Wednesday, December 28, 2011

things done recently

Shan and I posted a video of a duet that we're making for two of our brilliant dancers, Josi and Kelvin. We film just about everything that we come up with in rehearsals because our memories are never as good as the camera's. Mostly, we've been using the clips to retrieve forgotten choreography and inflicting them on friends who are kind enough to give feedback on half-formed ideas, but we're so giddy with excitement for this project and our dancers that we couldn't resist putting up something to share.

I reviewed a wonderful new(ish) YA novel, The Freedom Maze, for Fantasy Matters here...

And interviewed the author, Delia Sherman, here.

I put on my opinionated bookstore girl hat and contributed a "best of year" list for the Kepler's blog. I have a terrible memory for time when it comes to reading. Books blur together and go from unread to read, and the distinction of when, exactly, I've read something is only a rare landmark on the experience. This kind of list is always haphazard for me, though I cheerfully limited myself to books that came out this year (except for Holly Black's White Cat) to make the job (slightly) more manageable.

We performed Liss Fain's "The False and True Are One" at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in November. They filmed one of the performances and have put up a brief edit of different clips. The camera people were literally in our faces for this--they darted around the space and would periodically shock you by appearing right at the edge of the dance floor when you turned around--so the footage actually gives an excellent approximation of the way the piece looks as an installation.

Liss Fain - "The False and the True are One" from Liss Fain Dance on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


I thought it was nothing serious because we only met through the distance of several friends and he was, in any case, late. I waited for him at a table in the restaurant, watching other people order and get and eat their meals. After that, I waited on what the restaurant insisted on calling "the terrace," where I could see people turning on the headlights of their cars and driving away into the night. It was the end of summer, and everything was warm. Even the metal chair that was slowly printing itself on the backs of my legs was warm.

It was too warm to move, too warm to leave, and I didn't feel like calling him, so I just sat. The chair was made for leaning forward in conversation and not for sitting, and the thought floated into my head, far away in the warm haze, that it might be uncomfortable enough to leave a bruise.

My phone rang. I thought about leaving it on the table. Lateness was an indication of something, a clue to consider, but I was too warm to care.
This was in the first two pages of the notebook that I just dug out from under my bed to sacrifice to the dull duty of to do lists. The fragment stands alone. There are no notes to connect or extend it. It's the very first thing I wrote when I started thinking about a story that was going to be about the twelve dancing princesses.

And then I became obsessed with the idea of summer, and my own physical reactions to alcohol, and dancing as a mode of transportation, and the difference between getting lost and losing oneself on purpose, and the story in my head--the one that hadn't been written yet, but was gathering shape and heft and would soon be so solid that I would be less and less able to see it as anything else--changed. And now it's weird to read this artifact from the other story, the one I decided not to write.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sunday Movie: "untitled" by Heather McCalden

My friend, Heather McCalden, has made a small dance film. She is one of the most ravishing people I know, and you should watch it. The dancing and concept are by Heather. The camera work is by Sonia Reiter.

Friday, November 25, 2011

brief and recently read

Some short fiction that I've read online and enjoyed of late, and can now recommend with enthusiasm unbridled:

"The Tenth of December"
by: George Saunders
(from The New Yorker, October 2011)

Please persist at least to the bottom of the first page. I started this story several times and was put off by the sudden immersion in the inexplicable make believe of a flailing kid. But, by the end of the story, by the ninth page of frozen pond, sickening man, and ever more flailing kid, I had tears all over my face. You need to read this.

"Nicholas Went Looking for the Mayor's Right Hand"
by: William Alexander
(from Zahir, July 2010)

This story reminds me of Lloyd Alexander, who was one of those authors who furnished the rooms in my head when I was a kid. Except this is darker, crueler, and more unsettling (and I mean to say those words in a tone of admiration).

by: John Crowley
(from Lightspeed, November 2011)

Romantic, in a depressed and hollowing way. It carries its skill lightly and tells the story with a refreshing lack of coyness (which isn't what I expected once I had read the first few paragraphs and understood the basic idea). Smooth and beautiful to read.

"The Ghost of a Girl Who Never Lived"
by: Keffy R. M. Kehrli
(from InterGalactic Medicine Show, October 2010)

Keffy is a friend of mine, but for some (inexcusable) odd reason, I bookmarked this story to read when it came out and then completely forgot about it. It's very good, completely distressing, and punches right at the tender obsessions of memory and endings (as, now that I look at my list, all of these stories do) that preoccupy the back of my head.

by: Ferrett Steinmetz
(from Redstone Science Fiction, October 2011)

Here is the thing about Ferrett: he is one of my Clarion classmates, so I admire him as a writer and comrade, but some of his stories absolutely do not touch me at all. And then some of them are just so very appealing, so clearly written and straightforward in emotion. They go down easily and stick. I catch myself thinking about them often and remember them clearly, which is a sign of great affection.


And here are three stories that I read in print. I really think you should read them (I loved them to excess), but after a lazy search, I could not find them online, so you will have to search them out yourself.

"The First Several Hundred Years Following My Death"
(Shawn Vestal, Best American Fantasy 3)

"The Duck"
(Ben Loory/Stories for Nighttime and Some for Day)

"The Wolves of St. Etienne"
(A. D. Jameson/Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet No. 27)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

in the theater, #1

The San Francisco Chronicle featured our piece today. And tonight is opening night. We'll be here through Sunday. If you come, say hello! There will probably be Q&A sessions after each show (except the 8 PM show on Saturday since we have a 9:30 show as well... and will need the intervening half hour to strip off our costumes and hang them in front of some fans to dry. Glamourous, I know...), so you'll get to see us hastily stuffed into normal people clothes and dripping makeup off our noses.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

certain delights

Since I have a few hours before heading to the theater, I wanted to make up for the disgruntled flavor of my last post by sharing some things that have recently delighted me.

1. "Section Eight" by Kapowski

Kapowski - Section Eight by jrimler

I believe this is from a new album that they're working on. Which is called "Boy Detective." Which reminds me of "The Girl Detective" by Kelly Link, which points me to...

2. "The Girl Detective" by Kelly Link, as interpreted by the artists of The Ninth Letter

Watching this video interpretation of Kelly's bizarre and amazing story reminds me of listening to my mom read The Story of Doctor Dolittle to me when I was sick in bed. The story passes through my ears and the strange or inexplicable parts of it float through my head like a vivid, inevitable parade.

3. "Break ton Neck"

This FANTASTIC video from Alex Yde features dancer Arthur Cadre. It is amazing and will probably make you fall just a little bit in love.

Break ton Neck from Alex Yde on Vimeo.

4. "Sophia" by Laura Marling

Sometimes, I get completely fascinated by the individual weirdness of certain voices, to the point where I can't even hear the actual words they're singing.

5. "The Way He Does It" by Jeffrey Ford

This short story from Electric Velocipede is utterly clever and wicked. It pricks your curiosity, rings it up to unbearable levels, and then renders it completely beside the point. Brilliant.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

on manners and luxury deferred

I have a weakness for fine cosmetics. Not that I wear them always, or buy vast quantities. As a dancer, I spend most of my days in the studio, working up a state of sweaty dishevelment that renders the application of expensive pigments and concoctions pointless. But, when I do have the occasion to paint my face, the whole point of it, for me, is the pleasure of doing so. Heavy cases that snap shut. Velvety powders and finely cut, nearly invisible spangles. Pigment that screams. Pencils that draw on skin like warm butter. Scents that are clean, or dusty, or flowered. I don't have the sort of money that one splashes about ridiculously, or throws out the window, but I am an enthusiast of sybaritic pleasures when taken in restrained doses, and there are certain things (fripperies, or foolishness, or everyday joys?) that I indulge in. Good notebooks. Beautiful shoes. Cashmere sweaters. Nice cosmetics.

