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Showing posts from 2012

eleven books, seven movies and one crappy, love-filled year

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I just opened the beat-up little notebook where I write down all the movies I see, to ponder what might make my Best of 2012 list. Instead I flipped to a page where I’d written “ovary removal timeline.” So that tells you most of what you need to know about my 2012. That said, surgery (on the boobs—the ovaries will have to be a New Year’s resolution) went really well. As I’ve been telling anyone who asks how I’m doing, the same genes that gave me cancer and anxiety also gave me flexible pectoral muscles. So while I feared weeks of needing help wiping my ass, the pain was more along the lines of a really rough work-out at the gym, and I found myself saving my Percocet for when I had cramps a few days later. (No more of that once the ovaries are out—woo-hoo?) Also, and more importantly, four different tests to look for lymph node metastasis came back negative. The cancer appears to be confined to one giant-ass tumor—I’m looking for a point of comparison size-wise, but I refuse to

credit, blame and feline dental hygiene

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1. heavy objects On Tuesday I looked at my day planner and saw that I’d written “no food or water after midnight.” I was confused. I’m not having surgery until the 19 th (send good vibes that day, everyone!). Apparently I’m supposed to lay off booze and other blood thinners for a week prior—which really puts a damper on holiday cocktail parties—but food and water? Then I realized this applied to Ferdinand. I’d made an appointment for him to get his teeth cleaned as part of my long Get Shit Done While I Can Still Lift Heavy Objects to-do list. So I ruthlessly denied him the meal known around our house as Second Dinner and drove him to our beloved ghetto vet in Lincoln Heights the next morning. Ferdinand's gleaming smile. Sort of. When I picked him up, the veterinary assistant—a woman I really like, because she’s friendly and smart and quick to hand out info sheets on how to read your cat’s blood work—said, “He did great. No extractions, just a lot of tartar.” “

my strange addiction to my strange addiction

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I started bingeing on Mad Men a few months ago and finished season four, the last Netflix has to offer, Tuesday night. I love the show for all the reasons critics do—the writing, the exquisite muted painting that is each art-directed frame. All the characters simultaneously perpetuate and are broken by the worst of what mid-century America has to offer. There’s a great scene in which sexpot Joan and career girl Peggy smoke a cigarette and finally admit to each other that they work with a bunch of pigs who take them for granted. But it’s not just the girls who have it bad—Don has the instincts of a good man, but he’s always pushing them down with his desire to be the cool guy in the fedora. But the real reason I like the show is because everyone is so wonderfully unhappy. Advertising preys not only on people’s existential dissatisfaction, but on their insecurity as well—their belief that just beyond the gate, other people are happy. All the fucking time. And that gate is a Lucky S

some thoughts on gender, boobs and belly fat

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I stand by my promise not to turn this into Cheryl’s Cancer Blog, but I do have to share one of the weirder and funnier parts of this process so far: my visit to Dr. L, plastic surgeon. (Why does he get just an initial? I don’t have anything really bad to say about him, but in case any of my doctors Google themselves in their minimal spare time, I don’t want the surgical equivalent of a waiter spitting in my food, you know?) Although I mentioned the exciting prospect of new boobs in my last post , I feel compelled to add that reconstruction shouldn’t be a given. One of Meehan’s friends was disturbed that doctors always mentioned plastic surgery before her health. And I just read this post over at I Blame the Patriarchy , about the compulsive feminization of women, breast cancer survivors like the blogger herself included. But I’m getting new ones, even though Dr. L informed me they’ll have pretty much no feeling, which is totally unnerving (literally—ha!), because I want to l

nothing says “back to reality” like some cancer!

