Tuesday, January 26, 2010

24 hour deconstruction

Texts between me and AK:

Me: The queer theorist was at the gym again! i’m starting to feel like i should hand her* my manuscript or something.

AK: You should ask somebody else if they see her. Maybe she’s an angel.

On that note, I’m off to San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland and San Mateo, where I’ll get to do worky stuff, visit the friendly neighborhood dyke bar, hang out with our favorite healthy-living family of four, give a reading with Terry (Diesel Bookstore, Jan. 31, 3 p.m.—see you there?) and get to meet the Erins’ new baby(!).

Back in early Feb!

*Still unsure of QT’s preferred pronoun. But she was in the women’s locker room, so at least in the eyes of 24 Hour Fitness, she’s a woman. I’m not sure we should grant such identity-defining power to an institution that cannot even name itself accurately—some locations close as early as 8 p.m.—but then again, maybe no one understands better than 24 Hour Fitness how inadequate all language ultimately is.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

cold war and peace

Concerts have recently been something of a bone of contention between AK and I. It would go like this: She’d troll blogs and mailing lists and find a show she’d want to see. I’d agree to go with her because 1) in my mind I’m a fun-loving gal, 2) I probably dragged her to a so-so poetry reading recently and 3) she has a very cute, convincing face.

But come the morning of the show (which would inevitably be on, like, a Tuesday because that’s when the cool kids go out), I’d stubbornly wake up at seven and write as usual. Then, after work, I’d race to get to the show and stand through it bleary-eyed, counting the songs, grumbling about my lower back problems. AK would scowl at me and the world I symbolized: the world that Never Felt Like Going Out.

I can’t report that we’ve solved this problem, but we’ve come to a tentative yet healthy compromise, which involves me giving her an iPod Nano for her birthday (I know, it sounds like a guilt Nano, but it wasn’t) so she could invest more deeply in non-live music, and AK only inviting me to really important shows and/or shows with chairs.

Friday night’s Cold War Kids show at the Wiltern was both, and it hardly felt like a compromise at all. Because:

1) Like I said, chairs.

2) It was a Friday night.

3) Cold War Kids is a great band. I knew this from their previous albums and shows, but their Wiltern gig, during which they played a handful of songs from their new EP Behave Yourself, drove it home. The songs are so catchy that when you’re listening to one, you think you’ve heard it before, and that it’s your favorite song. They’re poetic and haunting. They tell stories. They feature unpredictable instruments.

4) Cold War Kids is not averse to talking about their songs. The lead singer periodically introduced songs by saying, “This one’s about how schools squash creativity” or “This is about Long Beach, where we’re from.” So when you watch the video of the Blue Line scrolling by in the background, you know why it’s there. I like a band that has something to say, and owns up to it.

5) Videos. Since I’m not one to study a guitarist’s technique, I like something to look at. Ideally, this would be dancers, but video imagery is a good substitute.

6) At one point the lead singer gave a shout-out to all the kids he’d substitute-taught in the Whittier and Torrance school districts. I whispered to AK, “I bet Vampire Weekend never had day jobs.”

We’re going to see them in April, so I’ll let you know.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

wiener dog + folk dancers = good weekend

The first of two January Bay Area trips happened this past weekend (the second is for my reading at Diesel in Oakland, Jan. 31, 3 p.m.—mark your iPhone or whatever). On Saturday, my college friend Nerissa got married. I teared up predictably the minute the church doors opened onto the aisle. There’s something about seeing someone you’ve known well and for a long time cut and pasted into a big, archetypal ceremony. It’s strange and beautiful, realizing for the first time that archetypal ceremonies might actually apply to your life. (Or not, as I’m pretty sure St. Gabriel Catholic church isn’t doing too many gay weddings these days, but you know what I mean. It was still lovely.)

There’s also something beautiful about taking off your heels after a long day and watching Almost Famous in your pajamas, which is what we did with Jenessa and her boyfriend John when we got back to their place in Oakland.

We started the trip in a similar high-low mode, imagining ourselves in emeralds the size of mandarin oranges at the Cartier exhibit currently at the Legion of Honor, then heading out to Marin to schmooze with Nicole’s wiener dog Lola and play video games.

Lola takes flight.

Me, Lola, Nicole.

Did I mention Nerissa is drop-dead gorgeous even on a bad day?

Stephanie and Mel flash some kind of UCLA gang signs, I think.

Wedding highlight: Filipino folk dancers!

They were sparkly and amazing.

Garter ritual: always better than the bouquet toss.

Kinda sparkly ourselves.

Monday, January 18, 2010

blind gossip item for philosophy nerds

I was celebrating the fact that my elderly laptop had finally booted up when a famous queer theorist walked into the coffee shop with her girlfriend and her girlfriend's kids. They sat down next to me, and QT started reading Harry Potter out loud to the kids.