Which is all to explain why I was in the cosmetics department of Barney's New York in downtown San Francisco yesterday afternoon. And why I am writing the following letter.

Dear Barney's New York (in San Francisco):

Yesterday, I arrived in your cosmetics department. I knew exactly what I wanted. I picked up a bottle from a shelf and walked to one of your many cash registers. I stood behind a customer (the only other) and waited while one of your sales people rung her up. The process wasn't particularly slow, but I had time enough while standing there to notice three more of your sales people, dressed in black and impeccable lipstick. I had time to notice how they emerged from behind their respective counters and looked at me. I had time to notice how they gazed at my torn jeans and flannel shirt, the bottle of lotion in one of my hands, and the scruffy wallet in my other. I had time to notice how they very definitively turned their backs to resume their conversation. I had time to notice how they did not ask if I desired help. I had time to notice how they did not offer to let me pay for what I wanted to buy. I had time to notice how, when another woman came in, coiffed and sleek in a business suit, they clicked their heels across the floor and buoyed her up with questions and suggestions and fluttering hands.

Let us be frank. I, too, have worked in shops. I have even worked in very nice shops. I have worked in shops where, on a Sunday morning, I have sent a woman away with ten thousand dollars in t-shirts and sundresses and a very decent purse because she wanted someone to help her pick out clothes for a cruise. I am familiar with the judgments made on customers. The jaded assumptions of who will be difficult, who will be a pleasure, who will fling open their wallets, who will not. But I was never so confident in my psychic ability to assume my assumptions were anything like fact. And didn't your parents, or Jiminy Cricket, or your own dear heart ever force upon you a hoary old chestnut about doing to others?

But, wait! How can I know that those women were not very busy? How can I know there was no pressing matter calling them away from me, a customer, with my wallet out and in my hand? 

Because, dear Barney's, it has happened before. Do not fear! You are not alone. I have visited other shops scruffy and bare-faced. And I have visited them (and you) when I have dressed with an eye to looking pretty, and have put on makeup and pulled back my hair. Condescension, rudeness, and my apparent invisibility are always more likely in the first case. And (isn't it funny?) the kindness, accommodation, helpfulness--the manners, if we are still being blunt--have always been more in evidence in the second. 

Now, I realize that the item I wanted to purchase was comparatively small. My lotion (Malin + Goetz) is $45 per 4-ounce bottle. A bargain of insane proportions when considered next to this $335 pot of cream. But, I go visit you every few months to pick up my lotion, and sometimes a lipstick, or a candle, or an eye shadow I can't resist. These purchases make me happy. I rarely regret them. I make the assumption that one does with habitual pleasures, that I will, sometime soon, return for more.

Dear Barney's. I would like you to know that I put the bottle of lotion back on the shelf. I put my wallet back into my purse. I walked up the stairs and away from your sleek, golden treasure cave. And now I have a new assumption in my head. 

I highly doubt that you would like to hear it.

Best regards,

P. S. There is a salesperson I would like to make certain you know this letter does not apply to. Jonathan (with the glasses) is impeccably kind, constantly nice, and absolutely helpful. Unfortunately, yesterday he was not there. Too bad for me.

Friday, November 11, 2011

a show and a suggestion

(the YBCA Forum, where we're performing)
In a bit less than a week, I'll be performing with Liss Fain Dance in "The False and True Are One" at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The cast happens to include my sister, Shannon, and Carson, who is one of the dancers we're collaborating with on Sharp & Fine Project #1 and a very good friend. The piece is unusual. It combines Liss's choreography--which keeps a whole-hearted commitment to clarity and full, aesthetically aware movement--with short stories by Lydia Davis, an actress (the sweetly indomitable Nancy Shelby), an original score, and a set and structure that try their best to diminish the distance that buffers the audience from the labors of the stage.

The stage is divided into five spaces: four rectangles of varying size for the dance and a raised platform for Nancy. Screens of translucent, shifting blue and green hang between the spaces, and the audience is encouraged to move itself at will. They can stand right up against the dancing space, separated only by common sense (beware the high-flung leg) and modesty. They can walk away from one dancer and walk toward another. They can sit down, or get into staring contests, or install themselves right next to Nancy and listen intently as she reads about women turning into cedar trees, girls turning into stones, and a certain cedar of Lebanon (I have puzzled over that line an absurd number of times when I hear it in rehearsal and have only just now remembered to look it up. My favorite sentence in the Wikipedia article mentions that "the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh designates the cedar groves of Lebanon as the dwelling of the gods.")

(the Yerba Buena Gardens)
I've seen other installation-type dance pieces and work that shakes off the traditions of the proscenium, but I think this piece is interesting because of the way it refuses to turn away from movement that is both rigorous and appealing in its prettiness. There are no histrionics, overt aggression or invasions of privacy. I don't think it's necessarily better than pieces that build on those things, but I do think it's gentler and more welcoming.

The company has been putting up video interviews with some of the artists. Here's mine:

The False and True Are One
November 17-20
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum
Tickets available HERE. (general admission $25, seniors and students $12.50)
Also on Goldstar HERE. ($12.50, plus Goldstar fee... which I can't remember the amount of)

Come! We'd love to see you there!
Malinda LaVelle, a friend of mine who is a daring, hilarious, and brilliant choreographer (and fabulous woman!), just launched a Kickstarter for a new piece that she's working on with five amazing dancers. "Urge" will explore "our untamed appetites" and be performed at two different San Francisco venues in 2012. Malinda's work is unsettling and funny, and it doesn't shirk the obligation of powerful art, which is to make you feel more like a human being. Please head over to Kickstarter and take a look!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Guilt and Conventions

(this was under a freeway in San Diego. it made me laugh.)
I spent this past weekend in San Diego, playing truant from rehearsal (with Liss's approval) and stretching my usual one day per week away from the studio into three to accommodate this year's World Fantasy Convention. Twelve of my Clarion classmates were there, and two of our instructors. It was a joy to see them. I think there must be something uniquely traumatizing about Clarion, something rather like the battering that baptizes baby fowl as they emerge from their eggs. My Clarion classmates are my comrades in arms and my siblings in storytelling. They have propped me up through frenzy and desperation, held me accountable, and flayed my stories with their fine, sharp knives. Seeing them again is always a very good thing.

It is also the lion's share of the reason I go to conventions. I've been to three (Montreal, San Jose, San Diego), and each one was mostly an excuse to see some people I met in the summer of 2008.

Other reasons I go to conventions:

1. Meeting new people.

Please consider in particular the wonderful aspects and charming demeanor of the following characters: Nicole Taylor, Ben Loory, Joe Monti, Matt KresselWilliam Alexander, and Charles Tan.

2. To admire the work of writers who I am excessively fond of.

Example no. 1: Jeffrey Ford read a short story from the upcoming Ellen Datlow/Terri Windling edited anthology, After. He was cut short by scheduling, and I am still, several days later, on cruel tenterhooks about the ending.

Example no. 2: Neil Gaiman read "The Case of Death and Honey," which is a story about Sherlock Holmes, bees, death, and China. I have been in love with this story for some time, ever since Neil mentioned it to me in an off-handed way back in the spring. And I had read it, several times, before this weekend, but still there I was, surreptitiously blinking my eyes harder than usual to disguise the tears.

