Wednesday, December 16, 2009

let's ditch oingo boingo and make a movie

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

(EXCEPT: Is it so much to ask, Tim Burton, for you to perhaps offer us a soundtrack other than the same one Danny Elfman has written you since ding dang Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, which was filmed in 1985? Really, you're being had. He burns the same music with a different film's name scrawled on the CD and somehow Jedi-mindtricks you into imagining it is a new arrangement. I don't understand. Lose him. Let's be changemakers, Tim. You and I together. Actually scratch that. You and I. And Helena. And Johnny. In fact, we don't really need you at all, come to think of it. Just send me those other two lovelies and the three of us will figure this all out on your behalf. We will make beautiful music together. Trust.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

consider me the shadkhen
between you and your dictionary

From the mailbag: "You write really well, except for the occasional use of big words that I have to look up."

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

and that's the poetry of it

I Dreamed I Met William Burroughs

by Franz Wright

I met William Burroughs in a dream.
It was some sort of bohemian farmhouse,
And he was enthroned, small and skeletal,
in a truly gigantic red armchair.

When I asked him how he was, he replied
Well you know what they say—for best results,
always mock and frighten the lobster before boiling.
Franz—I like that name, Franz. Childe Franz

To the dark tower something or other … Hey,
got a smoke? And quit worrying so much:
they can’t help themselves; they’re like abused dogs
and they’re going to react to affection and kindness

with uncontrollable savagery. Just tell them,
You’re out of my mind, pal. You’re out
of my mind. Either that or, I’m out of yours.
That’ll keep them brain-chained to the trees.


Yeah, but sometimes it's the abused dogs that
act just like beloved, barely blinking kittens.
This I know.

Monday, December 07, 2009

erick zonca's julia

Coming up on three years sober, I have often wished I could find more drunks on film that hold up as believable failures, all the more spectacularly disappointing because they have the substance to have made more, to have chosen better, to have interrupted the downward spiral somewhere along the way.

Appreciating that (a) we're culturally prone to overtalking diagnosed illnesses and (b) that's the point of these morality tales, a collective there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I, it's surprising we have so little by way of compelling boozer archetypes. Well at last, we have a drinking disaster to watch who is not just a clowning caricature (think Arthur or Bluto) or a rotten miscreant (Bukowski, anyone?).

Allora. Leave it to Tilda—brilliant, radiant Tilda—the versatile woman who has played Jadis here and Orlando there, to get a smart, defiant, pathetic, regressing alcoholic just right.

I cannot recommend this one enough. (Props to the miniature John C. Reilly who played opposite her and the poor lil pit bull who got typecast as a slum drone.)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

do you think we're ready for that kind of commitment?

If you are concerned about the definition of marriage, and by concerned I mean a thinking person earnestly trying to resolve yourself to an issue (not a simpleton whose mind is hermetically sealed infinitas infinitio), you owe it to yourself to watch this. Hear her out. All the way through.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

go forth, a fonder way to say move on

Beach Walk

by Henri Cole

I found a baby shark on the beach.
Seagulls had eaten his eyes. His throat was bleeding.
Lying on shell and sand, he looked smaller than he was.
The ocean had scraped his insides clean.
When I poked his stomach, darkness rose up in him,
like black water. Later, I saw a boy,
aroused and elated, beckoning from a dune.
Like me, he was alone. Something tumbled between us—
not quite emotion. I could see the pink
interior flesh of his eyes. "I got lost. Where am I?"
he asked, like a debt owed to death.
I was pressing my face to its spear-hafts.
We fall, we fell, we are falling. Nothing mitigates it.
The dark embryo bares its teeth and we move on.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

we must march, my darlings

I have considered renouncing holidays, as their onset in my life has recently been eclipsed by death and dying. Per esempio: the eve of my birthday saw me lose my young father and the dawn of Thanksgiving was the first without my desperately beloved Nana here on terra firma.

This last bright and blustery Saturday we buried her and I faltered before a church full of family and oldest friends, buckling at the lectern under protracted grief, too choked up to read my way through the first letter of John from the New Testament. My voice cracked and I involuntarily held my hand to my throat in that way people do when they're trying to pin wavering emotion in its place. I forced my way through it, the butterflies so loosely netted:

See what love the Father has given us,
that we should be called children of God;
and that is what we are.
The reason the world does not know us
is that it did not know Him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we will be has not yet been revealed.
What we do know is this:
when He is revealed, we will be like Him,
for we will see Him as He is.
The Word of the Lord.

A Buddhist back in my day-to-day Californian life, I'd delivered the "word of the lord" rather hastily and rushed back to the pew to collapse against my brother's arm, a mess of muffled sobs as the rest of the mass blurred by. After kneeling, standing, sitting, signing the cross and breathing the incense, after weeping at the gravesite and clinging to the coffin, eulogizing over candlelit dinners and embracing those befogged elders that still stood among us, I retired with my clan to our Nana's humble brick home for some time-tested Irish Catholic grog slingery.

Late into the evening, my cousin (once removed) and I sat out in the dark on the covered porch, him the chain-smoker, me the weak-blooded Californian cloaked in wool throws, and we got to talking about the meaning of these rites, just what—aside from our heritage, the religion of our childhoods, the honor of our now lost elders—we were affirming there in that church. And we got to this exchange, when the priest and congregation conduct a call and refrain at the end of the mass of the faithful.

