scattered thoughts on thanksgiving weekend

November 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Repeated viewings of Kung Fu Panda and its assorted spinoffs and sequels.

Bobby singing to my cat. Then chasing after her with a giant red totebag. Then putting her in the totebag. Then pretending the totebag is a swing or a rollercoaster.

Cooked Thanksgiving dinner all through the day on Thursday. The eight pound hunk of prime rib came out livid red when we got a knife in it. As we cut it up the deep grooves of the wooden chopping board slowly filled with blood.

Furiously resentful of having to go to the L.A. Auto Show, even though I suggested it in the first place. I thought I could get into the hybrid display, learn a bit about smart cars and sit in one and pretend I lived in a teacup and hung my clothes on a rack made from a paperclip, but the whole thing was kind of gross. Fleshly proof of our status- and brand-obsessed society. And lightly flavored with sexism, if you’re into that kind of thing! They had skinny women in tight, bare-sleeved dresses and stiletto heels slink around their cars, voluptuously repeating marketing copy to assembling on-lookers. Multiple instances of hip swayage occurred. A dark-haired lady charged by me, pushing a baby in a stroller (I was reading a book on the floor, feeling rebellious and nonconformist and probably sourly muttering to myself about the paucity of public transportation options in the larger Los Angeles region). As she approached the display, she repeated the car name to her baby. “Look baby, it’s an Audi! An Audi!” OH FOR CHRIST’S SAKE. IT’S A HUNK OF EMBOSSED METAL. PS. YOU LIVE AN EMPTY LIFE.

Belascos on Sunday night: Drank too much. Instant awkwardness when friend P. introduced me to some dudely dudes, then immediately followed up with the statements “she’s really smart” and “she’s applying to law school”. “Oh…cool.” was the typical response, followed by a bout of oogling. I was thinking about this in relation to my friend C., who is the kind of vociferous, opinionated, and supremo-confident striver that, by opening her mouth, instantly distinguishes herself from others in a classroom. There’s the feeling there, shared by her, and I, that those qualities that enable her in particular and women in general to succeed professionally, are also ones that work against her (and women) in the romantic sphere. True? False? If I didn’t have B., for example, would dudes hear “law school” and flee in droves? Or am I just making excuses for my own ineptitude? It’s not like my life as it relates to other young people would be socially frictionless even if I didn’t go to X college. But I don’t think it helps. Sometimes I think that people think that I think I’m better than them, that I’m not conversing because I’m snobby, when really I’m having to wrestle and floor-pin the insecurities and fears that, to my eye, they overcame long ago.

(I remember B.’s friend, JK, a Singaporean transplant. When we visited over the summer he told us he was on OK Cupid. “Oh, definitely,” he said, when asked about his preferred girl, “She’s gotta be UCLA or Berkeley caliber.”)

But man, clubbing. I had one of those nights where keeping upright is a trial. Why do I do it? Sometimes it’s plain sordid. B. said he saw two girls rubbing each other between their legs in a circle of men. It’s fun to dance but I can’t separate my enjoyment of it from the uneasy feeling that the whole get-up is predatory and crass and an affront to feminism. And if you must ask, I keep repeating that because many things are.


i just got into berkeley law

November 29, 2011 § 3 Comments



the carrier bag theory of fiction

November 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction
Ursula K. Le Guin (1986)

In the temperate and tropical regions where it appears that hominids evolved into human beings, the principal food of the species was vegetable. Sixty-five to eighty percent of what human beings ate in those regions in Paleolithic, Neolithic, and prehistoric times was gathered; only in the extreme Arctic was meat the staple food. The mammoth hunters spectacularly occupy the cave wall and the mind, but what we actually did to stay alive and fat was gather seeds, roots, sprouts, shoots, leaves, nuts, berries, fruits, and grains, adding bugs and mollusks and netting or snaring birds, fish, rats, rabbits, and other tuskless small fry to up the protein. And we didn’t even work hard at it–much less hard than peasants slaving in somebody else’s field after agriculture was invented, much less hard than paid workers since civilization was invented. The average prehistoric person could make a nice living in about a fifteen-hour work week. « Read the rest of this entry »

lydia millet on alice munro

November 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

“As the Grande Dame of Canadian realism, Munro is widely and rightly admired, both nationally and internationally, for the care of her craft, the economy of her sentences and the dignified reserve of her characterizations. She’s been virtually canonized by literary institutions in Canada and the United States and has been boldly called, by the more recently canonized American realist Jonathan Franzen, among others, the best living writer in North America.

And of course, it is realism that reigns supreme, in Canada and the United States, though probably not in Europe, as the most popular and legitimate literary style. And yet — and yet — given that what Munro does, she does with immaculate precision — why always, with such a richness of skill, this insistent choice on the purely personal, the proximate world of the self and its near relations? In the cosmology of this world, the personal, social world, the individual is seen delicately negotiating a balance with friends and family: Her journey is the steady sun around which all planets revolve.

Surely the vast universe beyond the minutely personal is also of some little interest. There is, of course, often a backdrop. Munro, for instance, loves the land, loves her region within it, and comes to the land in her prose with knowledge, deliberation and devotion. Still, the land is a setting primarily for a specific subset of us, for the foibles and discoveries and preoccupations of the social self. And in the broader, dominant literary culture of realistic and personal fictions, a culture where Munro tends to lead and others to follow, the land often drops away entirely in favour of a massive foreground of people with problems.