Example no. 3: Nalo Hopkinson read a mad and bizarre scene from her upcoming novel, Taint. It was so vivid and impossible and absurd and shivering with movement and invention that all I could do was fall face-first into it and enjoy.

(I am possibly biased. Nalo and Neil were our instructors at Clarion, so I love them dearly.)

3. Guilt.

I am not as persistent as I should be in the pursuit of stories. I love writing them, even when it's difficult, frustrating, and involves a great deal of studying the wall above my desk. But I am slow, and when I'm tired from dancing (something that currently happens often), I tell myself that there is nothing finer than telling stories to the audience of one that resides inside my head. But it's a bad lie. Stories, for me, are always better, stronger, and more defined when I've done the wrestling required to put them on a piece of paper. They might not actually be better, stronger, and so on and so forth once they've actually hit the paper, but the work of putting them there changes the story in my head from a vague mess of images to something that makes a kind of sense.

Being around people who make stories happen, the ones who live them and breathe them and believe fiercely in the creation of them, floods me with guilt. I look at the dusty scraps drifting through my head and am struck with shame that they should be so foggy and indistinct.

I go home, and I retrieve my notebook from its lonely corner, and I start dredging things up by putting down one word and following it with another.

And that is why I go to conventions.

Monday, October 17, 2011

on falling in love

You have to wonder, when does it happen?
Yesterday, I went to the Contemporary Jewish Museum to take in the Houdini exhibit. I went with Jesse, a friend I haven't know for very long, but an excellent museum companion. He wandered quietly, and had interesting facts tucked up in his head, and, every now and then, he asked a question. While we were walking the museum's short, broad corridors, admiring vaudeville broadsheets and reading placards, he asked me when I had gotten into magic.

As far as I can remember, I've always loved magic. Fairytales and miracles and talking beasts, yes, but also, and with fervency, the flourish, color, and bright deception of magic made for the stage. I love the story of it. I love the way a magician stands up in front of you and tells you, with his hands and his words, two things at the same time. One is true, and one is not true, but it's the magician who chooses which one you should believe.

When I was kid, I saw David Copperfield perform at a theater that normally held things like the touring productions of  lavish Broadway musicals, or the Royal Ballet's Sleeping Beauty, or single-star shows that might fill 3,000 seats. It's the first magic show that I can remember. Mr. Copperfield wore a black suit for most of it and a gold one for part of it. He made a tissue from a woman's purse dance, and then burst into fire, and then turn into a rose. He caused a motorcycle (gold, in my memory) to materialize in the middle of the audience. He flew. I was young enough to convince myself that some of it might be real. But I was also fascinated and delighted by the likelihood that none of it was, that I was being fooled and tricked by this man with ridiculous hair to believe in impossible things.

I already loved magic though. It wasn't Mr. Copperfield who convinced me.

With most things that I love, I can point to the moment of tipping over from fondness or moderate interest to full-blooded commitment. I fell in love with the stage while taking a bow at the end of The King and I in that same theater where Mr. Copperfield flew through a silver hoop. And my eight-year-old self realized that  all that darkness beyond the lights was filled with several thousand people who were moved enough to clap. I fell in love with my dog at first sight. I fell in love with Rothko's paintings the first time I went to a museum alone.

I can often point out to myself the period of time when I've fallen in love with people. When I've gone from liking and chatting and saying hello, to making a permanent place for them among the furnishings of my head.

But I don't remember falling in love with magic. I just did, somehow, without noticing and before I could imagine doing anything else.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I found this loitering in a notebook. It claims to be from December of 2008.
"A thing is still a thing no matter what you place in front of it."
"Why are people always so happy when they collide with someone from the same place?"
I like to imagine that if I could remember what I was making notes about, it would be clever or, at the very least, deeply felt. I'm almost certain it was not. I use notebooks indiscriminately and unfaithfully, dating entries at whim, littering them with post-it notes, newspaper clippings, and the tattered dregs of fashion magazines ("What Surrounds a Legend?" asks a fragment of the New York Times. "A 3,000-Pound Gilt Frame."). I mostly don't use them, except to write in, drafting stories and essays and interviews straight from beginning to end. I am not a habitual note taker, except in an academic setting (in which case my notes are minute and color-coded), and I rarely refer to the ones I commit to paper once I've finished writing them down. 
From the notebook next to my bed: "DO YOU WANT TO LIVE FOREVER?"
The thought of composing from notes seems romantic. There must be satisfaction in building something from the accretion of thoughts had over a certain period of time. An assurance that what you're working on is strung along a consistent theme, something tested and engraved on your brain by the repetition of picking it up and putting it down again. 
On a piece of Hello Kitty notepaper the exact shape of a dollar bill: "Cameroon, Africa. In 1986, the great lake Nyos (a name that means "good" in Mmen and "to crush" in Itangikom) turned red. The hue was a precursor to an explosion and a fountain of water 262 feet tall caused by pent-up gases deep beneath the surface of the lake. Limnologists (scientists who study lakes) have explained that the equatorial location of Cameroon, with its constant temperatures, enabled the layers of water to remain undisturbed by natural shifting caused by changing water temperatures in places of greater climate variation."
I enjoy making notes. I persist in keeping a piece of paper and a pen tucked into the pocket of my purse that contains inviolable necessities. Lip balm. Cash. Paper. Pen. I like the act of transferring some thought into words, or the comfort of copying down an interesting item in the belief that I will then never lose it to my own forgetfulness. I have notebooks that are composition workhorses and I have notebooks (a very few) that are only repositories. It's a pleasure to pick up those latter ones after abandoning them for months or years to read cryptic fragments, their meaning usually forgotten, or shuffle through bits of paper, whose selection for preservation is usually baffling. But, for the most part, they feel like leftovers, and while the details that piqued my interest may still be discernible, their allure was consumed in the moment of meeting.
A clipping from Smithsonian Magazine: "Another phenomenon of the ballet world that fascinated him was the presence of a number of men in top hats and fur-collared overcoats who were permitted to pay court to the dancers in the foyer de la danse (a kind of greenroom), as long as they took out a subscription for three seats a week."
I've never really been the kind of writer who can reanimate her notes and make them run together in a wholly satisfying collage. I have to worry at something in my head and, if I write it down in notes, it's like the entire thing has already been written, and where's the charm in doing it again? Maybe I'm just out of practice. Maybe I'm just shockingly lazy and the single fell swoop (even if this swoop is achieved in slow motion) is the only way I can fool myself into getting something done--beginning, middle, end.
An inexplicable description of a clown act that I never saw: "He had a long white lance, which he dropped. He had a sleek silver sword with which he skewered little flower wreaths and juggled them until they were sliced all to pieces. His armor, which was made of paper, fell away and all he wore were flannel pajamas."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Many of my friends have extraordinary bodies.

As a dancer, many of my friends are elegantly muscled and finely detailed. Slim. Taut. Prominent are their ledges of bone, their planes of muscle, their particular and striated curves. They are rarely heavy and never what a sensible person might call fat. They are, without exception, beautiful.

Nalo Hopkinson is a writer. She is a hefty, sturdy woman with wild hair. When I met her, she was teaching my class at Clarion. She was standing in front of a classroom, or sitting at a desk, or walking sedately across a university campus, but it was still so obvious that she possessed an impressive physical spaciousness and an unusual combination of ebullience and gravitas that should drive any dancer to envy. Her body has the gift of bending space toward it when she moves, of being so interesting that she becomes a ravishing pool of motion that eyes continuously slide back to.

