Monday, August 30, 2010
Awards shows are all about heckling snarkily, but I have to say Amy takes it to new heights. Case in point, re: the many awards for Temple Grandin:
Amy: I just found out from my mom that she went to high school with my Aunt Owie. [The real Temple Grandin stands up in the audience, wearing her signature cowboy shirt and kerchief. Waves.] Wait, that’s Temple Grandin?! She looks terrible! She looks thirty years older than my Aunt Owie.
The rest of us: Well, she’s autistic.
Amy: Autism doesn’t make you look old.
Me: Maybe your Aunt Owie’s had some work done.
AK: That’s the rumor around town.
Then Jewel got onstage and played a sad song while the montage of 2010’s deceased scrolled by. Amy hit the fast-forward button every time the camera panned to Jewel herself.
If I ever write something that’s adapted for TV and subsequently nominated for an Emmy (a girl can dream), I totally want Amy to dress me and host the after-party, but if she somehow gets a gig doing red carpet commentary, god help me and my cowboy shirt.
Friday, August 27, 2010
To counteract the death posts, some news from the other side of the circle of life*: Jamie and Lee-Roy’s healthy baby girl was born this morning at 10:25 a.m. That’s all the official news we** have so far, since they want to give their families the scoop on the name and birth details. But I was so excited when I saw Lee-Roy’s post that I actually gasped and put my hand over my mouth like an anime schoolgirl.
I like to think that Jamie and Lee-Roy’s little one will be a sorta niece—at least she’ll be the first of my friends’ kids who doesn’t need to be reintroduced to me every time we meet. (We may see Tai and Mei-Lin next month, and I’m crossing my fingers that they’ll pass the memory test. They’re old enough and we played a lot of games of Blokus with them. But I don’t want to get my hopes up.)
I’m already excited about crashing Jamie’s maternity leave and showing up with some mac ‘n’ cheese sometime in the next few weeks. Because nothing says “familial bonding” like your boss stopping by, right? Oh well, it comes with the territory of being an awesome person with an adorable new baby. She’ll just have to deal.
*Although if it’s a circle, I guess it doesn’t technically have sides. My sister is a math teacher, so I feel the need to address these things.
**Meaning the Facebook community.
Monday, August 23, 2010
But then I heard someone—poet Imani Tolliver, maybe?—talk about how, in the African American community, passing on is understood as transitioning to another state, like passing through a toll booth. That seemed accurate, not euphemistic. So now I like it, as much as one can like a phrase that means death.
I also like this poem by Eloise Klein Healy. I don’t think anyone has summed up the predictable shock of parental death quite so well. Appropriately, it’s from her book Passing.
Living Here Now
My father’s dying
resembles nothing so much
as a small village
in the mind of a traveler
who reads about it
and thinks to go there.
The journey is imagined
in a way not even felt
as when years ago
I knew my father would die someday.
The idea came up as fast
as a curve in a road
which opens out
to an unexpected vista,
and now in this journey
the road gravel crunches
under my tires. I miss
some of the streets,
get lost, get lost.
I find I’m no tourist anymore
and settle into the oldest human assignment.
Bury your father and live forever
as a stranger in that town.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
On the way into work afterward, I listened to AirTalk with Larry Mantle, the fun, less current-events-oriented second half of the program that I usually don’t get to hear. A theology prof named Velli-Matti Karkkainen (<--spelled with multiple umlauts, which I don’t know how to add) was debating an atheist magazine publisher named Michael Shermer about mortality and faith.
Shermer proposed that humans like the notion of an afterlife because, like all animals, we’re wired to want to live, but unlike all animals, we know that we’ll eventually lose the battle. So we make up a myth to comfort ourselves.
Having made up plenty of myths to comfort myself (“You keep staring at her legs because you want to look like her, not fuck her,” I told my 14-year-old self, except I don’t think I used the word “fuck” even in my head at 14), I could see his point. But the thought I always come back to whenever someone makes an “isn’t God just too convenient?” argument is that God is not the myth. God is the wanting. God is the comfort. I imagine God as this sort of shimmery net that can’t be separated from living creatures, so if God is our own creation, that doesn’t make him/her/it any less real.
Shermer vacillated between fair-enough science-based arguments against the existence of God and snarky jabs at the hypocrisies of religion: “How can a deathbed conversion count more than a lifetime of good works, huh?”
Well, it can’t, but just because certain strains of Christianity have some (gaping) holes doesn’t prove God doesn’t exist. It just proves people suck. You’d think that, as a scientist, Shermer would be more into logic. Karkkainen politely advocated for a religious practice that does not take earthly life for granted, but I wanted him to focus less on preaching kindness and more on taking Mr. Snarky down.