These problems are rarely starvation or war; they tend to be adultery or career disappointment, say, which leaves us with a literary culture whose preoccupation is not meaning or beauty, not right or wrong, not our philosophies or propensity for atrocities or corrupt churches and governments, but rather our sex lives, our social mistakes, our neighbourhood failures and sibling rivalries. Enlightenment humanism finds a kind of perfect expression here: If our deliberations about our personal lives, consisting of a near-infinite scrutiny of the tiny passages through which we move in relation to friends and lovers, constitutes the best calling of art, must such self-scrutiny not also be our own highest calling and rightful task?

And if this self-scrutiny is the chief work of our lives, does the rest of existence not drop neatly away? It may be worth asking simply whether, in a culture where mainstream society is already wholly consecrated to the worship of self, literary culture should be consecrated to the same faith.”

The review, entitled Alice in Familyland, is archived here.

This is exactly how I feel about much of today’s “literary fiction”. All of those resplendent metaphors and innovative word choices and toned prose styles — but to what end? To chronicle discontent and ennui among swathes of the privileged, the bored, the middle aged? So that dude’s lonely. So that girl steals to jolt herself alive. It’s all so exasperatingly small-minded. Better to be like Dorothy Dunnett or George R. R. Martin, who inspire fanaticism in place of critical monocle-peering.

I’m addressing this to myself too. It’s like I want to do pan-sexual werewolves in Victorian-era London but all I know to do (all I’ve known to do since age 15) are quiet domestic vignettes about the ordeal of the lost fingernail clipper.

first date jitters

November 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Me and B. ate here Sunday night. Young waiters in starched white shirts and black suspenders, a fancy wraparound bar, the steady light of candles at the bottoms of small decorative glasses, a low din from the folks celebrating a birthday at the long table across the room. Outside, people shaking out umbrellas, breathing into their cold hands. On the way to the restaurant, we saw the MLS championship game through the windows of a bar: flourescent screens, a completely dark interior. Eerie. The take-away point wasn’t so much the food (trendy remixes of Grecian staples) as it was the two young people seated next to us. They were on a first date. They made conversation in bright, determined voices. There was a sense of force being exerted — of two strangers trying to get at each other. How to make him like me? If I talk about snowboarding in Japan, will she find that impressive? Both parties trying to affect a studiedly casual and charming demeanor. They asked a number of those fact-finding questions that are so awkward and necessary. Like people going over a beach with a metal detector, hoping to locate something that will set off a triumphant fusillade of bleeps. Soulmate detected! When they found an interesting topic to talk about, something that they had in common, their voices rose excitedly. They leaned in; their poses relaxed. They laughed, relieved. Oh, look, we like each other — this might work out after all.

This was all the more striking because me and B. had very little conversation going around our own campfire. Except for the occasional peppy remark about the restaurant’s musical predilictions (“they just played two Kings of Convenience songs in a row!” — inexplicably pleased with myself for being able to tell) we spent most of our dinner dining in comfortable silence whilst eavesdropping shamelessly on our neighbors, which probably heightened their uncomfortable sense of having to act out the motions of a performance.

I have to wonder if they met online.

Oh! Here’s our menu for Thanksgiving dinner:

  1. Prime rib
  2. Creamed spinach
  3. Potato salad of dubious origins
  4. Salad, of the leafy variety
  5. Pumpkin pie
  6. Cheese biscuits
  7. Snickerdoodles


I often wonder if, given the opportunity, I would trade away my writing for the ability to draw and paint like this.

From here.

Note to self: read this when you have the time (Isaac Singer’s 1978 Nobel Prize Speech).

From The Heights Of Maccho Picchu

November 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Rise up to be born with me, brother.

Give me your hand from the deep
Zone seeded by your sorrow.
You won’t return from under the rocks.
You won’t return from your subterranean time.
Your hardened voice won’t return.
Your gouged-out eyes won’t return.

Look at me from the depth of the earth,
laborer, weaver, silent shepherd:
tamer of wild llamas like spirit images:
construction worker on a daring scaffold:
waterer of the tears of the Andes:
jeweler with broken fingers:
farmer trembling as you sow:
potter, poured out into your clay:
bring to the cup of this new life
your old buried sorrows.
Show me your blood and your furrow,
Tell me, “Here I was punished,
Because the jewel didn’t shine or the earth
Didn’t yield grain or stones on time.”
Show me the stone you fell over
And the wood on which they crucified you,
Make a spark from the old flints for me,
For the old lamps to show the whips still stuck
After centuries in the old wounds
And the axes shining with blood.
I come to speak for your dead mouth.
Across the earth come together all
The silent worn-out lips
And from the depth speak to me all this long night
Like I was pinned down there with you.
Tell me all, chain by chain,
Link by link and step by step,
Sharpen the knives which you hid,
Put them in my breast and in my hand,
Like a river of yellow lighting
Like a river of buried jaguars
And let me weep, hours, days, years,
For blind ages, cycles of stars.

Give me silence, water, hope.

Give me struggle, iron, volcanoes.

Stick bodies to me like magnets.

Draw near to my veins and my mouth.

Speak through my words and my blood.

— Pablo Neruda


November 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

These are so luminous. Stole them a long time ago and have just now rediscovered them knocking around my flash drive. « Read the rest of this entry »