Some months ago, I read Nalo's blog post about a dance piece she performed in 1998. She writes about the experience of performing from a body that does not fall in the typical aesthetic range of Western theatrical dance and posts an article from the Toronto Star.

And, for some reason, it just smacked me between the eyes. The physical allocation of beauty plucks at us every day (of course it does). We try so hard to be beautiful, and we try so hard to know what is beautiful so that we can have it. And the funny thing is that, in the middle of trying so hard and wanting so much, we so often forget the substance of the thing that we're looking for.

Two things:

The only time I've seen the Mark Morris Dance Company perform live, Mark Morris himself danced a solo. His curly hair hung past his shoulders. He wore a bright red dress and sensible heels. He was rounded, puffy in the chest. When he moved, he was one of the most beautiful people that my 14-year-old self had ever seen. Glorious. Lovable. He was light, swift, sad. He rode the music and chased it down and was actually funny.

My first thought, upon seeing Jacques Poulin-Denis, was that he was very beautiful. He had a delicate bluntness to his dancing, an efficiency that struck me as truthfulness or daring. He was wearing a t-shirt that was faded and sweated through and long pants that crumpled over the tops of his feet, and it took me a while to observe that his right foot was a smooth beige that didn't bend or attempt to match the other side. And then he took it off. He took off his foot and proceeded to be one of the only dancers who has ever made me actually cry because his dancing was exactly what I needed to see.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


It has just occurred to me that, in the story that I am writing, the character whose head I am sitting in is going to do a terrible thing. I am not writing it now; I am only sitting in my bed, my fingers stained with the scent of a fashion magazine, and thinking about it. It looms ahead, but doesn't move closer. It's like watching someone walk into a darkened room while they're in a horror movie, except that you can't tell them to stop, not even in the hopeless and futile way you might shriek about the Man With the Knife!, because the monster that is hidden just ahead in the dark is the character themselves.

Alice is in a natural history museum. She is going to do a terrible thing.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


I am performing in a show in about 19 hours. Our piece is called mid-c. It's choreographed by Christian Burns and we start out with ten minutes of improvisation, so every time we do it, it's something new. Bobbi, who is magnificent, is performing arrow, a piece that she choreographed. She's a member of Batsheva Dance Company and an extraordinary, extraordinary dancer.

You can buy tickets here until 8 AM. After that, they'll be at the box office.

8 PM, Z Space, 450 Florida Street, San Francisco.

See you there?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

the difference between getting caught and dancing

Yesterday, we spent six hours in this room. This is the Black Studio at Left Space in San Francisco. It's 3800 square feet, a cavernous cement box with white walls that curve into the floor on one side to create the illusion of a backdrop. There are fans to create the illusion of wind, and lamps that remain disconcertingly dark until the camera goes off. Then the lamps flash, at precisely the right time, and the photograph is flooded with illumination that is completely unlike the stark ambiance that otherwise fills the room. I couldn't get over this trick of technology. I hopped and twisted and flung myself about for six hours in a room that looked like the one in the photograph above. I watched my fellow dancers (the shoot was for a new batch of publicity photos for Liss Fain Dance) do the same. Over and over, a flash of light would go off, but nothing that felt any brighter or more intense than the flash of an ordinary camera.

And then we would look at the photos, beamed nearly instantly to a monitor on a rolling cart, and it was like RJ (Muna) was taking pictures of some other landscape that our eyes were just too slow or insensitive to appreciate. Those curtains, which were beautiful, but ordinary, wrinkled things of muslin or gauze, suddenly became sheets of ink, or paper sails, or strange and buff-colored sculptures, or columns of smoke. The light was golden and soft or so sharp that it sliced into every dip between muscles and bones. And then you looked back at the space and it looked exactly the way it had before, plain and mostly dim with a single strong light to mark the center. You couldn't even guess at how much time had passed since the light stayed exactly the same the entire six hours we were there.

The disorientation was extreme.

There is an enormous difference between moving for a photo shoot and dancing. In the former, you face a cement floor, excruciating repetition, and a merciless eye that captures rather than translates. In the latter, you need to deliver more goods, but you have an audience to talk to, a human brain that takes suggestions and applies connotations. In a photo shoot, you have to evoke movement, trying over and over to do something that can have a minute and static piece extracted from it that will remain beautiful or interesting without the before or the after. It was a weird thing to be reminded of, and it made me admire, more than ever, the work of the very great photographers who manage to invoke entire, open-ended worlds with a single shot.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

in which I sharpen a pencil

Recently, I started writing a column for Fantasy Matters, a website devoted to the idea that fantasy literature matters. For the longest time, I couldn't decide what to write about. I like fantasy in stories, but I couldn't imagine what I might have to say about it on a regular basis. Fortunately, I have friends who are smarter than I am. Two of them suggested that I write about the magical things you don't expect to see. You're already obsessed with the peculiar and the specific, they said, so why don't you just write about that?

This month, I wrote about the pleasures of slow motion. I urged readers (who are they? do I know them? are they few? are they many? who knows...) to video themselves doing something ordinary. Then, I asked them to slow the video down. As far as I can tell, no readers have decided to embark on this project. Granted, neither did I, until this afternoon.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Friday, July 8, 2011

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


My friend, Maya Hey, recently posted this video on Facebook. It had been a couple of years since I last saw it, and the sheer bombastic intensity of it surprised me. "Careless" was choreographed by Alex Ketley and premiered in 2006.

Alex challenged all these thoughts I had about being a "good" dancer, about being beautiful and being honest. The girls I danced with were maddening and wonderful, willing to crash into the air and through the floor and run full tilt at one another in the assumption that the collision would be worth it. It was a frustrating and exhausting project, but it shifted my ideals and virtues. Looking at it, I barely recognize those wild girls, newly let loose in unfamiliar movement, but I can appreciate now (and I didn't then; I was so stubborn!) how much being in this piece changed me as a dancer. It cracked open doors in my head in walls that I didn't even know were there.

I think it's also one of my favorite pieces that I've performed. Hurtling through ten minutes of extremely driven, violent movement, I felt like I was falling to pieces and exploding at the same time.
 Some of those girls I haven't seen in a very long time; at least one of them I'll never see again. It's funny (in the odd, melancholy, slightly discomfiting sense) to think about how, sometimes, the people who keep you company while your life becomes entirely different exit or fade away.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

how to talk to girls at nightclubs

Refrain. Nightclubs are for dancing. They are not for talking. They are not for striking up an acquaintance based on the brilliance of your mouth. They are not for leaning close, intimating a whisper, when, really, you are forced to shout. That music playing loud against the walls and hard on the space between you and she, it's there for a reason. It's there for dancing. It's not an excuse for a fumbled line. It's not an excuse for a clumsy line, a tawdry line, a foul and insinuating line.

The following conversation should not occur:

(confusion stemming from the fact that your shout is inaudible)
(tepid smile)
(silence, except for the music that is being shouted over)


You are friendly enough with the girl in question to feel no awkwardness in your attempts to be heard, even if your mouth ends up practically inside her ear.

You've been dancing together in a friendly way. She has not pushed you. She hasn't been staring with great concentration at the wall behind your shoulder. Smiles have been exchanged. The music has paused.

Even then you may want to limit yourself to an exchange of names, a brief comment on a song, a (if you're daring) request for a phone number. Don't try to be smart or, worse, sexy. Just be an ordinary human being.

