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.