May the Lord be with you. (Dominus vobiscum.)
And also with you. (Et cum spiritu tuo.—Actually that's "And with your spirit.")
Go now, the mass is ended. (Ite, Missa est.)
Thanks be to God. (Deo gratias.)

Just having lost his own father two weeks back, cousin K seized on the priest's last words: "Ite, Missa est." There we have two clauses, the first in the imperative mood, second person plural: "You (all) go!" And roughed out, "Missa est" is equivalent to "The dismissal exists." A swish of scotch spilled over the lip of his Waterford lowball, his voice and gesture emphasized: I was not getting it! This is the news; THIS is the word of God. We're being told at the deathbeds of these mentors, our illustrious, cherished members of the Great Generation, he insisted, "Go. You are dismissed! You are set forth. You are called upon to go and live."

Back when my father died, a relatively new friend of mine advised that, however hard his death may have been on me then, that it was only the beginning of a lifetime of living without. I think now of Joan Didion, how she, like I have, suffered a one-two punch of abandonment. She wrote in The Magical Year of Thinking, "That I was only beginning the process of mourning did not occur to me. Until now, I had only been able to grieve, not mourn. Grief was passive. Grief happened. Mourning, the act of dealing with grief, required attention.… Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death."

In the past, my mood toward death was one of piteous sympathy, a distance and distaste not unlike that of Philip Larkin's uncharitable characterization in "The Old Fools." Now I am tempted to feel something much finer, a sorrow that the mythos of our childhood must end. Our parents tell us they will always be there for us, will always protect us, and we as parents go on and say the same, but none of this is assured or in any way within our power. It is much like Cormac McCarthy's The Road, when the boy clings to his dying father and demands in a religiously charged exchange, "You said you wouldn't ever leave me." We do not want to be left. We do not want to leave. We are animals and we continue to crawl on. Iron & Wine sings a song that I think chronicles it well, the lifetime lived in the mix, all need and hope for recollection:

Please, remember me
As in the dream
We had as rug-burned babies
Among the fallen trees
And fast asleep
Aside the lions and the ladies

And I necessarily think of who may remember me, who I might lose next, who is afraid of being left, who is also guilty of wanting to be remembered. I want to recall them all, with a different urgency than I want to be with them.

I think back to an early date with the man I now love ardently, and despite how critical we both are of everything, always the analysis, always the dismantling and the resistance and the pleasing demolition as shifting plate grates plate, in this one recent instance, we both sat in a theater riveted by, of all things, a Levi's commercial. Whitman's voice, an early wax recording, sifts heavy sentiment. "O pioneers!" he proclaims over a montage of beautiful youth aflame with action.

I was lying in bed after we saw the short for a second time, this after the second death, and I was feeling so in love yet blinking through the effort to soothe my eyes, achy from crying. And he said to me so mildly that it nearly failed to register that he expects, given age, to die before I do. And the little siege of sorrow against my heart surged, only until the simplicity of what my cousin was saying came back to me. It is the obligation of the living to the dead: live now. And this, incidentally, requires a resistance to maudlin attachment.

Put more grandly, the poem proclaims more than Manifest Destiny, but that "by those swarms upon our rear we must never yield or falter, / Ages back in ghostly millions frowning there behind us urging, / Pioneers! O pioneers!" It calls upon us to "spring to your places." So perhaps it is reason to look forward all the more to the holidays I have, for I have twice been reminded now on the brink of celebratory milestones that the remote future, unlike this instant, is beyond any ken or comfort. At the end of the ad, the youth run through the frame, away from the camera. The banner behind them as they go reads, "Go forth."

Go forth. Inevitably.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I am here at my grandmother's deathbed. I am watching her shallow breathing, then leaving the room, sitting on the chilled front steps I have visited for three and a half decades of my unremarkable life. Bird and branch fidget and give. And in my mind, Franz Wright finishes up his poem:

And I will know what to say at the end: What end?
And I can add I found this world sufficiently miraculous.

Monday, November 16, 2009

do you got a fast car?

I fought the law and the law demolished me. Six tickets later, I have officially handed over enough of my income to have covered all expenses to Thailand for a two-week luxe venture. Easily.

Here's my song for all my dollar bills.

point, counterpoint

Dirge Without Music

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I just tried to search for a gmail message, not always the most satisfactory experience, what with chats and emails hulked up in one entangled list. When I remembered that the message included "I love you," I searched by that phrase and was surprised to see it return hundreds of results.

Moments like this render the idea of nonattachment categorically nutso; look at all the love! Who in her right mind wouldn't splosh around in that with her Wellies? I mean, I want to sort through the mails, note every person's name, and make house calls for hugs. But I suppose it's high time at exactly these instances to let go of my need and desire to receive more messages of "I love you." Who knows. It does seem right in line, though, to offer the words more expeditiously, more readily. To share affections in that first felt moment. Why not?

I read and reread for confirmation of this notion: "Whatever you experience, never forget that it will change. That's the way of the world. This understanding will enable you to appreciate what you have, to enjoy it while it lasts. When you lose something, you won't be taken by surprise, because you won't have assumed it could never be lost. People leave, houses deteriorate, and everyone dies. As long as you understand impermanence, these things won't break you."