And, don't forget to dance.
And, for fun, you should read: "How To Talk To Girls At Parties" by Neil Gaiman. It contains one of my favorite long sentences in a short story.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

daisy chain

(for the inimitable Daisy P.)

mythical cities, personal museums, and the gerrymandering of memory

On the 16th, a poem that I wrote called "Mythical Cities of Southwestern Minnesota" was published in Strange Horizons. I never thought I would publish a poem. The fact that I have strikes me as funny, bizarre, absurd, and completely satisfying. Stories are one thing, but poems are a different beast.

I wrote it while drifting in the still, still space that followed an unkind breakup. It was my version of sitting in a darkened room with a pint of ice cream and a single lonely spoon. I wrote it because I felt like I was mired on the thinnest skin of empty water, stretching all the way to an empty horizon, without a breath of wind to change the monotony.

I liked the way it turned out. I liked, even more, the way it appropriated the tiniest and briefest of moments from my memory--a split second of something I saw, thought, or imagined--and dragged it outside the territory of life circumscribed by factual experience. They suddenly existed somewhere else, lifted from the messy drawers in my head and pinned, still, to a plain wall. There they were, serving another purpose, rearranged and divided and carefully distorted to tell a story that was not at all what actually happened, but still something I wanted to say. Reading the poem on publication induced an odd kind of vertigo. It set off a spectacular display of interior fireworks, resuscitating details that I would have otherwise forgotten in enormous, full-blown pungency. It was a pleasure. Not because of any particular nostalgia for the moments in question, but just because they were there, rich and saturated and unexpected.

The title comes from an article I came across while looking for the names of mythical cities. It turned out to be about gerrymandering and the census of 1857, and not about mysterious cities that appear and disappear under certain depths of snow.
Kapowski, a band that the marvelous Daisy brought to my attention, is running a Kickstarter to produce a music video for one of their songs. They've already reached their goal, but you should still visit the project's page, if only to hear the song in question, which is an utter charmer.
A rarity:
I hardly ever "plan" stories. I think about them in the car, in bed, in the shower, on walks. I purse my lips over them, rub fists into eyes, make faces, despair. I make a great deal of mistakes, scratch out sentences, tear out pages. But I hardly ever "plan."

The story I'm working on now is doing a number on my head.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


For my bookstore job, I don't often actually work in the bookstore. On the one hand, this is slightly sad. I adore bookstores, and working inside them gives you an unfair advantage when it comes to knowing the terrain. On another hand, I imagine it's a good thing that I don't visit my particular box/cubbyhole at the bookstore very often. It is frequently full of books, review copies both old and new, that might or might not be something I'd pick up of my own accord. I bring them all home, of course, and then feel guilty as they pile up around me.

I brought these home today. The Chabon I bought (I've been meaning to read The Yiddish Policeman's Union ever since I finished Kavalier & Clay), but the rest are blind dates.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

smart mouth, #1

For some reason, I find the following words (which I cut out of an issue of Esquire and pinned to my wall) from an interview with Ted Danson both oddly inspiring and comforting:

"Look, no one gets out of this alive. That's not the game plan. We all die. So nobody's going to get an award for saving the planet and get to live forever. Okay, then, let's engage the problems with a joyous and hopeful heart. Because it doesn't matter if we blow it. It's not like this is a desperate game where, if we win, we won't die. We all die."

Maybe it just goes along with the theme with which I'm currently pinning my heart to my sleeve: why not?

Friday, May 13, 2011

project bust

This is the postcard that I designed for Project Bust, the wildly irreverent, witty, brilliant, strange, discomfiting, and absolutely gorgeous dance theater piece that Malinda LaVelle will be premiering this summer at Z Space. The incredibly beautiful dancer is Emily Jones. The incredibly stylish photo is the work of Elazar Harel. I recently had the opportunity to see the second half of the two-part piece (I talked about the first half here)... And, all I can say is that this is going to be an astonishing, punch you in the gut, grab you round the heart night in the theater. If you are in San Francisco on July 6th or August 3rd, you should see it, really you should.

I am so, so excited about this show.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

youth, and fountains of it

Today, while looking for a last-minute addition of small-portioned luxury to accompany the gift I bought for my lovely mother, I found myself standing in front of a cosmetics counter in a fancy department store, utterly bewildered.

I wear makeup. I'm often too lazy to bother with it, but I enjoy it when I do. I imagine myself to be relatively proficient with the various tubes, brushes, pigments, creams. But there is something stunning about a cosmetics counter. Unless you're armed with a specific desire (extremely specific: brand, hue, price, texture), the possible choices, the infinite stretches of tiny, shining containers filled with mysterious and minute variations on the same arsenal, turn themselves into a labyrinth.

Which is why I was standing and staring blankly at a glass case full of glass bottles when a stout man in a gray suit arrived behind me.

"Hello, dear," he said. "Is there anything I can help you with?" He was short, but very wide, and the separate pieces of his suit were all exactly the same color.


"Well..." He reached forward, possibly at random, and plucked a very small, silver tube off the counter. "This will give you perfect lips." He smiled and his teeth popped apart with the effort.

I've never been particularly concerned about my lips, never been dissatisfied with their lip-ness.

"This, my dear, will smooth them. It will brush away any dead cells, rejuvenate the color to a nice, fresh pink. It has apple extract in it, you see." He unscrewed the silver cap, squeezed a small dab of white cream onto my finger. "Just put that on, dear, just put that on." He pulled a magnifying mirror across the counter and gestured at it.

His face was very large behind mine. I put the cream on my lips, because what else are you supposed to do when it's already on your finger? It smelled like a weak, artificial coconut and was extremely slippery. It did make my lips smoother and pinker, as most any lip balm will do when you first put it on.

"Very nice, dear, isn't it? Very nice. You see, the reason it's so efficacious is the human growth hormone it contains. Yes! Isn't that wonderful? Human growth hormone! It's what we all need when we get older, isn't it? Oh, yes. It's like the fountain of youth, you know."

I'm not sure what else he said. I was too busy walking, very quickly, to another counter where I could see the blessed white tuft of tissues just waiting to be torn free.

Monday, May 2, 2011

april reading

Doomsday Book
By: Connie Willis

I only discovered Connie Willis recently, but I've enjoyed (to that level of enjoyment where I'll stay up far too late if I'm 150 pages or less from the end because I can't bear to sleep without finishing) the three books of hers that I've read so far. They strike the same notes of pleasure for me that Laurie R. King's books do. History, a hurtling plot, and characters that make me both hate and grudgingly delight in the alternating story lines that dangle cliffhangers at the end of every chapter.

The Robot
by: Paul E. Watson
(forthcoming July 2011, from Razorbill)

A friend of mine who really knows her YA books (she's the children's buyer for a local bookstore) gave me this ARC because I liked Girl Parts by John M. Cusick. She liked this novel better, but I have to disagree and say that, in my mind, Girl Parts still wins.

The Magician King
by: Lev Grossman
(forthcoming August 2011, from Viking)

Lev Grossman has said that the version of the manuscript that was set in the ARCs for this novel and the final draft are completely different beasts, so I'll only say that I enjoyed it very much. I had a difficult time with The Magicians, mostly because I spent the entire novel wishing I could punch the main character in the face. It made me angry, and though I admired the intelligence and grace of the writing, I was not planning to read the sequel. But after reading this, I'm excited to see the final incarnation. The characters are firmly entrenched in my imagination, even Quentin, who shocked me with how much I found myself wanting something good to happen to him and who I only rarely wanted to punch.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


This is what I look like, generally speaking, after a day of rehearsals. I spend most of my working days in either shapeless cotton that could double as pajamas or in stretchy, thin things that could double as swimsuits, if they weren't so ratty and utilitarian. I look like a bedraggled character from a Dr. Seuss illustration. My clothes are mostly sweaty, my hair has gone mad, and I am usually stiff, bruised, or otherwise aching.

