Tuesday, June 30, 2009

a goodbye

Sometimes, the words I need to use seem to be worn out from too much use. They aren't thick enough anymore; they don't have the breadth or the depth or the bottomless echoes that they should.

I'm sorry, for instance. What does that say? I am so sorry. Better? No, not really.

My insides are stripped out, hollow, stringy, and pithed. The ribs crumble, the lungs unexpectedly deflate. This lack, which I never expected, stretches out the skin and fills it with something heavy and hard to move.

No, better off with keeping I am so sorry and leaving the rest.


Ashley Taylor was a woman of magnificence. When she danced, she swung her arms and threw back her head, and she was a mad, glorious creature who ate the world with abandon. Her hands sliced up space and lavished it on everyone. She was beautiful and smart and full of warm, golden humour. The corners of her eyes squeezed into charming points when she smiled, and she always looked like she was about to say something either wicked, or delightful, or both.

She gave the kind of hugs that make you feel the entire day just got better. I will miss her.

Friday, June 19, 2009

words that make other kinds of sense

Asian product quote of the day, from a rather dubious pancake recipe:

"Grill to meedium heat until cake reaches darkness of color."

There's something charming about that sentence. It's perfectly understandable, but the way the words are arranged make them seem like they're talking about something else. Something much more exotic than pancakes anyway.

Once, when I was in an Asian market, I saw a jar of something called "Gelatinous Mutant Coconut." It made me feel like I was somewhere special, a place where wondrous things like Gelatinous Mutant Coconut lined the shelves and turning the corner might mean bumping into a Push-Me-Pull-You, or a Snark, or a Boojum, or a Bandersnatch. Something that would feast on Gelatinous Mutant Coconut as a matter of course.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

a few things without much commentary

A video of pastry performing a bit of La Traviata. My sister found this while trying to determine whether the strange film of animated hands dancing to Lakme by Delibes was a figment of our overactive imaginations.

Another video, this time a super brief clip of Glen David Gold discussing Sunnyside (his new novel, which is a vast mash up of many things, including war, lighthouses, and Charlie Chaplin). I had to film this with my tiny point and shoot camera. The bookstore hasn't quite figured out what to do with the clips we collect. I know there are some more of other interesting writers, but I don't think you can see them anywhere yet (lame).

The first chapter of Catherynne Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. I adore serialized fiction.

Excitement! DV8 Physical Theatre is coming to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The Cost of Living was the first dance film that made me realise that, when done right, dance on film can say certain things that dance in a theater can't. They are brilliant.

That is all. I have to wake up early tomorrow if I hope to get to ballet class, otherwise known as exquisite torture/satiating yearning. All the things that you want to be and all the things that you are, bashed up with sweating and grumpy muscles and unreliable will.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

dandelion dancetheater

My friend, the lovely Julia, got me tickets to see Dandelion Dance Theater's new show, so on Tuesday evening, the always magnificent Heather and I went down to the Travelling Jewish Theater (which is in the Artaud complex).

This is (pretty much) what I thought:

It is a small, casual space, and it makes you feel less like you are settling down to watch a show and more like you are in a room where anything might sweep you out of the ordinary world. It’s a good venue for Dandelion’s work, which explores the vulnerability and absurdity of being human through a mad mixture of music, dialogue, and movement.

The first piece on the program was We love you to the end of the world, directed by Kimiko Guthrie. It examines an unwieldy chunk of layered subjects—war, media, family, consumption, delusion—and the performers achieved some striking images, but the work felt slightly unclear. It seemed like it was trying to say too many things at once before it knew exactly what it wanted to talk about.

The second piece, Mutt 49 Crosses the Line, created by Eric Kupers and the entire performing ensemble, was funny, awkward, bizarre, and deliciously absurd. It made me laugh, made me uncomfortable, and made me goggle at the immense range of the Dandelion performers. Here they are playing the banjo, the guitar, and the harmonica in a deranged country band. Here they are singing, dancing, reading a list of shameful transgressions, and telling a story about a dog with four freckles on its beloved toes. They enact submission with a violin, drift across the stage like a blind moon, and introduce each other like circus impresarios or announcers at a rodeo. The piece is a collage of emotions and unlikely visuals. It careens through them, but it doesn’t close itself off or become inscrutable. The performers seem to be having a conversation with you, telling you what it’s like to be them and wanting to know if it’s just as strange and difficult and funny to be you.

(I do have to say... I thought the nudity was mostly pointless. I don't mind nudity in shows when it says something. But if it just seems to be there to make me uncomfortable, or to be shocking, I get irritated.)

I’m glad I went though. I look forward to seeing how Mutt 49 develops as part of the larger project, MUTT, which is set to premiere next year. You should see this. Then you can look forward to it too.