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1. who you gonna call In a couple of sessions with my therapist about my ever waxing and waning hypochondria, I said, “I know I’m paranoid. But sometimes paranoid people are being followed!” The last time I said that to him was Election Day, when I was worrying about my annual breast exam that coming Friday. He said, “That’s maybe the worst phrase you’ve said.” We laughed. But reader, sometimes paranoid people are being followed. Friday I went in for my exam. They told me they wanted to biopsy a couple of spots. I had a meltdown. A nice nurse said, “Is there someone you can call?” I launched into a hysterical summary of the past two years of my life: “…and then I had a miscarriage and I was so depressed and angry for so long, and everyone I knew was so nice, and I know they love me, but I’ve used them up. I can’t take one more problem to them.” “You haven’t used them up,” she said. “Call.” She also said, of course, that lots of biopsies turn up not-cancer,

back to life, back to reality

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My actual lunch basket. Ridiculous, I know. I’m leaving MacDowell in a few hours. I turned in my key and paid my tab for laundry and postcards. I said goodbye to people, which was the suckiest part—I’m really going to miss the friends I’ve made here, and although we can say things like “I’ll totally come visit you in Berlin!” we all know there’s no substitute for living in the same half-mile radius and eating dinner together every night. There’s a writer who was trapped in New York for a week because of the hurricane, whom I didn’t get to know very well. He said sarcastically, “Wow, it was great to get to know you so well. All those late-night chats.” That was not the best kickoff to my last day. I always felt like I was boring him when we did talk, and I sort of wanted to say, “Late night chats with me are awesome, dude. Your loss.” I had a little meltdown last night in the privacy of my studio. As most of you guys know, I’ve had a hard couple of years. Not catastrophic,

bark and fungus, improvisation and bones

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Okay, I guess they don't look that much like anemic zebras. The hurricane blew the leaves off most of the trees, which makes the birch trunks, with their anemic-zebra bark, stand out. Yesterday a man came by with a leaf blower and blew the leaves from one part of the meadow to another. If you want to talk about work that’s never done, watch a guy with a leaf blower tackle three hundred acres. One of the visual artists invited me to come see her studio this afternoon, since I’ll be leaving before she gives the official tour. She’s been enjoying the birch bark too. She does a lot of site-specific work with found objects. Those are the kind of terms—site-specific, found objects—that lose meaning quickly when you overuse them. In this case it means her work is her studio and her studio is her work. She’s staying in Alexander, an old stone building that looks like a chapel. Initially, she said, all its fussy parts threw her off: the big bulletin boards, the arched doorways, the

the lady and the legacy

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Precursor to the garage band. Power is still out at my studio, so last night one of the staff members invited me and an equally powerless nonfiction writer to stay in Hillcrest, the MacDowells’ old farmhouse house at the top of the hill. Now it’s where they put up board members and fancy visiting artists. The place is a bit of a labyrinth. There’s a story about Edward Albee getting turned around, stumbling through a sort of closet/tunnel thing and ending up in Michael Chabon’s bedroom, where he was lying around in his underwear. Hillcrest is huge—I think there are at least eight bedrooms—but cozy because it was built for nineteenth century farmers, who were apparently all about 5’ 3”. The staff member herded a big group of us into Edward MacDowell’s music room, which has been kept as the MacDowells left it. There’s embossed wallpaper, a grand piano, walls of bookshelves, beams that don’t quite meet and a draught that circles your ankles like a cat. Imagine if you converted

it was a dark and stormy night

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Terrified of their feelings for each other. Last night one of the MacDowell staffers offered to drive everyone back to their studios around eight, but being here has infected me with a mild case of FOMO*, and I didn’t want to miss the screening of The Haunting that was about to begin , so I decided to sleep in Colony Hall rather than sit in my dark studio for hours. Is watching a horror movie about a haunted mansion in the heart of leafy New England the best idea when I plan to spend the night by myself in a huge, creaky old building in leafy New Hampshire during a hurricane? What about when the hurricane keeps blowing the doors open while the doors in the movie rattle and undulate as if they’re alive? Actually, it wasn’t the worst idea. The movie—the original, from 1963-ish—is simultaneously campy and creepy and gay and Freudian. Claire Bloom plays a hot telepathic lesbian who wears mod clothes and hits on Julie Harris’s stressed-out Nell. Joined by the paternal doctor