1. Ballet class remains hard, incredibly and painfully hard, about two decades after my first one.
2. Last week, I was very lazy. I had a light rehearsal schedule, so I skipped class on four days out of the possible seven. Still, I danced for twelve hours. And this is me being as slothful as I probably can without going on vacation. Usually, it's 30 hours or more.
3. All of this practice--class, rehearsal, being on stage--all of these hours and hours, thousands and thousands of them, add up to a certain level of skill that still leaves me working on such difficult things as Standing Up Properly.

Dance, for me, has lost its glamour. It's still beloved and beautiful, still capable of offering intellectual sparring, rapturous pleasure, and that particular satisfaction of time spent on something so worthwhile and good that you can't wish it had been allotted to anything else. But it has lost its slickness and soft unreality. I've lost the illusion that disconnects the magical, floating, impossible creatures onstage from the damp and unromantic confines of the studio.

It's a side effect of familiarity. Something like the sharpening of focus that takes place when you've known someone for years. It's intimacy in action and the exhaustion of mistruths. It's commitment and honesty and all that is good and solid and thrilling-yet-not. It's infinite possibility, and I am glad to have it. Even at the expense of glamour.

Friday, April 22, 2011

of possible interest, #1

Alex Ketley, who is blast to work with, a choreographer, and a man in possession of a quite strange, though frequently gut-socking, artistic mind, is premiering a new piece at Ballet Nouveau Colorado this weekend. He made a very odd little film for it (a preview? a trailer? I do not know...) that mostly involves pandas staring at people. You should watch it.

- Happiness - from Alex Ketley on Vimeo.

Why is the panda so angry? Why is the panda so creepy? Don't you wish you were in Colorado so you could find out? If you are, you lucky duckster, why not assuage curiosity?
The wonderful Kat Howard recently interviewed me about being a dancer and a writer for the Interstitial Arts Foundation. I was really, really honored that they were interested in my work, and Kat's questions were fun to think about. 

Next weekend, burns : work will be showing an excerpt of the new piece at Dancing in the Park, this great San Francisco dance extravaganza organized by Mark Foehringer Dance Project every year. A stage gets set up in that great space between the De Young and the California Academy, and starting from noon, you get five whole hours of dance, from all kinds of companies and schools. Hopefully, the weather will be nice. I'm excited. I like dancing in unusual spaces, and an outdoor stage takes me back to those years before I understood how hard dance can be, when it was all larks and we performed at fairs.

Grilled corn on the cob. Fried potatoes. Ferris wheels. Calliope music. And dancing. That's how it used to be.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

girl books and boy books

Some of my friends (Kat Howard, Morgan Dempsey) have been discussing Gina Bellafante's review of the new HBO adaptation of "Game of Thrones."

Let me first say that I agree that it's an oddly unpleasant, completely unenlightening piece of writing. There is a weird aggression and resentment in sentences like:

"Game of Thrones" is a costume-drama sexual hopscotch... The imagined historical universe... gives license for un-hindered bed jumping... The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

And while I, as a lady, a woman alive, am offended by the assumption that (firstly) I wouldn't want to watch a gritty fantasy epic without being thrown a juicy bone of gratuitous and graphic sex, and that (secondly) because I am inescapably female, I am only capable of truly appreciating quiet and spare novels that do not involve anything so dirty as magic, I must say that I do believe there are such things as "girl books" and "boy books." Not in broad, sweeping genres. I don't think that women, by virtue of their biological lot, can only enjoy cozy mysteries and cannot be excited by wicked books with flashing guns. I don't think that men, because of their one-legged chromosome, are barred from falling in love with Jane Austen, or have a monopoly on a predilection for spaceships.

However. In my head, there are "girl books" and "boy books." Not all books fall into one or the other of these categories, and they aren't labels that automatically come to mind, but sometimes I read a book and find it definitively male, or definitively female. It's a characteristic of the book itself, not of its possible or deserved audience. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the gender of the author, or even the gender of the characters. A book just is, sometimes and to me, a girl book or a boy book.

GIRL BOOKS (off the top of my head)
How to be Good/Nick Hornby
The Golden Compass/Philip Pullman
White Teeth/Zadie Smith
Atonement/Ian McEwan
Swamlandia!/Karen Russell
The Baron in the Trees/Italo Calvino

BOY BOOKS (off the top of my head)
High Fidelity/Nick Hornby
Saturday/Ian McEwan
Oryx and Crake/Margaret Atwood
The Autograph Man/Zadie Smith
Kafka on the Shore/Haruki Murakami
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel/Susanna Clarke
(my sister would like to add: "Anything by Chuck Palahniuk... Not that girls can't enjoy them too. But, definitely, BOY BOOK.")
It took me a little while to write this. In the meantime, someone pointed me to this essay by Neil Gaiman: "All Books Have Genders." Which articulates what I'm trying to say, about the gender of books as opposed to the assumed gender of their audiences, much more gracefully.

Friday, April 15, 2011


The Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier is one of the halls in the Place des Arts in Montreal. It seats 2,990 people and is a classic proscenium stage. Beyond that curtain, there is a sea of hinged seats covered in red velveteen; there are balconies and boxes; there are foyers, bars, and a cloakroom that charges a loonie and a toonie to care for your coat.

Look up, and a towering void threatens to fall on you. It houses lights on rigs and flattened worlds. Suspend belief, it says. Not you on the stage. You're supposed to stand here, or there, in this light and not in that one. It's so bright and so warm that you threaten to sweat, except for the moment when the curtain hauls up and it seems like everything is spilling out in the plushy dark beyond.

Theater Artaud was once a factory belonging to the American Can Company. It was built in 1925, in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. Cracks and gaps around the windows let in rogue chills, sometimes blocked by the enormous curtains provided for artificial blackout. It seats 256 people, and the seats climb steeply. There is more face to face here. If you find yourself at the front of the stage, you could hold a conversation with the first row in comfort. The stage is deep, though, and the audience can see right up to the ceiling, so there's a tiny rush of bottom of the well vertigo. 

The Garage is what we call a "black box." Black floor, black walls, black ceiling. Encased in black. Floating in black. It's easy to lose track of where you are in this situation. Limbs feel outrageous in length. Feet are a distant country. The Garage was once a garage, and now it's a black box. Not many people can fit. It's nearly eye to eye here, and there's something secret about the whole venture, like you're in the center of a clamor and all around are sound-proof walls.

CounterPULSE is almost a white box. It's a few streets away from the Garage in the SOMA district of San Francisco. It holds, probably, about 80 people. You are pinned to the floor here, exposed. White walls cut your outline neatly from the surrounding space. Houselights up or houselights down, there's a finite spareness. You are on the spot. Hiding is not an option.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

march reading

The Family Fang
by: Kevin Wilson
(forthcoming, August 2011, HarperCollins/Ecco)

This novel is so lovable, so smart, sharp, and bizarrely funny, that it overcame my long-held prejudices against the brilliantly dysfunctional family saga. The Fang family is odd. In fact, the four characters who make it up--Caleb and Camille (Mr. and Mrs.), Buster and Annie (brother and sister)--are downright weird. Caleb and Camille are performance artists, the kind of people who wreck carefully planned havoc on ordinary life in order to say something, to make the quotidian into an occasion that is probably surreal, embarrassing, and shocking, but, at the very least, unforgettable. They throw their children (child A, child B) into their pieces and, predictably, leave them with scars. Annie becomes a drunken, moderately successful actress. Buster grows up to be a moderately successful journalist who persistently fails to finish his second novel.

