Wednesday, February 24, 2010

when she was anxious, she was awful

In spite of my New Year’s resolution to the contrary, I’m really good at finding things to be anxious about. If I don’t have any real problems, I’ll make some up. I know, it’s a fabulous way to live.

Here’s my latest concern: Right now, I’m reading (well listening-to-on-CD-in-my-car) When She Was Good by Philip Roth. It’s my first Philip Roth, but AK told me he’s gotten more experimental over the years. Even though I checked out this CD collection for its shiny newness (my diva of a car stereo won’t play anything the slightest bit scratched), apparently it was originally published in 1967. And I love it.

But wait, you say, weren’t you worried about something here?

I’m getting to that.

I’m worried because this is like the fourth in a string of 1950s and ‘60s novels I’ve read and loved over the past couple of years: Franny and Zooey, Revolutionary Road, Giovanni’s Room (well, I didn’t love that one, but I loved the style). I used to feel bad for never reading anything pre-1975, but then I concluded, I write contemporary fiction! I should study and love the new stuff! I believe in writing what you read more than writing what you know.

So, no offense to Jane Austen or the Brontes, because from what I remember of English 10B, I like them a lot too. But whenever I meet someone who only reads the classics and bemoans the lack of lyricism in contemporary literature, I am so done with them. They think that just because Austen is what survived into the 21st century, it was all like that back in eighteen-oh-whatever. We’ve just had a couple of centuries to filter out the crap.

We may have only had half a century to filter out the crap from the fifties and sixties, but I’m liking what I’m reading. And I’m worried that that means I’m stuck in the past, destined to write Salingerland. I should be admiring Salinger and Yates and Baldwin and Roth, but I shouldn’t be wanting to emulate how they use plain words in such meaty ways, their razor-sharp interior monologues, their infusion of psychology. Psychology was new back then. Now it probably only works if you add a bunch of irony and pastiche and debunkery, which I like sometimes too, but still…even Philip Roth is apparently not trying to write like Philip Roth these days.

For the record, I’m not that worried about this. I’m actually sort of proud of myself for ever so mildly expanding my reading horizons. But the class I’m teaching keeps reading journals, so this is mine for this week. And what’s a journal without a little drama?

Monday, February 22, 2010

is that your foot on my back, or are you just happy to see me?

As of 24 hours ago, I was in a blissed-out state, thanks to an intensive hour and a half of yoga, which took place at a community center in Hermosa Beach and benefited the L.A. Mission. My soul was cleansed. My body was sweaty but cleansed. Things I didn’t know had been hurting no longer were. And I got free pizza and a discounted yoga mat. Such is the nature of benefits that are well corporately sponsored. (Though I wondered if all the paper and plastic that comprised my various freebies sort of karmically counteracted my donation to the mission. But I don’t mean to sound cynical—the nonprofit geek in me noted that the event bore every mark of fundraiser awesomeness.)

AK, my sister and I stood behind a row of well-toned asses in Lululemon pants. Never had I seen such big, ripped biceps on so many straight girls. I tried on various attitudes: envy? Lust? Hatred of yuppie scum? Happiness that I was engaging in an activity that didn’t require me to squint at a computer screen? I decided on the latter.

We did sun salutations, balance poses, all kinds of pretzely stretches and a short period of freestyle dancing (during which I realized I envy was definitely not the right choice—even the tubbiest emo kid at the Echo on Saturday night had more funk). Then—because hey, who’s tired? Not me!—we paired off to do inversions, which is yoga-speak for handstands.

I love a good handstand, even if I can no longer do a good one, but I was paired with Leslie, one of the bicep girls. We were supposed to spot each other, but it seemed clear she did not need a spot. But I wasn’t sure how to say, “I’ve been checking you out and I noticed that, even though you’re like 5’3”, you could probably bench press me.” So I just said, “Um, do you usually do this on your own?”

“I do, but I never turn down help,” she said. So, she was humble too.

I guess part of being a yogi is not being grossed out by touching sweaty, doughy amateurs. Another part is not minding being the sweaty, doughy amateur. And not feeling self-conscious about your decision to not give yourself a pedicure since, oh, sometime around the holidays. Even when the glowing, pregnant, handstanding teacher announces that it’s time to give our partners massages with our feet.

As of today, my ass and my knees seem to be playing tug-of-war with my hamstrings, but I still feel pretty damn good.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

literature with boobies!