a now-obsolete post written shortly before hurricane sandy killed the internet

This morning my friend Colin, a lifelong Californian who’s doing a book tour on the East Coast right now, posted: “I’m so used to earthquakes that the idea of sitting around waiting for a disaster is really weird.” At least, that’s the gist of what he said; power is out at MacDowell right now, so I can’t jump online to fact-check. New Hampshire is currently getting the tail end—or maybe it’s the head or elbow—of Hurricane Sandy. As one of two Angelenos here, I’ve been repeating Colin’s words, although now that I think about it, waiting around for a disaster is exactly what I do, which is why I’m in so much damn therapy. And I don’t even have a really tip-top emergency kit to show for it; I just worry a lot. This will be my first hurricane, which is kind of exciting, which is just the sort of thing someone who’s never been through a hurricane would say. If I’d been through several smallish ones, I would find them a pain in the ass and know how to do things like board up win

the acknowledgments page

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A rare MacDowell Wolf. Yesterday we hiked Mount Monadnock, which is apparently pronounced mon-ADD-nock, not MON-an-dock (which doesn’t even make sense, but that’s how I read it). A really funny screenwriter/filmmaker, a nonfiction writer whose parents once bought a house infested with scorpions (she had more animal stories where that came from) and another nonfiction writer, who is kind of a walking encyclopedia, but not in an annoying way. One of the things the encyclopedia guy told us: The bald, rocky top of Mount Monadnock is not above the tree line, as it would appear. Rather, at the turn of the last century, local farmers were convinced that wolves were coming down from the top of the mountain and killing their livestock. They decided to show the wolves who was boss by setting fire to the woods repeatedly. Eventually the trees didn’t come back. Neither did the wolves. Now there are only coyotes here. I heard them yipping eerily the other night, which should be a comf

private property

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It's high security around here. Last night the only poet (surprisingly) in residence said that he got turned around a lot on the trails that loop through MacDowell’s three hundred acres. “At first I concluded that all the roads lead back to the same place. But I was on one for a while, and it spit me out on the paved street, and it became clear it wasn’t going to get me back to Colony Hall. So I decided to just retrace my steps. But when I turned back the way I came from, I saw this sign that said Private Property and I was like, Uh-oh, am I in someone’s yard? ” He wasn’t. He was still on the MacDowell campus, which is studded with Private Property signs. (They’re not too threatening; they just ask MacDowell visitors to please use the High Street entrance.) But one of the visual artists admitted she’d been intimidated by the signs too, as had I. (It probably doesn’t help that, when I was little, my dad had a habit of parking our motor home on the side of some coast

the mystery of a remodel

1. bleu period I finished Draft 1 of the YA novel yesterday. It’s mind-altering to do in a week what normally takes a month or two. I talked to my dad on the phone and mentioned how spoiled I’m getting here, how amazing it is to be treated like I have something important to say and I should just go ahead and spend the whole day saying it. Also, there’s the immersion factor: It’s the only way to learn a language, and I’m now convinced it’s the best way to learn a language of your own devising too. Apparently, I’ve been doing the equivalent of diligently memorizing vocab lists from my Spanish for Beginners textbook for years. My dad immediately began brainstorming ways that I can get out of town and write more in the future. “Stop,” I told him. “If I get too spoiled, I’ll have nothing to write about.” “We can talk more when you get home,” he said mysteriously. I think he was vaguely implying that another residency might show up in my Christmas stocking. “Or we can not t

i am not listless (get it?)