I know you shouldn't write in coffee shops if you want complete silence, but I kind of wished they would relocate to the play area. Since I couldn't concentrate on my short story, I was forced to eavesdrop.

Queer Theorist: Which of Harry's teachers is your favorite?

Stepdaughter: Miss [um, I don't know most of the Harry Potter characters, so let's call her Miss Tumbleweed] Tumbleweed.

QT [who goes by a man's name these days, but I'm not sure what pronoun s/he prefers]: It's Mr. Tumbleweed. Mr. Tumbleweed is a man. Anyhow, I like Ms. McGonagall. She's strict, but she knows her stuff. I think the best teachers are like that, don't you?

[Kids give her a blank look that suggests this is the equivalent of being told nothing is cooler than broccoli.]

QT: It seems like a lot of women teachers are like that, don't you think? Strict, but they know their stuff? Men aren't like that as much.

I have not read QT's book, but I'm pretty sure it's about how women can construct empowering masculine identities if they want to. I wouldn't have figured QT for someone who was all about schooling five-year-olds in gender binaries, but when it's raining and kids are antsy, I guess we all get weak.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Thank goodness Kellie read the fine print on Nerissa’s wedding website and emailed me: Black tie optional? I was going to wear something from H&M! I do have a fancy qi pao from China in my bag that would not be super comfortable but definitely fancy. But the slit is dangerously high, like perhaps inappropriately high.

I do not own a qi pao, fancy or otherwise, nor anything that is both nice enough to wear to a black tie optional wedding and warm enough for San Francisco in January. Which means my options are:

A) Dress it down a notch and hope dress codes are for boys. I mean, suits and tuxes are well-defined things. Dresses are open to interpretation. Right?

B) Wear all my fanciest, warmest things and make the formal grade from a technical standpoint, but look sort of mismatched because my nicest warm coat is pink and my nicest dress is red and my nicest shoes are just a little bondage-y.

C) Shop the minute our plane touches down. You can take BART from SFO and get spit out smack in the middle of Nordstrom. Just saying.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

in which i make a bunch of incongruous dating analogies about writing

I’m between drafts of the so-called circus novel right now, and I’ve been working on a couple of short stories. It’s weird. I hadn’t attempted a short story as more than an exercise in a long time, and I was halfway convinced that my writerly identity no longer included the ability to write anything less than 200 pages. Even when I read short stories by other people, they seemed kind of sneaky and pretentious. Like they were trying to be a flashy, fabulous first date but couldn’t sustain a relationship.

But then along came two invitations to submit stories (I know! I love feeling loved like that), and suddenly I had a mission, which is all it’s taken to get back into short-form fiction. One story is about Prop. 8 and the Santa Clarita Valley and coyotes. One is about a harp and a mysterious mother-in-law.

Now I’m a little bit scared: What if I abandon novels? Novels are who I am. But when Jamie put poetry aside for ballet for a few months, I was like, Go with it! Listen to your muse! The problem is, I wasn’t raised by a muse; I was raised by two Very Responsible humans who believed in sticking with things, who viewed too much change as flaky and suspicious—a flashy first date.

And to an extent, that’s true: You can’t write only when a gorgeous, angel-winged muse is sitting on your shoulder. That bitch always plays hard to get, and you’ll make yourself miserable if you wait around for her.

But putting on blinders and chaining yourself to your laptop isn’t always the greatest alternative. So my other mission is to be as open-minded as I advise others to be, and as I witness successful artists (or successful anybody) being.

Knowing the circus novel as I do, I think it wants me to see other people when we’re apart. I’m sure it’s hooking up with an unexpected plot arc as we speak. At least I hope so—I want it to come back to me skilled and worldly, with a few new tricks under its tent flaps.

Friday, January 08, 2010

eliot klein, circa 1996-2010

This morning my dad had our family cat, Eliot, put to sleep after it became clear that his kidney problems were going to get him sooner rather than later. I was sad that my dad told me this after the fact, because the Kleins have been together for all other pet euthanasia. Eliot was the last pet who knew my mom—they spent many hours napping together when she was sick—and Eliot’s absence feels like one more way she’s not in the world.

I think about that sometimes: how the d├ęcor of my dad’s house is looking worn and dated, how it’s easy to forget that when my mom put that stuff up, it was new and creative. I want to remember her as new and creative.

I also want to give Eliot his moment: This isn’t all about my mom and vague feelings of familial distance. I’m going to miss Eliot himself, a slight orange tabby my dad referred to as “you useless cat,” usually while scratching him lovingly on the head.