Friday, October 30, 2009

in his name

It's my father's birthday and since he's not here to get to have whatever he wants, I'll take whatever I want on his behalf. So. My request is simple: never use the word "chillaxin" again. That's it.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dad, where are you?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

beginning to see the light

Perishable, It Said

by Jane Hirshfield

Perishable, it said on the plastic container,
and below, in different ink,
the date to be used by, the last teaspoon consumed.

I found myself looking:
now at the back of each hand,
now inside the knees,
now turning over each foot to look at the sole.

Then at the leaves of the young tomato plants,
then at the arguing jays.

Under the wooden table and lifted stones, looking.
Coffee cups, olives, cheeses,
hunger, sorrow, fears—
these too would certainly vanish, without knowing when.

How suddenly then
the strange happiness took me,
like a man with strong hands and strong mouth,
inside that hour with its perishing perfumes and clashings.

- - -

I read a poem several years back, right before an old friend confided she was going through some difficult heartbreak. I sent the poem, perfect for her, straightaway. Maybe it was from UTNE, maybe from The Atlantic. I sent the original hard copy. And while I can describe the scissors I used to cut it out, the pen I used to write the accompanying note, even the foggy view of the bird sanctuary from the deck of my home where I wrote, I can't remember the name of the poem, not even what line it was. But the poem talked about the way sorrow brings intimate people so much closer together. It was conveyed by metaphor, the image of two people who have rowed out to terrible seas together. Those on shore may have worried for them, learned the narrative of the high sea adventure after the fact. But the journey changed them in a way that only the two of them could appreciate.

And so it is with loss. We're all perishable. That's a universal trial. But survival is incidental. Coping is so personal, so momentary. And the people who have supported me have done so on the spur of the moment, with subtle gestures, consistent space for the subject, or sometimes with sweeping hugs enveloping my sobbing, wracked shell. And this may be difficult to swallow, but one of the mercies of the death of those we love so much is that it reminds us that we'll be gone so soon too. To where, who knows. That's another topic. But I realize I've been focusing so hard on being tough—just carrying on, on waiting for the leaves to change so that I might just move past the summer of my thirty-fifth year—that I could have missed the beauty of being loved and cared for. I could have failed to recognize how generous my community has proven to be, all those that carried me through all this. It's been a hard time of transition. Losing my father has been the hardest thing I've ever endured. I'm desperately sad many times a day. I'm angry at him. I miss him. I remember the unexpected. Yet then I'll go these long spans without thinking of him until the jazz queues up on the shuffle, like a quick strike to the heart. I am getting better at breathing through the biting reminders that absence is different from not-presence.

I guess there's nothing original, nothing that is widely relevant to whatever readers have held out through my quiet spell, in my words about my father. But I will say this. I have gone many places lately for relief. I've traveled into the dark wet shade of the redwoods, through the noisy city, in and out of familiar and warm homes, and out to the very brink of this continent where the Milky Way is visibly alight. And if I have my father, and my grandfather before him, to thank for my full-blown appreciation of every aspect of my life, not only all the great good fortune I've got, but the sadness I carry around with me, that of my friends, the way we may offer each other tender mercies, then several lifetimes of gratitude simply wouldn't do. My love has never been more immense. I feel sentiment has precedence over cynicism from here on out. And there is nothing more noble, redemptive, important, pure, or relevant than love. I intend to give it away and take it in absolutely without reserve all the rest of my days.

This one's for you, Dad. Tommy Dorsey, "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You."

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

his birthday creeps toward me and

I miss my father.

while we're on the wordlist tip

More random responses to our lovely language.

I encourage roughshod abuse of this pleasing phrase.
       to ride herd on: to keep a check on, supervise

Phonetically, this word represents everything I dislike. But that doesn't mean I'll turn a plate of it away.
       gnudi: a cheese version of gnocchi

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

the word on the street

I would appreciate it if everyone would stop using the unsavory verb "bobble." Its sudden, inexplicable prevalence is making me feel stalked by an ugly word. Make it end.

Friday, September 18, 2009

all i can say is

pardon the egg salad, friends. It's true.


by Billy Collins

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive—
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!"—
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest,
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of "A Modest Proposal."

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page—
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil—
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet—
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

file officially under obsession

When life is in disarray, what can you really count on? Your family, close friends, the dog? Yes, yes, sure, et cetera, et cetera. All that is well and good and ordinary and true. But when I kick back into the chaotic black night of my soul and contemplate my deepest consolations—you know, that real balm, the cool press of mercy against the fluid gathering pressure just below the blister skin of this life, hallelujah and God bless America, I think of this sacred reality out there somewhere:

The mighty Tilda Swinton and her leonine Royal Air Force there Defy You to mock the peachy taupe tuxedo jacket and nana-sandals. Exhibit A, ladies and gentlemen, reveals the splendor of it: the good kind of lunatic. We want less of the other kind and more, more, and gluttonous-movie-theater-size-servings-more of Tilda God-Damn-Look-What-Flaming-Weirdness-She-Gets-Away-With Swinton. Come to me, Tilda; let's dye our hair the color of our clothes, fly away from the bad crazies on our winged bronze merry-go-round animals of choice, and dress them like nutters too as we drift into rarefied wind.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

let's dance, for fear your grace should fall

Life and I are hotly engaged, deep in challenging conversation; blog's the neglected pal, bright but momentarily abandoned in the backseat. Screenplay under way. Here's some hold music.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009


Well this is the sort of thing I would have previously sent to my father. So now you get to play proxy: just enjoy the answers from the fine folks over at the Chicago Manual of Style Online. I'd like to get them and the desk jockeys who write the headlines at The Atlantic together for a cruel proofing tea party.

