is bullshit only helps a little. I’ve been really mean to myself, feeling too exhausted to indulge in the stuff that makes me happy on a deep level (writing, exercise) and denying myself the shallower indulgences that can be cheap fixes

a story from the heart of los angeles

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Driving into work this morning, I was dismayed to see that Pitfire Pizza had been replaced by Al-Abba’s Chicken. Restaurants come and go in Westwood all the time, but Pitfire was one of the good ones—hello, artisanal butternut squash pizza. The weird thing was that Pitfire’s neighbor, a preschool, had also closed overnight, a Goldblatt’s Delicatessen sprouting in its place. Well, I thought, it would be nice to have a deli nearby, and maybe it won’t have that disturbing smell that Junior’s always does. The weirder thing was that, by lunchtime, two crowds of protestors had gathered in the parking lot between Al-Abba’s and Goldblatt’s. One side waved an Israeli flag, the other held up a poster of the Palestinian flag. But all their signs were chicken puns: No piece, no justice! Give ‘em an inch, they’ll take a thigh! This was, I concluded, a very strange and not that funny promotional stunt by the two new restaurants. But then one of the many onlookers who’d clustered across the stre

for white boys who have considered amputation/when the raven is enuf

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Last weekend AK and I went to see For Colored Girls . It was a gamble. I’d seen a production of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf in college and remembered liking it. But I’d also seen Diary of a Mad Black Woman , whose lessons included “You should forgive the guy who beats you” and “Men in dresses are funny.” It was clear by the opening credits—a pastel cornucopia of fonts you might find on a PTA meeting flyer—that this movie was going to be too much Tyler Perry, not enough Ntozake Shange. It was even more clear by the rape scene intercut with shots of an upbeat opera. I can’t look away from the tonal and moral car wreck that is seemingly* Tyler Perry’s aesthetic, but AK can. And that night I could too because I was falling asleep. I wanted to have a strong opinion about the fact that the movie’s resident slut was clearly going to get a comeuppance or that Janet Jackson’s husband was heading in some kind of trite down-low directi

maybe katie already had a bottle

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Katie Couric’s interview with Sarah Palin made Sarah Palin look dumb. Katie Couric’s interview with Fergie for Glamour Magazine makes Katie Couric look…hip hop? Fifteen? KATIE COURIC: All right, in the completely shallow department, you have a sick body, woman. FERGIE: Thank you, mama! KATIE COURIC: [Laughs.] No, seriously, damn. How do you do that? FERGIE: I work out all the time. Fergie goes on to discuss her cardio routine, where she keeps her Grammys, how Hoarders inspired her to clean out her shit and how she kicked meth but still likes to booze it up. “Send me a bottle,” says Katie.

stereotype come true

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“Crazy artist” is one of my least favorite cinematic stereotypes. “Crazy genius homeless person” is right up there too. I think most artists aren’t crazy, just creative and hardworking, and the ones that are make art in spite of the crazy, not because of it. I know a manic episode can inspire a creative binge, but I don’t think it’s as simple as go off meds, paint Mona Lisa. Similarly, I don’t think most homeless people are fallen violin virtuosos just one shower away from Disney Hall. I imagine mental illness is a long, lonely slog that most often takes you away from yourself, not to some higher plain. So imagine my surprise when I noticed one of Westwood’s resident homeless guys sketching and painting in Starbucks today: small fashion portraits of women in old-fashioned bloomers and a slightly Toulouse Lautrec-ish three-quarters profile. I don’t know if they were the visual-art equivalent of that soloist guy . But they were good. And he was filling them in with watercolors from a ki

what i read in october

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In October I read a lot of student work, my reviews of which are a matter of teacher-student confidentiality (and involve a lot of boring advice like, “Ask yourself what your protagonist wants, then give her some choices to make…”). So most of the books below were “read” via CD in my car. I miss you, recreational reading of actual paper books! The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Jazz Age Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald: The stories in this collection are more fantastical than the novels of Fitzgerald's I've read, and I missed his subtle, glimmering descriptions of the upper classes. The title story is ripe with all kinds of opportunity for comparing nature to experience in determining a person's true age, but it doesn't do much with the idea. The last story, "O Russet Witch!" is probably the most Fitzgeraldian and my favorite. In between, there's some crazy stuff about mountain-sized diamonds, kidnapped pilots and a murky chase through some plac

confessions of a halloweenie

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I wasn’t feeling very Halloweeny this year. I told AK that if she wanted to go out, the costume burden was on her. She did good: She went as Snoopy as WWI flying ace and I went as Charlie Brown as a ghost with eyeholes gone wrong . Easiest costume ever—just cut a bunch of holes in a sheet. But at JP’s party I quickly discovered that I really dislike having stuff over my face. I felt a little too much like a ghost. I related to the I Don’t Care Bear we met, who had a big yellow head and angry tattoos. But I felt bad because AK was so creative, when costuming is usually not her thing. As in previous years , JP’s people brought it: Meg Whitman, Lady Gaga in her meat dress, some sort of bondage trio in really expensive-looking gear. I sat next to the TV, which was playing, conveniently if I’d still had my sheet on, It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown . I had my legs folded next to me and all of a sudden the flickering light hit my mermaid tattoo, which had gotten a couple of bug bit