Friday, June 12, 2009

helpful hints for bookstore customers, part 3

If you ask me what sort of book you should read and then say that you like Laurie Halse Anderson, A Million Tiny Pieces, and stories about people experiencing difficult things, please, please don't then say that you're afraid my suggestions will creep you out and give you nightmares. I still feel guilty about handing you a copy of The Lovely Bones. If I had known you were prone to nightmares, I would have given you something else. More sunshine and less gruesome.

I did not love The Lovely Bones or Special Topics In Calamity Physics or In Cold Blood, but I will still recommend them to you if I think you'll like them more than I did. Just please don't tell me that they give you nightmares.

However, if you feel moved to read me the first page of your favourite book, please do (and, as long as there are no sparkling vampires involved, I mean that). It's a surprising thing to have so much affection for a book that you will read it aloud to a stranger just in case they like it too. It's refreshing.

With thanks,

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

book makers

Last Thursday I went (in the delightful company of Emily and Dana) to the San Francisco Center For the Book, which is one of those fascinating places right around the corner that I have never been to, but probably should have by now (likewise: Yosemite and the redwoods). They are hosting an exhibit of the work of several children's book illustrators. May I just say that Brian Selznick and David Macaulay are amazing?
Seeing the actual art work, loose from the context and confines of their books, was fascinating. How much of a story is given in pictures, and how much of it is the same story that you project onto them when directed by words? There were sketches and mock-ups, some manuscripts and actual notebooks with ideas, and then the finished pieces, a bit rougher and less shiny for being the originals.

There are all kinds of things there: letter presses, massive paper cutters, machines that look old but still used... But it's not a very big place, so while Dana discussed old bookbinding techniques, I sat on the floor and read The City & The City. This book hurts my head when I think about it too hard because its world is like one of those optical illusions that force your eyes to flip between one image and another because they can't actually see two different things at once. It's also extremely readable, so I race ahead and then get smacked with the strangeness of it.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

reasons I like walking

views like this one:

(from the side of a hill in Alta Vista Park)
or this one:
(Stanford Hills)

and this one:
(squirrels outside secret squirrel compound)

Friday, June 5, 2009

May reading

I finished an embarrassingly small number of books this month. A mere four. I've started an absurdly large number, enough that the height of the piles on various surfaces in my bedroom is a little mortifying, but I only finished four. Too many wonderful friends visiting. Too many trips to bookstores full of temptation (a warning: if you ever let me take you to my favourite places, you'll fritter a lot of time away in spaces between bookshelves).

The Language of Bees
by Laurie R. King
This is the ninth book in King's Mary Russell series. The first book is The Beekeeper's Apprentice, and I love it so much that I think I've read it at least five times. It's one of the few mysteries that I'll read over and over, even though I know exactly how the puzzle works, just because I enjoy spending time with the characters.
Each of the books has a different flavor, a different focus or particular fascination. This one deals with beekeeping, mystical cults in 1920s England, and surrealist art. It's not one of my favourite books in the series, mostly because the narrative splits up Russell and Homes and they experience most of the case separately, rather than having them gallop through it together; but I still enjoyed it.

The Exchange by Graham Joyce
My friend, Damien, recommended that I try Graham Joyce. This was the only book of his that we had in the store. It's a YA novel and there's so much about it that I like: brilliant, brilliant premise, and a character who is clever, a bit selfish, and tough without being annoying. I was so happy for the first few chapters, and then I got increasingly less happy because the gap between what I wanted to read and what was actually there got larger and larger as the story went on. It's not the story's fault, not really. It was a nice enough book, it just didn't chase down the shadows and byways that I wanted to.

Man and Camel by Mark Strand
I'm a little obsessed with Strand's poetry right now. They feel good to read and they open up little stories in my head. They're like boxes with strange, uncomfortable, light-footed worlds in it. The ones that press on my head most insistently in this collection are "Fire" and "I Had Been A Polar Explorer". You can see some of it here and see Mark Strand reading other poems here.

The Unlikely Disciple
by Kevin Roose
I read this on the recommendation of the fabulous Cressida, who reads more books than I could possibly cram into my head. It was interesting, mostly because it's a guided tour of a world that I find completely alien. Kevin Roose is a student at Brown University who decides to spend a semester at Liberty University, which is an fundamentalist Baptist school in Virginia, and then write about it. I wasn't won over by his writing, but I liked the way he introduced people and experiences, leaving room for both sympathy and understanding. I have to admit that when I think of evangelical Christian culture, it's with absolute bafflement. It seems so smooth and rigid and enclosed, and I've never had any interest in trying to look inside... but this pulled open a tiny window and it was interesting and uncomfortable.

Some books started (+ possibility of reading more)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
(I don't think so. Fell asleep during investigation scene.)
The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen
(Possibly. There is a great deal of literary flimflam and quirk in this one, which I find both irritating and peversely attractive.)
Sunnyside by Glen David Gold
(Definitely. I loved Carter Beats the Devil.)
Peace by Gene Wolfe
(Oh yes.)
Trampoline edited by Kelly Link
(Yes. There are some stories that are so strange and discomfitting in this book that I have to imbibe them in small sips.)