Hyphens, En Dashes, Em Dashes

Q. In a scholarly book about popular culture, the author has used several -esque word endings, usually hyphenated. According to CMOS instructions for the similar constructions of -wide, -like, and -borne, I would be inclined to remove the hyphen. But the result is unsavory. Also, in the case of open compounds, should the -esque ending acquire an en dash? See the following: Tarantinoesque, Skeeteresque, Gandalfesque, Billy Idolesque, Sid Vicious–like, John Paul–esque, The Parallax View–esque.

A. Unsavory indeed. (Your list should appear on the book jacket—who wouldn’t want to know what the pope is doing in the middle of all the carnage?) The rule is that unless the usage is self-consciously playful, you may have two -esques per book (no hyphens), but only if they are at least a hundred pages apart. If they involve en dashes, however, you get none.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Now that my father has died, I reside however briefly in that clichéd place, shocked that the world has not stopped, that strangers continue to smile and celebrate, that my dog barks at birds, that people mean well and have faith.

I have never once felt old, but I am struck with a realization that I feel older by immeasurable measure than the same people I encountered just a week ago. We share in my mind a more significant humanity, one that exists somewhere deep and dangerous, yet I have so much less to say to anyone. Small things: the Week in Review feels laughably irrelevant this time around. The nod from a neighbor who recently gave me peaches means everything. My dog's bark stops my heart. And then the miracle: it starts beating again.

High Windows

by Philip Larkin

When I see a couple of kids
And guess he's fucking her and she's
Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm,
I know this is paradise

Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives--
Bonds and gestures pushed to one side
Like an outdated combine harvester,
And everyone young going down the long slide

To happiness, endlessly. I wonder if
Anyone looked at me, forty years back,
And thought, That'll be the life;
No God any more, or sweating in the dark

About hell and that, or having to hide
What you think of the priest. He
And his lot will all go down the long slide
Like free bloody birds.
And immediately

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

Monday, August 03, 2009

going home, and cannot wait to get to that kitchen table

Love Like Salt

by Lisel Mueller

It lies in our hands in crystals
too intricate to decipher

It goes into the skillet
without being given a second thought

It spills on the floor so fine
we step all over it

We carry a pinch behind each eyeball

It breaks out on our foreheads

We store it inside our bodies
in secret wineskins

At supper, we pass it around the table
talking of holidays and the sea.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

three cheers

for changing it up (and for double negatives).

Sunday, July 05, 2009

stella gets her groove on

So okay fine, my dog Stella has a dance teacher. Ridiculous. Yes, yes. I know. But here we are, at the point where I need to pick out a song for her, so let's just accept my bourgeoisie indulgence and move on, people. I really am trying to find something that suits her personality. A three-year-old pit bull who zero-to-sixties pretty well, covering incredible ground in short spurts, but also snores and toots more than most other activities. Sometimes I think that's gritty Koko Taylor blues, then I think Presley at his most innocent, other times I just surrender to her dipstick pop dodo ways and think maybe Taylor Swift's radical reinterpretation of Romeo and Juliet may just have the dancer it deserves in my pea-brained tank.

So I dunno. Jailhouse Rock? Or maybe Jamiroquai? Dan Band? Sinatra. Stevie Nicks. Kings of Leon. AC/DC. GNR! Oh well I am just not sure how to decide. I find myself watching to see what she really responds to, but that's generally unrewarding since she comes scampering into the room when Barry Manilow comes on. Yeah, that was a surprise to me too. My little anvil-headed cinder-block pit bull sways to "Mandy." I try to be supportive. I really do. But I'm just not sure I can go there with her, seeing as I have to be out there on the dancefloor with her. And anyway, well it sent me back, for no apparent reason but the tangential glory of the web, to a few videos that I just love.

Weapon of Choice

Oh So Quiet

Single Ladies

Friday, June 12, 2009

i heart hot tubs

Dear Albany Sauna staff,

I honor the safety-first motto just as dutifully as any other "early years" Burning Man attendee. And your commitment to my health and well being, as evidenced by the hose on the wall (in case of fire, I'd have guessed I'd be okay in a hot tub, but you're ahead of me), the no-slip strips on the stairs, the help-me-get-up handles everywhere, well it is all sincerely appreciated. But given this:
I question the need for this:
Otherwise, bravo for a no-fuss, Poconos-resort-nobody-puts-baby-in-the-corner, golden-era-of-American-lodge-life spa experience. And the copper pipe that waterfalls into the hot tub? A+ inspiration right there.

Monday, June 01, 2009

a rarity

Here, I'll say it. I want this dress. As in, would spend a stupid amount of money to get it. I want it. I should have it. The world owes it to me, and what's more, the thing was built for me. In fact, Katie here is probably my size. So give it over, girl. Don't make me come down to Santa Monica to get it.

That's your June post of vanity and materialism. You're welcome. (Oh and Kate, I'll take the shoes too, honey. Thanks.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

lingua blanca

We watched Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World tonight. D called the filmed sites "little geek villages in the middle of the tundra." Which they were. But the people were striking for more than their nerdy ramblings on neutrinos and seal milk proteins: these were wild people, struggling to preserve some sort of wisdom, articulate, unusual, fierce, so clear in the eyes, so unbelievably alive in the environment.

