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.