But as their story becomes increasingly strange, the family Fang becomes increasingly less so. They grow familiar. They have hearts and warmth to them. They refuse to be limited by quirk, turning into people who you want to spend time with and want to get back to. They put on performances full of flashy, unlikely incident for each other and for themselves, but they are so tenderly written that you feel like you're standing on stage right next to them, watching their faces while they read their lines.

I liked it so much that I'm going to hang onto my ARC, just in case I want to read it again before it comes out. And just look at what a magical cover it has!

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
by: Charles Yu

This is one of those books that I appreciated, but didn't feel. It's ambitiously and elegantly well-written. I get why it received sheaves of thrilled reviews (NY Times, for example, or WIRED). It's perfect for anyone, especially men (it's built around a son's search for his father, who is lost in time), who has a fondness for both Douglas Adams and Jonathan Safran Foer. It's an extravagant, circuitous time-travelling journey that might have turned into a farce if it weren't so longingly sad.

But, for me, it just didn't hit the right spot.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

golden dinners and milkfat

On Sunday I had the very great pleasure of seeing the lovely Neil while he was in town over the weekend. We discussed jetlag and stories and music and exercising to old books (I am convinced that Tom Jones--the Fielding, not the musician--would be an excellent companion on the treadmill. Neil put forth Tristram Shandy, which I think I would be more kindly disposed to if I hadn't seen Michael Winterbottom's film version when I was feeling sick and hallucinatory.), and he introduced me to Olga Nunes, who is a wonderful musician herself.

I've just been listening to the samples that Olga has up on her site, and now I'm really excited about her current project. LAMP is going to an album AND a series of art installations, stories, letters in bottles, and other happenings... How fun is that? Very!

* Random interjection: I just looked up Tristram Shandy on Wikipedia, and it says that it originally appeared in nine volumes, the first two published in 1759 and the next seven coming out over the following TEN YEARS. Ten years! Can you imagine waiting a DECADE to get your hands on an entire book? The cruelty!*

We went out to dinner with a bunch of really wonderful, really hilarious and excellent people, at Farina over on 18th, between Valencia and Guerrero. The food was decadent Italian, but very well done. Heavenly burrata and this dessert that was basically the sweet version of fried cheese, feather light and smooth. I consumed so much milkfat that I'm convinced my blood actually thickened and sent me into a miniature hibernation as soon as I got home and climbed into bed. I even tried a tiny bite of the prosciutto, since someone assured me it was the best to be had in the city and I had just lovingly described it in a story, without ever having bothered to taste it.

*Random interjection: Things I blithely described in this story without knowing (or remembering) what they taste like: prosciutto, Grand Marnier, chocolate cake with a Grand Marnier reduction poured on top, pomegranate juice, ash.*

The thing about going out to dinner with Neil is that you feel you are at a dinner party in a book, one of those that happen at long tables, outfitted with comfortable chairs under golden lamps. Everyone is good natured; everyone is sharp and funny. Stories, both clever and odd, are thick in the air, and the conversation ranges from Australian radio contests to the physics of wrecking balls.

And the best part is that this golden, brilliant dinner doesn't obliterate the ordinary heft of everyone. We all still possess our jet-laggy fatigue or faint awkwardness or brash naivete, but we sit in our comfortable chairs and have a grand time anyway.

It was a really nice Sunday.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"I know now that I have not yet been in love."

Last Friday, I went with my sister and some friends to see Nederlands Dance Theater, one of the most famous and well-respected contemporary dance companies in the world. We went with high expectations. We wished to be thrilled, impressed, inspired, agog. We desired insensibility dealt by beauty. We wanted theater with capital letters.We wanted the only thing that you should want when you sit yourself down in the dark, velvet cradle, which is to be completely and generously not bored.

The shock of getting a wish granted is infrequent. How does it feel?

It feels affecting enough that you say things you might otherwise be embarrassed to air in ordinary life. Things like, "I know now that I have not yet been in love," which is exactly what one of my friends said while we stood in the lobby afterward, engaged in post-performance dissection. She said it with humor, of course, but not irony.

Art is a tool for understanding the world. It holds it still long enough so we can see it. And if a dance performance can make you understand a little more about something as vast and strange as love, even if you can't explain it, exactly, in words, then that makes the minutes spent (from such a finite store!) on a night at the theater worth it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


For what it's worth:

burns : work will be performing an excerpt of the piece we're working on as part of a program featuring Alyce Finwall Dance Theater on the 30th and 31st at The Garage in San Francisco. The Garage is a tiny, but rather fiercely eclectic venue. It is, literally, a converted garage. Our piece is still only at the beginning stages, but we've started to explore some great ideas and this is a chance for us to take raw material and see how it fares under the eyes of an audience.

Some of my amazing dance friends work with Alyce, and these shows will hopefully help them raise funds for a tour to the Joyce SoHo in NY, so I'm really glad we get to share the experience with them.

Howl. Carson Stein and Joy Prendergast, two of my favorite people and dancers, performed at the Togonon Gallery as part of Dance Anywhere, an event that incited dance performances all over San Francisco in unexpected places and would probably have been immensely successful if it weren't for the terrible weather. Here's a video of them at work. Choreography by Malinda LaVelle.

"The Speaking Bone" Kat Howard, who has, just this week, saved my sanity when I thought I had tumbled down the rabbit-hole of a non-existent story (never underestimate the power of friends who can help you shine flashlights at dark and scary first drafts), has a story in the current issue of Apex Magazine. I am continually astonished by how Kat makes her stories bigger on the inside than their length would seem to merit. They unpack themselves inside your head as you read them and often leave an unexpected bruise.

One of my favorite people in the whole world is coming back to California. I am so happy about this that if I think too hard about it, I might burst.

For Coco. I can't wait til our clocks have the same face.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

books of pleasure, #1

I have a compulsion to finish every book that I start. The guilt ignited by a book set aside with a slip of paper marking a place somewhere before its end is enormous. You have to give it a chance, I tell myself, and unless the book is offensively terrible (and I can only think of one that was so hated that it ended up across the room, on the floor, and then in a box marked "DONATION," after 20 pages), I do. I will skim. I will even skip, whole chunks if necessary, but I will give the book its chance, all the way to the end.

(This is sometimes how I feel about dates as well, which is an altogether more worrying habit.)

But sometimes books are unadulterated pleasure, nothing but from beginning to end. These are my ten picks from a year's worth of reading (plus one sentence--or more. I cheat--from my first round review.) that I would prescribe for any kind of malaise.

1. The Varieties of Scientific Experience by Carl Sagan
Sagan offers such enthusiasm about the world as it is, such abundant pleasure in the discovery of knowledge, and such absolute faith in both our capacity to understand and the vastness of what we attempt to understand.

2. Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller
All of the virtue she presents begins to peel away, and still I balance on this razor of sympathy, quite sure that I'm not getting the whole story, but almost believing her anyway.

3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
This book made me say, "really?" and "I can't believe that actually happened" and "people are amazing" and "people are awful" and "I am so freaking lucky to be living in a world where this kind of thing is real, and where someone will tell the whole mucky, awesome story of it."

4. The Cardturner by Louis Sachar
It's a story about figuring out that you love somebody, and it puts in all the expected bits -- the awkward, embarrassing, thrilling parts -- as well as all the bits that are unexpected but immediately recognizable as true.