So again, it seems Herzog has widened his lens to show something bigger--hilarious humans, a bizarre sampling, who seem to thrive in these "outposts of Antarctica, the kind of people you might expect would gravitate to the edge of existence--the curious, the oddball, the wanderers who've run out of other places to explore." Of course the awesome landscapes are humbling, reminders of how infinitesimal we are and how perilous the situation is for our species.

In the midst of all the interviews with these "professional dreamers," these squirrely nutjobs who can't stop wandering and wondering, who end up locked in close quarters deep in the antarctic, Herzog offers this up. And since I heard it and replayed it four or five times, I can now think of nothing else. “In our efforts to preserve endangered species, we seem to overlook something equally important. To me, it is a sign of a deeply disturbed civilization where treehuggers and whalehuggers in their weirdness are acceptable while no one embraces the last speakers of a language.” Chilling, one might say.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

a life transformed

Shepard, Judy. The Meaning of Matthew: My Son's Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed. August 2009. Hudson Street Press. 288p. ISBN: 978-1-59463-057-6. $25.95.

for Library Journal

Ten years after Matthew Shepard was beaten for being gay and left for dead, his mother Judy has revisited the tragedy in this brave and sobering memoir. As a mother and an unassuming thought leader, Shepard writes with elegant humility. Tracing the ordinary parenting choices she and her husband made for Matthew and his brother Logan, Shepard reevaluates her family's path in an earnest bid to share her life experience with those "who live in places where I'm not invited to speak." Her accounts of their challenging family dynamics are so everyday, in fact, that the narrative inflicts emotional whiplash once the ground begins to blur by and the grisly murder comes up so fast.
Shepard wrestles with her early preconceptions, but is careful to avoid any martyrdom of her reckless wild child. The Meaning of Matthew is all the more remarkable for the understated and deliberate tone taken as Shepard wades in deep to do the unthinkable--to suggest how the world has changed since she survived the violent death of her own child. Highly recommended for all libraries. Elizabeth Kennedy, Oakland, CA

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

a movie recommendation is in here somewhere

My first memory from graduate school is a repellent one. You’d think I’d have remembered that this is the way it goes for me. Allergic to beginner’s mind, I never feel quite right at the start of things. I tend to be surveying the walls for cracks. Not only must I practice things ten-thousand times more than the next to get the shot, strike the chord, tap the vein, but I don't always appreciate what's in front of me until it's long since gone.
     The forces of the universe, so extravagantly generous with me in all other ways, are sadistic witches when it comes to my initiation rites. I suspect my karmic terms must specify the ability to thrive despite a high threshold of adversity and a hefty factor of failure. But I am nothing if not relentless.
     Since March, I've been hammering away at two stories and have taken the last couple days off to drift around in those imaginary landscapes and see what might happen. This immersion sent me back to my arrival on the Bennington College campus, how eager I was, much like my comrades, to suck that place dry of everything it had to offer. And I did, after a stumbling start. I arrived mid-day in mid-June. I unpacked, immediately went for a run all around the neighborhood, showered, and still red-faced and a little sweaty, shot out to the campus social, striking up a conversation with the first woman I saw. I asked about a cup of coffee; she offered a heady riposte about our shared Colridegean susceptibilities—this before we’d even managed names, let alone specializations or states of origin. My spirit shrank. I shuddered at the vision: two years ahead of me, each month bloated full with dull, pretentious allusions from bespectacled, near-transparent library trolls. And well, yes, there was some of that.
     But on the whole, I softened from the mercenary I was upon arrival, and my experience of Bennington College improved along a steady trajectory, even as the life I had around it spun into sloppy, sad disarray. And that education, I realize, continues. I have since spent the greater part of the intervening four years revisiting those maudlin wine-soaked years to get back to the root of all I’ve learned from the four mentors with whom I worked—Martha Cooley, Amy Hempel, Askold Melnyczuk, and Sven Birkerts.
     And I’ve begun to write again, in earnest. And though you may rightly consider graduate school something of a failure if I say I have yet to write a short story, you’d be wrong. Remember the students who were always staying late in the art room to finish the kiln project? The ones who just couldn’t hand in the Blue Book when the bell rang? Likely the same students caught staring out windows, or perhaps even at walls, lost in teenage reverie? I did that then and I remain the same today. I am that student, sometimes slow-witted, yes, but also slow to call out and deliberate to absorb it all before drawing conclusions. Even my pulse and temperature are slower and lower (respectively) than the average person's. It is this late-blooming quality that makes this moment a pleasant one for me.
     In drafting a relatively new story, I came today to understand several small functions of my own writing, the ways that my structures align and depart from Baxter, Ford, Moore, Gordon, Russo, Wolff, Woolf. And the way I want to work with those intricacies—something as simple as the echo of a spoken word.
     Now that I've finished these luxurious few days of reading and writing, I am awash in that exultant exhaustion that comes from so few things in life—a far run, honest conversation, you know the rest. With all the windows open to the sultry California night, I sit with my dog at my feet and watch the movie War Dance. And I weep and I weep and I weep. This movie is one that should be required in all schools, along with Born Into Brothels or Darwin's Nightmare. You owe it to yourself to watch it. These children have seen the very worst humanity has to offer, yet they bring unflinching beauty to the screen. They wake up early and give life everything they've got. They are breathtaking. I mean that literally.
     I turn back to my notes after the movie and it all comes flooding back to me again--the same feelings I had when I received the acceptance call from Writing Seminars founder Liam Rector, how I was instantly filled with that headstrong, heartsick feeling that absofuckinglutely anything is possible. And I mean anything in all senses of the word—yes, the euphoria of goals realized, but also Conrad-variety brutality, deadening addictions, sudden saviors, the warmth of close and reliable friends, unexpected kindness, moments that we can take to hear our own breathing, any of it, all of it. So knowing all that's out there, remembering that, well good God, I just have to say how lucky we are to be alive.
     Specifically, how lucky I am to still be alive at thirty-five, past my own dark days. Alive before friends and family, in this incredible home, in a safe city, with salt-of-the-earth neighbors, a yard like a garden with butterflies and hummingbirds everywhere, shallots and garlic growing, fish in the pond, food in the fridge, a room and deck and a gourmet kitchen, all of it my own, all of it familiar. And I look at my colleagues—with their best-selling books out, on reading circuits, sitting on panels, so busy and entangled in the web of literary life. And I don't deny them any of it. I'm so happy for them, for you, for all this we've got. But I have to say that having had the chance to sit and bask like this fat cat back here in the Bay Area sun, to take it all in, just watch at my lazy pace, to feel my mind saturate with sensation and concepts, filling my journals with models and devices and characters and settings, I am suddenly aware for the first time in a long time of my rich and lucky library, all these little treasures, each sorted into its drawer in my Silverstein cabinet. This kind of privacy to grow and wonder is an exceptional luxury; likewise time. And sure, I may be a hardened and shameless tea drinker, as they say, but Jesus, looking at my life against his, well I couldn’t be less like Coleridge if I tried.