Shermer kept saying things like, “There’s either an afterlife or there isn’t” which reminded me all too much of arguing with my dad, who gets all, “Which is it, A or B?” And if you say, “Actually it’s C,” he reminds you that that wasn’t one of your choices. Which means he’s defining the terms of the debate, which makes him…God.
I mean, what about the version of quantum physics that fiction writers and self-helpers love to run with, where every possible fork in every possible road has been taken in an infinite number of universes? Is that an afterlife? Or is that somewhere between “is” and “isn’t”? Some paradoxical third thing. To me, God is the existence of paradoxical third things.
I get atheists who don’t believe because they just don’t feel it. And I get agnostics because on some level I am one—if an agnostic is someone who doesn’t know, it seems like we should all be agnostics. But an atheist who treats science like a religion is just another zealot in my book. (And since plenty of scientists are open to the possibility of a world outside the known rules, I’m definitely not calling them all zealots.)
Sunday morning D practiced long-distance Reiki on T-Mec. Monday she emailed to tell me that T-Mec has a sweet and peaceful soul, and isn’t feeling sick but does need more rest than usual. Also, that butterflies are her spirit guides. They flutter around her.
I’ll quote what another coworker said re: astrology: “I don’t believe in any of that stuff. Except that I totally do.”
Sunday, August 15, 2010
But it was actually a great job because it was so much easier than the hardcore journalism training I was spending the rest of my summer doing. The training was full of unpleasant surprises: What’s a budget meeting? What do you mean you mean the lead dancer at American Ballet Theater isn’t available for an interview two hours before my deadline?
At the Wherehouse, all I had to do was alphabetize in a kind of Zen fog accompanied by the soundtracks of that summer: Dave Matthews Band’s Crash and Harry Connick Jr.’s Star Turtle. I liked the latter so much that I bought it (on cassette) and listened to it in my parents’ Suzuki Samurai as I commuted to Daily Bruin training.
I’d kind of forgotten how much I liked Harry Connick Jr. until Stephen mentioned he had extra box seat tickets to see Connick’s show at the Bowl. AK and I had never sat in box seats before and would have seen Carrot Top there if it meant liberal leg room, a great view and helpful people (in polo shirts) delivering little tray tables to your booth. I felt like Carrie Bradshaw flying first class to Abu Dhabi.
But as an added bonus, Harry Connick Jr. was the best performer ever. Croony for the first half, jazzy-bluesy for the second, funny and charming the whole way through as he joked with a crazy drunk lady named Denise in the first row and performed theatrical pantomimes with his trumpet player.
“George Clooney’s got nothing on him,” I whispered to AK. He (Connick, not Clooney) is one of the few celebrities I find genuinely sexy. Funny is part of it. Singing voice is part of it. And, wait—
“He’s tap dancing now?”
“What can this guy not do?” AK said. “God, he must be a nightmare to be married to. Just charming everyone right and left wherever he goes.”
Suddenly he and his trumpet player had turned around, lifted their suit jackets and were scooting across the stage, shaking their asses to rival any chick in a hip hop video.
“Is he krumping now?”
Being ready to have a great time after a few solid days of being sad was part of it too. Sometimes there’s nowhere to go but fun. Sometimes you just have to take a clue from all those New Orleans musicians and play your blues and shake your ass as you do.
Friday, August 13, 2010
The Team Gato update is that Team Gato is at risk of losing its team leader.* T-Mec has a not-small tumor in her left lymph node and a bunch of small ones starting to bloom nearby. According to the kitty oncologist, it hasn’t spread to her organs yet, which is good. The kitty oncologist also thinks this is reason to do surgery, which would mean amputating her left front leg (which includes one of her Ferd-batting paws), and some follow-up chemo.
So I’ve spent a few days trying to separate my contradicting brands of selfishness (I Want My Cat Alive For At Least Another Five Years vs. I Would Like More Than $5 Left In My Savings Account) from what’s best for T-Mec. The three-leg thing is not the issue. T-Mec would rock that look. The constant trips to the vet and the months spent healing from a surgery that might only buy her a matter of months are the issue.
I consulted D, one of my New York co-workers, who is practically a pet psychic. She’s the person who adopts a blind, deaf 15-year-old feral cat and loves it until it dies in her arms. No way would she ever advocate for anything but what’s best for an animal. She also writes such dark, intense fiction that I firmly believe she stares unblinkingly into the heart of Truth.