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Imperfect writing metaphor. 1. I think I may be overly reliant on characters overhearing things. It’s a cheap plot device, and one reason I didn’t think much of The Big Sleep. 2. I think I might finish the YA book in like two more days. I’m not looking forward to editing my cats-‘n’-Malaysia novel, but I guess writing a YA book is a productive form of procrastination. 3. Some writers love rewriting and fear the blank page. I’m the opposite, although I don’t hate rewriting as much as I used to. 4. It’s kind of like cleaning the toilet. It didn’t even occur to me back in the day, and I didn’t have the right kind of brush and duck-neck cleaning product to do it. Now I do it regularly, if reluctantly. 5. It’s like cleaning the toilet if cleaning the toilet made your brain hurt and sometimes evoked painful memories and took years. And sometimes when you thought you’d cleaned the toilet, someone came along and said, no, actually it’s not clean. 6. Also if cleaning to

trigger happy

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Hey, punkin. The calendar in Colony Hall said “Surprize.” What could possibly blow the minds of two dozen artists sufficiently to warrant being spelled with a Z? Two dozen pumpkins and a bag full of knives pilfered from the kitchen, that’s what. It was all orchestrated by a playwright here; he led us through the woods to his studio, where the pumpkins and cider and mini bags of Doritos awaited ( chips : a recurring motif in my life). Recently my crafty sister confessed that she works extra hard on cards she’s making for weddings or bachelorette parties, because she secretly craves admiration, even though it’s someone else’s big day. I told her that wasn’t a secret so much as human nature. So I was excited to see the pumpkins—if there had been, say, an impromptu jam session or sing-along (and there more or less have been), I would have had to back slowly away. I have no inner musician waiting to emerge. But I do have an inner visual artist. I mean, she’s kind of folk

temporary utopia and picturesque rot

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Little house in the big woods. Today it’s raining but not too cold. My favorite kind of rain. The sky just sort of drips onto the yellow and orange leaves, and steam rolls along the ground. You can see why a person might want to write about nature, although my official position on the subject is that nature is like New York: There’s plenty to say about it, but a lot of it’s already been said. Yesterday was sunny, so I took a long walk on my “lunch break,” which I’m putting in quotes because it was a break from my “work.” Don’t get me wrong—I’m working, and it’s wonderful, and I think this place will spoil me just like I knew it would, now that I know what it means to see the waves of my narrative in compressed form. But it’s a playful kind of work. I took my photocopied MacDowell map and wandered past the other studios and cottages. There is a lot of white wood and low stone walls covered in moss. Some of the older buildings are a little worn, but it only adds to their

freshman flashbacks

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Artist residencies are a lot like freshman year at college, with better food and accommodations. The first conversations are easy and predictable, with “What are you here to work on?” replacing “What’s your major?” Everyone seems exotic and interesting and a little intimidating. Then come the awkward in-between moments, when your extrovert energy starts to wane and you wonder which acquaintances, if any, will turn into actual friends. At least that’s how it works if “you” are me. I spent my freshman year bouncing between outrageous homesickness, unconvincing displays of outgoingness and devastating realizations that the friends I’d thought were my soul mates after a handful of late-night conversations actually didn’t like me all that much. Have I told you about the time my roommate told me to stop secretly gorging myself on her chips ? It's not like they were even Kettle Chips. These flashbacks aren’t totally welcome, although I like to think I’ve learned a thing

25 random things about macdowell too

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Calderwood: heated floors and charming bugs. Last night I started reading 2500 Random Things About Me Too , a compilation/explosion of lists from that Facebook meme that went around a few years ago, by my former CalArts professor Matias Viegener. You might think that would make for a terrible book, especially if you’ve seen how blogs and Tumblrs and other internet phenomena have been turned into disappointing books that get sold at Urban Outfitters. But you’d be wrong. I’ll have more to say about Matias’s book—which is as warm and friendly as it is skeptical of narrative—when I’m finished, but for now I just want to blog about (full) Day 1 at MacDowell in random-list form. 1. Lunch arrived in a picnic basket with “Calderwood,” the name of my cottage/studio, painted on the lid. 2. It was tuna salad with capers and faro. Faro! It tastes like peasant food in the best way. 3. I think that when people get stuck, they reach for food, both literally and literarily. Mangoe