Monday, April 27, 2009

oh, ben

The title The Divinity of Dogs is a bit highfalutin for this video that ends with Ben Stein offering up a cute smile, like you'd get from the kid forced to sit through the cheese course in his starchy, too-tight suit. Ben! I just want to pinch your cheeks for this one. Pinch, pinch, pinch, you jowly little animal lover.

Friday, April 24, 2009

intermediate's mind

After reviewing the options--agility (no), flyball (no), rally (no)--LB and I began our new freestyle dance class with our dogs Mac and Stella today. To use the word humbling is to sound downright boastful about it. This class was nothing short of torment. I cried. No, really, I did.

I have had my girl since August of this year, not long. But prior to that, I'd run my boxer Shea through obedience and his sister Ruby through an advanced dog-dog manners class. I moved on myself to work with countless dogs of all different temperaments (plenty of them naughty, raucous, insolent) for a few years with BAD RAP, first at the East Bay SPCA and then Oakland Animal Services, where I volunteer today. Point is, a lot of dogs, a lot of challenges.

At the time I enrolled Stella in this freestyle class, she already knew sit, down, stay, leave it, drop it, come--all the essentials. She had earned her Canine Good Citizen certification from the American Kennel Club and made a routine of charming people into asking if they might adopt her away from me with disarming regularity. She and I had established what I thought was a common language, both physical and verbal, and we had trained in some form every single day since she'd come to me like a little wiggly dream. But all of this, every shred of work, every moment of accomplishment, has been based at least in minor measure on compulsion. I'm not sure how I didn't realize it. That is, until the time came when I could not use the prong collar.

She's a very strong girl, a little tank of muscle and spunk. It's just what I have used to manage all that energy with all the bully dogs I work. I never looked at my use of it as a dependence. I still consider a prong a fine tool, with its place in the scheme of things, but what if I don't have one at the ready and still need my little devil to behave? No can do, Kennedy. That's what I learned today. I came face to face with the limits of my technique and at first it was desperately discouraging. I didn't really see the lead-up building this week: Stella got poked by a foxtail that managed to work its way into her neck. A painful sore resulted, right where the prong would have gone. But I was not going to back out of class. We had committed to it, there would have been no refund, and most importantly, I felt she needed the socialization and education. So on we went. No problem, I thought; we work together. I (laughably now) didn't think twice about taking the class without a prong after working her exclusively with it on.

To say that she pulled on the leash is much like saying a shooting star moves through the sky or that a forest fire is warm. Every time I bash into the "step up" segment of the learning plateaus, I find myself stunned and hurt yet again that I am not, in fact, the supreme master expert I'd deluded myself into thinking I was. Stella yanked on the leash, panted like a choo-choo, and I stood there, sweating, inching mentally toward quitting. We were instructed to walk this way, turn, shake, do a bunch of fun little moves. For me, this amounted to widen your stance to keep the dog from steamrolling her way to the head of the pack. It was not aggression. It was 100 percent uncorked ebbulience. Stella was, as the kids say, off the hook. She was overwhelmed by the blissful notion that all these dogs and people had come together to thrill her with their presence.

I say all this not to trash my dog. By the end of the class, she was following me rather beautifully, gazing into my eyes in that hopeful way that just breaks a dog handler's heart with its sheer hope and goodness. There's nothing like that bond. But it required a very real walk of fire, the humiliation of knowing that my dog looked wild at the outset. And good god, I'm sure my capabilities were called into question.