She said, “Don't do the chemo. It will put your kitty through a horrible ordeal, and I've seen it only prolong a life for a short amount of time. She will suffer, and YOU will suffer. I believe that dying on an animal’s own terms, in their homes, even the natural suffering, is an ‘easier’ way to go. Cats and dogs pass to another level. They don’t view or think of death like we do. We can be there, and help them, but even though you can’t let go in your heart, you can let go of their body.”
I sobbed my way through her email, but I also felt a huge sense of clarity and a lesser but still palpable sense of relief. When I raised D’s concerns to the kitty oncologist, she accused me of accusing her of wanting animals to suffer. Which, of course, is her way of accusing me of wanting animals to suffer. For people like me and the kitty oncologist, who love animals and think people are just okay, there’s no greater insult.
But I believe in owning my choices, so on Tuesday I will most likely call up the kitty oncologist and soak up her judgment like I deserve it, which of course I think I do on some level. The only thing that could change my mind is if T-Mec announces that she would actually like to try out the three-legged thing. D is going to do a sort of long-distance mind meld and see what T-Mec says (actually, it’s Reiki, and it involves licensing and stuff, so it’s not as voodoo-y as I’m making it sound, but who says voodoo doesn’t work anyway?).
Most likely these next few months will be devoted to living in the moment—the moment of toy-chasing and OC-chasing and blanket-nestling and Wellness brand canned food-eating. Already she seems to have decided to boycott her dry food-only diet, as if to say, “Look, lady, my time is precious and I’m not spending it eating that shit.” T-Mec would teach me some important life lesson that no amount of therapy has managed to so far.
2. am i still married?
The better news this week is, hey, no more Prop. 8, no stay. Or rather, a short stay, but then back to marrying if no appeal is filed? It’s all very confusing and star-bellied sneetchy. I’ve gotten a lot of excited texts and emails from people who are like, “Yay, you and AK can get married in California now!”
On a score-one-for-civil-rights level, I’m absolutely yelling yay right along with them. But on a personal level, I’m mildly cranky. If I were a straight person who’d gotten married in Canada in June, I’d already be married in California. Of course, if I were a straight person, I wouldn’t have had to go to Canada in the first place. It was a great vacation, but what if we hadn’t been able to afford it? (And based on the current vet bill, arguably we weren’t.) I’m a little money-obsessed right now, and I’m always stingy with my time, but I’m kind of like, “Look, State of California, do you think the gays have an extra $100 to plunk down every time the law changes? Do you think City Hall is our favorite place to hang out? I have a sick cat who needs my time and money, bitch.”**
It seems to me that if gay marriage is now legal in California, any out-of-state gay marriages performed previously should automatically be recognized as full marriages. Until a few days ago, we had all the legal rights—everything but the name. Now I don’t even know if we have that. It’s like the State of California was like, “Oops, do-over, do-over!”
After reading this, I started to worry that we’ll have another teeny window where we can get married before it’s outlawed again. Is gay marriage like an open reading period at a lit mag or the BOGO sale at Payless? It happens a couple of times a year but not so much that there’s a big slush pile or too much lost profit? Are we going to keep grandfathering couples in until eventually all the gays are married?
Yes, I’m grateful. Yes, this is an exciting time in history that I really wouldn’t trade for anything…except maybe a nice nap with my sick cat and the girl I married.
*Ferdinand would argue that he, in fact, is team leader. OC would say, “Are you sure it’s not me?” Both Ferd and T-Mec would say, in unison, “It’s not you.”
**Yeah, I called the State of California a bitch. What of it?
Sunday, August 08, 2010
I’ve fallen in love at first episode with If You Really Knew Me, an MTV reality show which A) is a reality show actually based in reality and therefore free of the weird scripted puns of, say, Parental Control and B) makes teenagers look like the sweetest, most vulnerable creatures ever to walk the earth.
The show follows a program called Challenge Day, which is basically high school group therapy aimed at preventing bullying. Over the course of an intense day of activities, the kids let down their guard and share the most difficult parts of their lives—we learn that the homecoming queen has been scarred by her parents’ divorce and the bipolar outcast deserves a ton of admiration for the shit she’s gone through.
Half the fun is seeing the subcultures at different high schools. Jocks and nerds may be universal, but “creekers” are particular to West Virginia, where hunting, fishing and wearing camouflage put you on the upper social rungs. (My friend Heather edited this episode, and she said that they got a bunch of messages afterward countering that creekers are not cool. Ah, kids.)
Challenge Day is a little like summer camp, a theater production or a church revival—a strange and magical space where the rules of the outside world don’t seem to apply. When Brittney reveals that her mom is in jail, her dad kicked her out and she tried to commit suicide, the entire gymnasium full of kids piles on her for a massive group hug. Behind her glasses and long bangs, her dark eyes show amazement: So this is what it feels like to be loved instead of shunned! The next day Rachel, a confident creeker whose sister died at age seven, invites Brittney to go hunting.