When we adopted Eliot my sophomore year of college, he was a year-and-a-half-old cat named Gonzo, recently returned to the rescue organization because he hadn’t gotten along well with his previous family’s other cats. My dad, a sucker for orange tabbies and full-grown cats (kittens being more or less furry little balls of advertising), was sucked in.

Eliot remained an only cat at our house but developed a charming buddyship with Niko, the elderly Siamese across the street. My dad took to leaving breakfast on the back porch for Niko every morning. I used to wonder how Eliot would fare once Niko was gone, but now I wonder how Niko will do.

Eliot was on the prissy side—he lined his litter box with dryer sheets he found in the garage, although he didn’t have much use for fancy cat food, which may explain part of the reason he earned a place in my dad’s cheapskate heart. He was a talker—not a yeller/whiner like OC, but an utterer of matter-of-fact meows repeated at frequent and regular intervals. He jumped off the second story deck twice. He liked opening presents and eating tapioca pudding.

RIP, Eliot, and say hi to Mom for me.

Monday, January 04, 2010

what i read in december

You’re probably sick of lists and reviews by now, even though the latter is allegedly what this blog is mostly about. Lucky for you, I didn’t read much in December. I did a lot of…what did I do? Eat? But reading while eating is one of my favorite activities, so the presence of food doesn’t explain the lack of literature. Shop? Probably shop. Ugh. I am all shopped out and am now enjoying the ascetic feeling I associate with January: light eating, minimal spending, indulgence of my puritan work ethic, and a clean, fresh blanket of snow over the place where the Christmas lights used to be.

No, there is no actual snow, but if I were to create one of those inspiration collage thingies that designers use, snow would be on it.

And now, my two-book roundup:

Tomorrow They Will Kiss by Eduardo Santiago: Like the heroines of the telenovelas they love, the characters in this book (three women from the same gossipy village in Cuba, now working in a New Jersey doll factory) are painted with somewhat broad strokes, but they're each more complex than the others think. And, also like novelas, their stories are pretty addictive. Santiago has created a great, classic diva in Graciela, a bad girl with a heart of gold. And when her bitchy "friends" relentlessly try to take her down for such transgressions as daring to take fashion design classes, Santiago shows how suffocating small-town life can be, so much so that it can follow you across an ocean. But of course Graciela's not one to be taken down easily, and for that you can't help but root for her.

The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank: I think AK summed up this book and its place in the world better than I could. So, to quote her: "Curtis Sittenfeld gave it a terrible review and called it chick lit. But it does a lot of the same things that her books do. True, The Wonder Spot doesn't go quite as deep, but it's also much funnier."

The Wonder Spot is chick lit in that it's about an upper-middle-class woman's work and love life. If only all chick lit were so funny and thoughtful, so free of obvious prince charming plots and covers featuring pink stilettos.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

chick flicks for educated chicks

The problem with not being a real movie critic--one who gets free passes to movies before they come out--is that you end up seeing a lot of 2009 movies in 2010, when it's too late to put them on your best-of-2009 list, which, of course, everyone reads as gospel.

So I'm not sure if this is number six or what, but I saw An Education on New Year's Day, and it was smart and moving and refreshing. I knew almost nothing about it going in--in the back of my mind, I sort of thought it was some kind of Jane Austen-y adaptation, which I wasn't all that excited about, but it was what was playing at the right time near AK's parents' house in Orange County.

What it is actually about is a 16-year-old British prep school girl who, in 1963, takes up with a dashing older man who even manages to woo her uber-strict, working-class parents. What it is actually, actually about is coming to terms with the unglamorous side of adulthood and the even less glamorous options available to women pre-feminism.

At one point late in the film, Jenny (the protagonist played with much wit and self-aware naivete by Carey Mulligan) argues with her school principal, who is advising her not to throw her life away on a boy. She says (I'm paraphrasing), "He takes me to wonderful restaurants and jazz clubs, but you're telling me I should stay in school and do boring, difficult things so that I can go on to teach at a school like this and do boring, difficult things for a living?"

From the point of view of my thirties, I thought that she was a naive brat. I thought of David Foster Wallace's famous commencement speech about how faith and education are what get you through the cruel drudgery of life. I thought about how restaurants and jazz aren't all that, unless, of course, they're unavailable to you.

But from the point of view of an era with genuine options for women, I thought, She has a point.

There's a similarly great exchange between a young woman and an "older" woman (the wise old, very hot Vera Farmiga) in Up in the Air, where Farmiga's character tells Anna Kendrick's that soon "settling" won't seem dismal so much as like the surest path to happiness.

I appreciated both these scenes not just because they reflected on the nuances of adulthood in a way I seemed to spend much of 2009 doing, but also because they passed the Bechdel test: two women talking to each other about something other than men. Settling might be part of life, but it's nice when it's not par for the course at the movies.