So here we are. It was not the glorious, head-of-the-class start I'd hoped for. Stella was a bit of a nutter. But we'll practice in the morning, at lunch, after work, before bed. Any treat Stella gets will only follow a heel. Want dinner? Walk with me. Oh is breakfast late? You must be very hungry. Do not break your look into my eyes. You want me to pet you? Stay right here until I tell you otherwise. Sit, down. Come. Come, walk with me, prove your skills, use your wee Stella brain.

It's time for us to improve our communication. Stella has shown she's willing to work with me. She aced the Canine Good Citizen test without my ever even teaching her a proper, airtight loose-leash walk. I'm glad we got by, but we can do better. She can do this, no problem. So the unknown here is me.

But I think the impossible fits me well enough. The only real way around it is through it. Practice, practice, practice goes the old line. We'll get there.

thoughts on driving, if you please

The more I live, the more ritualized my private days become. Driving to work every day, I scout for modded-out Hondas and find myself parallel to them on the freeway just to see what happens when our eyes meet. Around the holidays I contemplate getting a tree. And then I do not. I eat a terrific amount of chocolate come April, and in May I book several races in order to combat my attendant fears of imminent death. August, of course, I extend birthday festivities well beyond what is appropriate.

While Valentine's Day means gifts and heady declarations for most, it signals three small milestones in a life's routine: (1) the anniversary of my now long-standing sobriety, (2) the memorial of losing my dog Shea when he was just four years old, and (3) the approximate threshold marking when I might reasonably expect to spy used copies of the last year's Best American Short Stories on the shelves at Pegasus or Moe's. For novels and nonfiction, I am happy to spend my money and see the royalties land in the authors' pockets. Not sure what it is about volumes with multiple contributors, but I buy these second-hand without guilt.

I'd searched for a while. And I'd even started to extrapolate (as if my shopping experience somehow scaled to represent the global literary marketplace) that perhaps it was a new day for the short story—these damn local readers were holding onto their volume of America's best. Was it that good? Hell, I figured, even this year's Pulitzer-winning book was a story cycle. Well last week, I finally snagged this year's Best American Short Stories, a copy apparently unread--crisp cover corners, static among pages, all the heavenly heft of untouched invention. Perhaps it was given as a gift, but neglected and coldly sold.

And it did indeed feature a gem, "May We Be Forgiven" by A. M. Homes. While more rangy authors (Ben Fountain III comes to mind) retain a certain authority on my list for their willingness to fling characters far afield and see what happens, there's still nothing like the old-fashioned descendents of Carver, authors who need nothing by way of window dressing and foreign artifact to lay bare the luxurious torment of a private universe. The implosion of the story's precarious domestic balance involves just the sort of plain sawdusty craft I adore. Mean, brutal, and brave. And when it shatters that part of you that you didn't even know was vulnerable, then comes the condemnatory moral crack--this is about you. At some level, stories ought to indict with a satisfying resonance, prick our ears to our own barely audible hauntings down in that lowest human register.

Now those close to me know that I do not suffer erotica well. It's a tawdry, tacky, sticky mess of embarrassing fumble-rumblings, all uninspired extroversion, a wincing exercise in what must end up future authorial regret. But I'd suggest anyone interested in writing (or having or thinking about) sex read this story. Not that it's erotica. It's not, per se. But the sexual indulgence is lively because it is unsparingly polluted with spirit-splitting betrayal and shame. If you are to write sex, good to obey the axiom it's best to arrive at pleasure by way of pain.

Read and you'll see what I mean. When I came to the end of the story, the last bit of figurative dialogue lopped the top off the thing. And I found there--exultantly--the faintest penciled-in exclamation point. I've since gone through this book page by page, searching for other evidence of the reader so moved. There is not a single other mark but the requisite $8.50 price scrawled on the half-title page.

As an editor who wrangles often with authors who lavish these poor marks throughout a work like nuts on a laden sundae, I am loathe to celebrate the exclamation point. But I savored this singular expression. Restraint and passion all in one. A single response that, as you likely expect, reminds me of the easy, sweet poem by Billy Collins called Marginalia.

My lunch break tick-tocking away, I could hardly leave the closing page. I just sat there staring at it. The sun was out. It was warm enough to melt me, but the wind blew just this side of brisk. I drove back to work in the spring weather, charged enough to accept dangerous wagers. A girl pulled up in her showy little Honda at the two-lane on-ramp. I hurtled alongside her, the sun on my arms as I blew euphorically right past the exit to work. It's all enough to make one take the exclamatory leap, now isn't it? Forgive us indeed. We are terribly wrong and reckless. Now let's do it all again!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

leaves of grass

You guys, it's spring. I have been distracted. But I'm back. Blog depot will reopen. Shortly.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

new lease on life

If you're interested in ESPN's coverage of the Vick dogs' new lives, you can watch it tonight at 7pm.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

teams tiger, fast kitty, and game face

In case you've wondered where I've been, it's been nothing but big wheels day in, day out. You know how training can be. Full-on, people. Can't wait.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

a life with purpose

Volunteering time with or donating to HRC, NCLR, or Equality California can save a life. Not to mention make yours more meaningful.