A cynical part of me—the part that is 33 years old and has gone some dark mental places this summer—thought, Nice, but will it last? Tell me the homecoming queen’s new Challenge Day club won’t just end up another gold star on her resume.
But then I thought, So what? Without Challenge Day, each of those kids would have gone on assuming everyone but them had their shit together (I still have a tendency to assume this, which is probably the source of my dark thoughts). Even if Challenge Day challenges those assumptions only for a day—even if the big bubble of love bursts almost immediately—isn’t that part of what makes the bubble magical?
2. 525,600 minutes times 33 years
Last night AK and I saw the Neil Patrick Harris-directed production of Rent at the Hollywood Bowl. I’d been skeptical about the casting of Nicole Scherzinger as Maureen (whom I may have described to AK as “some skanky Pussycat Dolls chick”), but she totally brought the house down.
But overall I didn’t go in with too many expectations. Mostly I just wanted to share this beloved, slightly embarrassing part of my past with AK, who’d never seen the show before. I was in a delicate place because on Friday T-Mec was diagnosed with skin cancer. I won’t really know the implications until we see a kitty oncologist next week, but I’ve been torn between thinking of the crazy sadness of losing her and the crazy sadness (and crazy cost) of treating a late-middle-aged cat for cancer.
So don’t laugh, but during “Will I Lose My Dignity?” all I could think of was T-Mec’s stripy blue-eyed face, and I just sobbed and sobbed and continued to do so off and on all the way home on the park-and-ride shuttle.
When I was younger, all the love-and-death stuff in Rent seemed so romantic. Now I think that loving someone when you know it will end—when you’ve seen it end before, because of cancer or because Challenge Day is only one day long—is the hardest thing in the world. To dive in and not hold a piece of yourself back. To really subscribe to the gospel of No Day But Today when you know there are so many other days, and they will be hard and lonely and you will be strapped for cash and a cloud of fear and cynicism will follow you wherever you go…well, that’s the challenge.
Thursday, August 05, 2010
As we arrived one by one, David mildly shamed us for not only driving (it’s right off the Mariachi Plaza Gold Line stop) but taking three separate cars. Yes, we are Angelenos. Then he showed us around: the barred storefront window where two men with very loud tools were carving a door, the vintage Born in East L.A. poster (Kipen was born in Hollywood), the shelf he’s reserving for authors featured at the Guadalajara International Book Fair, which recently spotlighted L.A. literature.
While we talked about all the possibilities for the space—readings! workshops! movies!—a woman with two small kids came in to renew her copy of Shit My Dad Says and return her kids’ copy of Humu: The Little Fish Who Wished Away His Colors.
Kipen, who opened Libros Schmibros the day the nearby library stopped operating on Mondays, is still working out the details of his lending/selling system. For now he loans books out at ten pages a day, meaning that if the book is two hundred pages long, you can keep it for twenty days. “But that means I could lose a real epic for six months,” he worried.
His pricing system is simple and shamelessly discriminatory: “A dollar a book for people in the neighborhood, half the list price for the likes of you people.” It’s sort of a carbon offset/you-look-like-a-hipster tax. But the books are still a pretty good deal.
“I read a blog where there was some debate about whether we were good for the neighborhood or gentrifying it,” he said. “But if opening a bookstore is gentrifying, someone needs to gentrify Beverly Hills. Boyle Heights has one more than they do now.”
Monday, August 02, 2010
Here's a review I wrote for Gently Read Literature if you're like, Dammit, those capsule reviews re-posted from Goodreads just aren't long enough.
Testimony by Anita Shreve: This novel tracks the lead-up to and fallout from a prep student orgy that gets taped and posted online. Shreve calls upon many (possibly too many) characters to tell the controversial and mysterious story: the school's headmaster, the boys involved, the girl involved, their parents, their roommates, a reporter, a cop, a lunch lady...the list goes on. I was a little unnerved by the girl--Shreve's characterization of her suggested her reason for writing the novel might be to point out how one little manipulative slut can ruin things for everyone. But after some interesting structural architecture and a few revelations worthy of a whodunit, I decided she was more interested in how everyone (including teachers and parents) can ruin things for everyone. The book ends on a thoughtful, c'est-la-vie note that redeemed some of its tedious procedural quality for me.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: The premise is clever and irresistible: What if the London Underground actually led to another world, full of people who talk to rats and open doors with their minds and protect magical keys? Gaiman riffs off station names; hence Knightsbridge is a nightmarish bridge the book's journeyers must cross. The mix of fantasy and reality is to my liking. The writing is often funny, if sometimes more genre-y than I'm comfortable with (dangling ellipses, repeated adjectives). Although the idea that London Below is populated by people who've slipped through the cracks of London Above is interesting and political, Gaiman's imagination shines more in the details than in the thematics. I started reading this book in England, as I was familiarizing myself with the Tube map, which made those details extra fun.