I love collaborations between writers and visual artists. I’ve had fun doing a few myself, and I just discovered Electric Literature’s Single Sentence Animations (thanks, Jamie!). Here’s the deal: Animators take one sentence of a writer’s work and dream up a little video about it. You don’t even have to have the attention span it takes to read a short story! And the video below features boobs!

So, filmmakers of the world, who wants to make a video of one of my sentences? They’re available in both R- and G-rated versions.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

pregnant women are smug and you were a teenage loser

Although AK and I did couple-ish Valentine stuff on Friday, we spent V-Day proper with our sisters (‘cause we love them too) at Mortified. After hearing people read their diary accounts of teen romance, we concluded: Whether you were a virgin or a whore, a hot cheerleader or a closeted gay boy, the dumper or the dumpee—you were lame. Few thoughts are more comforting.

We also dug the opening musical act, Garfunkel & Oates, whose song “Pregnant Women are Smug”* I’m posting here for your enjoyment:

*Of course, none of the pregnant and recently pregnant women I know are smug. Seriously! My friends are a well-mannered bunch who ask about my book tour even while in the act of nursing a little one. But I do think that as a group—much like roving mall-packs of teenagers and gays at pride parades—pregnant women can be crazier than the sum of their parts. In all cases, it’s probably fair to blame hormones.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

la mayor riqueza

For Valentine’s Day, AK gave me The Captain’s Verses, a book of love poems by Pablo Neruda (in addition to the Glee soundtrack, which is also a fine work of poetry). This morning, I was sitting in bed reading student work for the class I’m teaching (so, yeah, that’s where I’ve been lately) when she leaned over and said, “Can I read you a poem? It’s called ‘Poverty.’”

“Can it wait a few minutes?” I said, because that’s the kind of romantic I am. “I’m trying to work so that we can fend off actual poverty.”

A few minutes later, she read:

Ah you don’t want to,
you’re scared
of poverty,
you don’t want
to go to the market with worn-out shoes
and come back with the same old dress.

My love, we are not fond,
as the rich would like us to be,
of misery. We
shall extract it like an evil tooth
that up to now has bitten the heart of man.

But I don’t want
you to fear it.
If through my fault it comes to your dwelling,
if poverty drives away
your golden shoes,
let it not drive away your laughter which is my life’s bread.
If you can’t pay the rent,
go off to work with a proud step,
and remember, my love, that I am watching you
and together we are the greatest wealth
that was ever gathered upon the earth.

The socialist and the spiritualist in me love it: Poverty is not to be romanticized or tolerated, but, at the same time, wealth is not a new dress.

Wishing you a happy Valentine’s and a sampler box of all the flavors of love.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

what i read in january

So what if I’m posting this in early mid-February?

Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison: Note to self: Don't ever check out audio books from the library that were published more than two years ago. They'll be so scratched up that you only hear about seventy percent of the text. The weird thing about this particular book--which I suspect might be a very good book--is that no matter how much I missed, the story still seemed to be in the same place when I picked up again, like a soap opera.

The story itself--of a racist white senator of mysterious origins, raised by a black preacher to more or less be a black preacher himself--is undeniably interesting, tapping into all the big American questions. The storytelling is innovative and poetic, consisting largely of dialogue and virtual sermons. There's probably a lot to say about Ellison's choices in this regard. But I'm not the one to say it. I just sort of floated along and was glad to be done with it.

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore: Last time I posted a pre-meeting review of a book club book, I started a bad trend and a minor controversy. This time around my lips are sealed until Feb. 13.

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt: I may have been foiled by audio bookery yet again: I accidentally checked out an abridged version of this novel. So maybe the director's cut makes the characters deeper and more likable (and by "likable," I don't mean "nice," just people you want to spend some time with). This version was still a pretty juicy story about revenge and prejudice (racial and otherwise) in a small southern town, where a 12-year-old girl from a "good" family stalks her brother's alleged killer, a poor white meth addict. I felt like she was supposed to be following in the footsteps of Scout Finch or Tom Sawyer or some other kid hero from southern lit, but she seemed bratty to me, and her sidekick--a brattier, racist brat named Healy--made me think she had terrible taste in little friends. On a side note, Donna Tartt seems to view snakes primarily as weapons, so if you have sympathy for reptilian Americans, consider skipping this book.