cures for a crappy week

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This week fried me. It wasn’t so bad, in the grand scheme of things, but I’m a sensitive soul. Lose one grading day to PMS-fueled internal drama and I’m done for. This morning I finally scooped myself out of the little hole I’d dug via a writing date with Kathy and Bronwyn. I worked on a scene from my cats-and-Malaysia novel (remember that? me neither) that felt like it had some meaning behind it. Recently it’s just been mechanical tweaking and even more recently it’s been not writing at all. There are so many movies and grant applications out there full of teenagers testifying to how writing saved their lives that one can get a tad hardened to the notion. Does writing feed people? Does it even fill potholes? No, but it makes the world a little sparkier, and then I’m capable of doing other things. I have not fed anyone or filled any potholes today. But I’m blogging and I feel like talking to people again. Tomorrow the world! I’ve also been meaning to recommend a play: Take Me Out a

t-mec in a box

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It’s been quite a week. Sometimes you just want to crawl in a box and hide. (Photos by AK. Styling by T-Mec.)

what not to google

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One superhero talent I would like is the Ability To Google Things I Should Google And Nothing Else. It’s not that flight and invisibility aren’t appealing, but they both come with certain inherent dangers (try crossing the street when invisible) and they’re not as suited to the information age. With the internet, you already are invisible, and you don’t really need to go anywhere. But I would like to be like AK or Jamie or Kathy—they’re always doing the kind of internet searches that make one smarter. They seek out new literary journals and information about breastfeeding practices in Afghanistan. In theory, I’m totally interested in these things, but I have a strong lazy, uncurious streak. Mention an amazing new writer in front of me and, even if I’m right next to my computer, I’ll just smile and nod and pretend like I’m already familiar with her. Speculate about what the weather might be like tomorrow and I’ll just speculate right back: “Oh, I’m thinking partly cloudy.” If the infor

long commute, short story

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Have I really not blogged for an entire week? Wait, I know what I was doing instead: sitting in traffic. Wednesday morning it took me 45 minutes just to get from Highland Park to Lincoln Heights. I could have walked it in that. (I know, I should have walked it, except that my destination was the Westside, not Lincoln Heights.) Friday night I got distracted on the way to the Hollywood Bowl, missed my left turn and lost 25 minutes backtracking. When I wasn’t sitting in traffic, I was sitting at Starbucks, grading student work. They have to submit weekly writing exercises based on Brian Kiteley’s book of prompts, The 3 a.m. Epiphany . And because I believe in making the writing process transparent at all levels (but really because I’m self-centered and think the prompts are fun), occasionally I’ll submit my own. Here’s what I came up with this week. And yes, it takes place in Starbucks. Exercise 79: Mistaken Identity: Write a fragment of a story in which the first person narrato

i believe the video game-playing children are our future

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Nick Bilton lives in the future. Or at least he wrote a book called I live in the future & here’s how it work s . AK and I went to a Q&A he did with the surprisingly funny Tess Vigeland at the KPCC studios yesterday morning. The new Mohn Broadcasting Center lives in the future too, painted colors that don’t contribute to the heat island effect (so said a plaque on the wall). Scones were served on bamboo plates. Not too many people showed. This may have been because it was 8:30 in the morning, but I was a little bit comforted to know that even “business forums”—not just literary events—have trouble drawing a crowd. Or maybe everyone will just download the podcast later. That’s what Nick Bilton would say. He’s a youngish guy, by which I mean about my age, which is increasingly less youngish. He wore a blazer and jeans and thick-rimmed glasses. “I know he lives in the future,” I whispered to AK as we walked in, “but he looks like he lives in Brooklyn.” When he said, later, t

i don’t know whether the chicken or the egg came first, but somewhere in there, there was a rooster

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Below is a conversation I had, twice, with a former roommate. Matt: You’re a vegetarian, right? Me [making eggs in the kitchen]: Technically I’m a pescatarian. I eat fish, but not beef or poultry or anything. Matt: Then I guess whether or not you eat eggs depends where you stand on abortion. Like, when does life begin? You’re eating a fetal chicken. Both times, I explained the miracle of life: An egg has to be fertilized before it can turn into a chicken. I wasn’t eating fetal chicken. I was eating the equivalent of a chicken’s period. (Sorry, I hope you’re not eating right now.) Work Cathy and I were discussing how much or little science education we received in elementary school. I remembered building a rock collection in kindergarten and weighing guinea pigs with little metric scales in Mrs. Graham’s sixth grade class. I also remembered how, in tenth grade biology, Mr. K wanted to start the year off with sex ed, even though our textbook wouldn’t get to “family life” unt