5. Doing It by Melvin Burgess
Messy, awkward, imaginary, gorgeous, fantasized, humiliating, wonderful.

6. Not Now, Bernard by David McKee
It is an unapologetically, unexpectedly, remorselessly strange story about a boy who gets eaten by a monster.

7. Blackout by Connie Willis
Blackout is responsible for a few days of sleep deprivation.

8. Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
It’s saturated with the kind of revelations that explode the mundane and offers them with such humor and intelligence that it’s an absolute pleasure to discover how unfamiliar we are with the contents of our own heads.

9. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
I don't know why it took me so long to get around to reading this. It is absolutely brilliant. It made me cry.

10. Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood
The world is messed up by people who are messed up, and in the midst of all the shiny bells and whistles, the luminous, giant bunnies and self-propelled myths, what is the thing that really gets you in the gut? That would be the reduction of the world to interactions of two.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

evidence, on film

Liss Fain Dance posted video excerpts of "The False and True are One," the piece we performed at Z Space/Theater Artaud in December and (in a slightly modified version) at the Mill Valley Public Library in February.

The piece was unusual in that it invited, encouraged, and demanded a certain kind of audience participation by transforming a proscenium stage space into four rooms separated by walls of varying transparency that the audience walked through to see the dance. The choreography is by Liss Fain, the music was composed (and mixed live) by Dan Wool, the production and lighting design is by Matthew Antaky, and Jeri Lynn Cohen is our fantastic narrator who reads short stories by Lydia Davis. The piece is also about 45 minutes long, and since we never actually leave the "stage," surprisingly intense. My white silk dress was thoroughly soaked after every show.

Most of the footage is from our dress rehearsal, except for the last video, which cuts together little snippets from an actual performance (I had no idea someone was filming us from above!). Anyway. This is me, dancing.

Excerpt 1: Me, Bethany Mitchell, Shannon Kurashige

Excerpt 2: Shannon's "Caveman Duet" with Private Freeman.

Excerpt 3: Alec Lytton hauls me through the air.

Excerpt 4: Shannon, Private, Bethany, and Jennifer Beamer Fernandez dance to "Happy Memories"

Bits and pieces from the whole thing, with the audience

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I want to change the world.

This hasn't been a lifelong ambition. I was never the kind of kid who wanted to be an astronaut or the President of the United States. I never wanted to be a doctor in an impoverished country, or an activist on a crusade. I never wanted to dream up technology. I never wanted to teach young children. I never wanted to be a knight in shining armor. I had no delusions about my chances of being heroic.

I was a self-possessed child, and I took it as a matter of course that I would throw my life, the whole kit and caboodle of it, after some sort of vocation, but only because I loved it. The world could go off to another room and close the door, for all I cared.

And now I find myself rather older and still committed to the things I fell in love with while young and impressionable, but haunted and obsessed by the need for it all to matter.

I can argue for why dance should matter and why stories so often do. It's easy to list the reasons for why you should go to the theater, why you should read a book. Pleasure, obviously. And beauty. The exercise of compassion, the shock of empathy, the way you are given transportation outside of your own experience and into the lives of others. An education in being a human being.

I can tell you, emphatically and with no equivocation, that the pursuit of dance and the pursuit of writing have made me a better person. They shaped my character, enforced ideals, and trained me to think with rigor and imagination. I would not change that education for any other... And, yet...

The last time I went to the theater, I saw an extravagant production featuring one of the most famous dancers in the world. I arrived early, so I went up to the cafe and had a cup of tea and leaned over the railing of the second floor promenade to watch people wander in across the lobby. They were all, almost without exception, older, obviously well-off, and spectacularly, breathtakingly bored. They seemed prepared to see something pretty, to have a cocktail, and to go home; there was so little expectation for anything more that I found myself uncomfortably depressed.

And now I find myself worrying, more than usual, about a person's responsibility to change the world. Is it right, is it good, is it a meaningful use of the privileges that I've been given if my life pursuits have such a narrow range of effect? I sometimes think about how much easier it would be, in certain ways, to go back to school, even this late in the game, and become something more clearly beneficial. Would I feel less conflicted about the minutes that I keep inexorably spending if I were a doctor, or lobbyist, or an investigative reporter?

It might be incredibly obnoxious to say that I want to change the world, but I do. Not necessarily in any grand or great or indelible way, but relevance seems like something we owe when we are so lucky as to do the things we love.
I so very badly want for this to be true.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

point of no return

When I am writing a story, there is always a point when I know that I can no longer turn back. There is an ending and I am falling toward it, like a marble that's been dropped down a series of connected tubes. Procrastination and free will won't deter it, and neither will manipulations of things like plot and character and color of the wallpaper. In some cases, I know what the ending looks like, and sometimes I don't recognize it until it hits me in the face; but once I pass the point of no return (and that's how I think of it... sometimes I hesitate because I know that, somewhere along the way, the story will clasp me to its chest and I will be doomed, but I never know how long a reach it will have), there's nothing that I can do except go onward to the end.
I am, for some reason, completely obsessed with "All You Need is a Separation Barrier," a short audio documentary by Niall Farrell. And though I'm delighted by the Third Coast International Audio Festival site in general, it being full of treasures and useful inspiration, I keep going back to Farrell's piece and listening to the litany of walls.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

february reading

The Imperfectionists
by: Tom Rachman

I was told to read this book by several people, but I didn't actually pick it up until I heard Rachman being interviewed on the radio. It is a wonderful book. It's about the kind of things that make up real life and yet can so often be tiresome in fiction--love affairs, regrets, embarrassments, choices, work, sex and age and death. But this novel is a collection of tiny, intense portraits that you fall into. Stories that are bigger on the inside than you might expect. Reading it puts you inside the skin of eleven other people living eleven other lives, and the illusion is incredibly satisfying,

(forthcoming: May 2011)
by: Veronica Roth

Dystopic adventure romp for teenagers. A clever, if rather unbelievable, portrait of the future. I mostly liked the characters and enjoyed the story, but found the romance tiresome. I can see it being incredibly popular though, and it would be a perfect fit for kids who like both Suzanne Collins and Tamora Pierce.

Red Glove
by: Holly Black
(forthcoming: April 2011)

I think this series is absolutely delicious. I love stories about clever, clever con men with hearts of gold, and the addition of magic makes it absurdly fun. Visual candy for the imagination. I like the nastiness that the story insists on, the way it doesn't offer absolution with bloodless crimes or simple characters. The people in this world are people who I want to spend time with because I find them fascinating, not because I'd want them for friends, and that is refreshing.

Shades of Milk and Honey
by: Mary Robinette Kowal

I love Jane Austen, so I was very dubious when my friend, Kat, sent me this book. Jane Austen with magic did not sound promising (though much more promising than Jane Austen with zombies). But this was fun. Reading it was comforting and comfortable. The story was unsurprising and satisfying, and I mean that as a compliment. It takes that almost entirely made up world that we're so familiar with from movies and BBC specials and simply elevates it to another level of fantasy.

The Bradbury Report
by: Steven Polansky

Mixed bag. There were some things that I thought were spectacularly done in this novel, and some that I thought were too easy and worn. I think it might be because it takes on that ever popular idea of human clones being brought into the world for spare parts and doesn't say anything particularly new, though it does wallow in the disturbing experience of confronting your own life to a degree that I thought was quite unflinching and bold.

by: Guy Kawasaki

I read this because I'm interviewing Kawasaki for work, and was surprised by how much I ended up enjoying it. Kawasaki offers some very good advice about communicating with people, dressed up as a book about promoting ideas and yourself successfully. It's clear, unpretentious, and almost ridiculously enthusiastic.