The Good Life by Jay McInerney: The novel opens with great epigrams from John Cheever (about the mysteries of middle age) and Ana Menendez (about the passions evoked by tragedy), but it left me thinking I should read John Cheever or Ana Menendez instead of this book. The main characters are a WASPy Tribeca mom and a disaffected Wall Street guy, both married to other people. When the fall of the Twin Towers prompts them to fall for each other, I got the feeling the author wanted us to think that their affair was special because 1) it's triggered by tragedy and 2) unlike their cheating spouses, these two are smart and deep. After the book's melancholy conclusion, I decided McInerney was saying that people never change, but sometimes they change for a minute. So basically my assessment ranged from shallow to depressing.
Truck by Katherine Dunn: A gritty stream-of-consciousness narrative of a teenage runaway, this novel reminded me more of Lynda Barry's Cruddy or Cynthia Kadohata's Floating World than Dunn's own Geek Love (which I loved). The narrator, Dutch, is one of those tomboy straight girls who seemed to occupy all the books of my youth (where are the femmey queer girls?! But I'm getting off track here). She has kind parents but feels suffocated by her small Oregon town in a way she doesn't quite understand, so she plots to truck down to Los Angeles with her weirdo friend Heydorf. The strangest and most interesting thing about this novel is how the first half flashes back and forth (without even a paragraph break to warn you) between a dark, murky present and snapshots of Dutch's home life. It then eases into a more linear story, but ends in a spot that seems to negate the possibility of the first part of the book. I wasn't sure if this was a highly experimental meditation on the power of fantasy and the many possible futures that await people, or if I just missed something.
Sunday, August 01, 2010
So I’m probably totally unreliable, but whatever. I can unequivocally say that Christine and Jody’s wedding was the most conveniently located one I’ve been to. AK and I could have biked there. (But we didn’t, seeing as how my shoes were barely made for walking.) They got married at the L.A. River Center and Gardens, a stunning piece of landscaping and mission-style architecture tucked somewhere between our house and the Gold Line, and they decked the place out with black-and-white table cloths and hot pink flowers, the former of which AK and I helped cut with pinking shears.
The wedding was very DIY or DIYWHF (do it yourself with the help of friends), and we heard a few stories of backstage scrambling, but thanks to Christine’s good eye and enviable management skills, and the aforementioned friends, you never would have known there was no wedding planner.
Jody and Christine mingled with the guests for an hour before the ceremony. Seeing as how I can’t even mingle before a reading, this struck me as an amazing feat of calm—although I did see Jody make more than one trip to the bar, so their relaxation may have been helped along by cocktails.
The ceremony was short-ish and genuinely sweet, with a couple of funny moments, like when the Universal Life Church minister (a.k.a. their friend Nat’s mom) said something about growing together, and Jody, who’s a lot shorter than Christine when she is wearing fabulous hot pink heels, stood on his toes. I thought it was appropriate that the Gold Line train zoomed by right when Nat’s mom was talking about life’s journey.
We all danced the hora and ate coconut shrimp from Cha Cha Cha and kimchi quesadillas from the Kogi truck. Yes, the Korean taco truck that started the revolution—a brilliant alternative to the chicken/pasta wedding buffet. Then we danced some more, and I exchanged my cute heels for flip flops. Stephen and Pedro got an unofficial Best Dressed award for their respective seersucker suit and gingham shirt. Meehan networked with the many other attorneys at the wedding, although since they’re all public interest types, they would have called it “community building.” Jamie exchanged baby stories with the various other pregnant ladies and new parents in the crowd and did her best not to give birth on the dance floor. She was successful.
The next day we saw Jody and Christine at a family barbecue at their house, and I asked Christine the rather lame question, “So, do you feel married?” She grinned her big Christine grin, rolled her eyes and shrugged. “I don’t know—do you?”
She had a point. Later AK and I were talking about all the big changes that our lives inevitably hold in store, and she said, “I’m glad Christine and Jody aren’t going anywhere.”
“I know,” I said. “When I was writing in the card, I had to be careful to make my message about them as a couple. I wanted to just be all, ‘This is the start of a long beautiful life together as our friends.’”