Escape from Houdini Mountain by Pleasant Gehman: Like Michelle Tea, Pleasant Gehman can tell a good story about crazy times (think drag queen boyfriends, theme parties, pranks gone wrong). I loved reading about Hollywood's trashier days, when the hills abounded with formerly glam ruins. But in some of the pieces, I longed for Michelle Tea's vulnerability and ability to apply a long view to her youth. For better or worse, sometimes Pleasant Gehman seems like she's still at the party.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

technical difficulties and blessings

Last night, as my new MacBook welcomed me to its world of shiny things and arty graphics, I felt deeply grateful for friendly electronics, which I believe Apple invented circa 1985. (I remember going to a neighbor’s house and thinking how cute it was that her parents’ Apple said, “Thinking…” as it struggled to, like, add two numbers, whereas our PC maintained a black-and-amber poker face.)

I’d been nervous about the mechanics of setting up my laptop, and here it was, the laptop itself, letting me know everything would be okay. It was so gratifying that I found myself wondering if I could be convinced to exchange all my real friends for robot friends.

I thought. If I met the right robot.

But while the laptop set-up process was, as promised, a lovely, minimally laborious, zooming journey through electronic space, transferring my documents and downloading stuff was somewhat more plodding.

By this morning, I was in tears because it took me forty minutes to log into the web page for the online class I’m teaching. Between teaching, transferring files, doing some work from home (without the benefit of the neat little email folders I have on my office computer) and being generally behind on replying to emails in my five accounts (if you include Facebook), my brain was stretched incredibly thin. During my trip through cyberspace, my luggage had seemingly gotten routed to eight or nine different countries, some with distinct travel advisories in effect.

I can’t help but feel like if I just had the perfect Apple device, everything—every communication mechanism, every website and account—would be synched up so that I would receive a single, friendly message: “Hello, Cheryl. You have a meeting at 1:30 p.m. Here are directions. Here’s a latte I’ve put in a convenient travel mug.”

I know that’s what Apple wants me to think.

In the meantime, I’m grateful to the National University IT help desk. Apparently, if you’re a school that exists entirely online, you know you’d better not just route people to India or some recording.

And one can’t underestimate the power of Actually Simplifying One’s Life. Right now I’m waiting for the pieces of mine to settle, at which time I hope I will discover things only seem crazy because they’re new, and because I need a weekend.

Monday, February 01, 2010

babies and books

The theme of Bay Area Trip #2 was The Babies Are Coming. Arguably, this is the theme of one’s thirties, but it was especially so in NorCal this past week, where we spent much time playing Blokus with the jaw-droppingly well-behaved children of AK’s high school friend Laura, and playing blink-and-coo with the new baby of Erin and Erin.

Other stuff happened too, like a fun and well-attended reading at Diesel, a brightly lit Rockridge bookstore that gives you hope for the future of books. There were reunions with kid-free friends as well, an art gallery visit and some very good Burmese food. And for some reason I ate a candy bar almost every night I was in town.

In N Out: quality we tasted on the drive up the 5, and again on the way home.

Nan Yang in Oakland: quality you can taste a bit more definitively.

Laura with poodle Ella, also incredibly well-behaved, of course.

Tai is taking piano lessons. Shortly before we left, he composed a melancholy and beautiful song about travel and loss called "Cheryl Had a Car."

In Berkeley, all travel is sustainably powered.

Nicole, Gerilyn and AK at a bar we visited twice during our trip but could never remember the name of. Ben and Dave's? Bev and Dick's? Dave and Buster's?

Persimmons at the Berkeley farmer's market.

Plain orange carrots are so cafeteria salad.

My new Facebook profile pic, naturally.

Erin: new mama of Beck, ongoing mama of Aidan the jealous orange cat.

Other Erin, same Beck.

New parenting is so hard that even the cat needs a beer now and then.

My reading at Diesel: The head in front belongs to Terry Wolverton. The painting behind me is of a man hugging a fish.

With Jen D. and Jenessa.

With Carol and Jen B. We hung out with so many Jens that day that AK actually called me Jen at one point. It was a good guess.

Nicole and Jenessa reenacting a conversation. I think it was about Xanax.

AK doing yoga with the kids.

AK says, "Out of the way, kid. This town is only big enough for one yoga star."

Mikko performs the new lyrics he wrote to "Cecilia." Also about travel and loss, but with some hide-and-seek thrown in. Cheryl had a car, had a great time and was happy to drive it home.