Friday, March 20, 2009

victory gardens count as work

Even for office workers, Fridays are not only for office work--especially after Thursday presentations go so well and the future of our book projects looks bright. It's with that spirit then that my neighbor and I exchanged emails today, lusting over our spring garden visions and flinging links of seed packets and plot maps over the web-fence to each other with breathless speed. This weekend, she and I will split up the unthinkable bounty of chard and kale we've got going, let the onions and cousins (shallots, garlic) continue their plot for world domination in their back bed, and, though both have worked wonders to retain the moisture from the blessed rain, cut back the grass and clover creeping over everything.

And then. And then with unabashed glee, I placed our modest order of the season, the one that makes me clap and swirl just at the thought--two precious packets of heirloom tomato seeds: a pineapple variety that hails from Kentucky, as well as the new Black Ruffle, a sexy, curvy cross between heirlooms Black Krim and Zapotec Pink Pleated. I love planting tomatoes more than anything else in the gardening world. They grow so furiously, their leaves reward anyone who brushes by with such an intoxicating springy smell, and the taste of them alone!--I love the need to prop them up and support them as they plump up with their photosynthetic ambitions. I confess it's all also steeped with a sepia-tinged, sentimental set of memories, how my old dog Shea used to sneak out into the backyard to pluck them off the vine, fling them over his head all around the yard, and leave the poor eclipsed prospects, all decimated and half-chewed, for the wild critters to clean up after him.

I can still see the view from my old kitchen window, only the tops of the tomato plants visible from behind a fence covered in ivy--how those tops would shake and shiver, telltale signs little man was crouched just on the far side of the fence, craning his neck forward to pluck a little snack, fresh from the vine. Could you blame him? So yeah, I love tomato time. It makes me deep with the happy, friends.

So happy it's one of those "all I can talk about" instances. I bored my poor coworkers at the company social yesterday, chomping the broccoli and carrots fanned out in standard form on the crudité tray and yammering about gardens and the inevitable icon that accompanies the conversational thread, Alice Waters, who had just appeared on 60 Minutes.

She'd long been challenging the White House to make something of the sprawling grounds just outside their every window. And in Michelle Obama, it appeared, Waters finally had found a sympathetic audience. We round-robined our conjecture--would Barack Obama end up pulling weeds for a photo-op? We thought not. Well as we talked about it, an article was being published to the contrary. Michelle Obama has plans for her husband and kids: weeding! And I figure, hey, if Michelle Obama can spare time in her Thursday to map a garden plot and Barack can take on the oxalis, well then my Friday emails must count as a valid day's work too.

Monday, March 16, 2009

plum tree petals all over my car

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter;
If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

—Zen master Wu-men

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

dapper chapper

Just got a new assignment from a local magazine and will be busy doing silly research. In the interim, though, because I'm a considerate bloghostess, I give you yet another indication of my sea change when it comes to style. I think I am starting to appreciate it. And I have found my mentor.

Behold Arlo Weiner.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

So we hope for liberty and justice for all in the Proposition 8 hearings today. Let it be.

Day in court began four hours before the courthouse opened.

Here's what's significant about today's hearing and deliberation, in plain English.

Live blog.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Some days, I love receiving the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day (though even then I resent having to capitalize it as a proper noun). Other days, not so much.

oligopsony n \ah-luh-GAHP-suh-nee\ 1: a market situation in which each of a few buyers exerts a disproportionate influence on the market

Each of a few buyers? What does that even mean? And when, pray tell, will E. Kennedito have occasion to use that in a sentence exactly? Each of a few never, that's when.

Why can't they send me fun words like the scientific term for the jaw-breaker alloy-type coating on those little silver balls that they used to put on top of cupcakes back when I was a kid and broken teeth were just a way of life? Now that would be a word to toss in with the chits and the chats. Or more stuff like treppenwitz. Give me good words, God damn it.

It's not like we're short on them.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

battle-star distractica

Not that this has anything to do with Battlestar Galactica. It doesn't. I watched one episode and fell asleep. No. This is about other distractions.

Writing personal essays: easy. Feature articles: snap. Book reviews: could type them with my eyes closed (though I'd need a solid proofreader). Writing anything imaginative, though, is much like building my own fiddle out of boardwalk planks and hair ties. The elements are more or less all there, yes, but success depends entirely on my ingenuity.

So given Newton's third law of procrastination, all that focus requires hours of useless passivity. And I find myself at all hours of the night waist-deep in diversions these days. And seeing as my book club is currently reading Revolutionary Road and I got a mass market copy, I see celebrities there kissy kissy on my coffee table every day (Leo and Kate of Titanic fame back at it again). And I naturally spiral into other Hollywood thoughts of everyone's favorite alien invader of all time: TILDA.

My mother and I discussed the inimitable Miss Tilda Swinton yesterday. Or should I call her Captain? Or Colonel? Maestro? Master? First, let me explain what my three devoted readers already know: I have worn the same boots for a decade. I own no jewelry. I have the same few pairs of pants, only in different shades of blue and brown. I am not, in other words, a fashionista. I have no idea what the stink is all about. I'd rather spend money on food. And it shows. I am lucky if I get out the door without cat hair, dog blobber, and pasta sauce all over myself.

Given all that, it is a testament to the otherworldly, mindbending might of Chief Whip Swinton that she manages to trick me with her snake eyes into thinking I care about style.

STYLE, people. Just look at this woman, for god's sake. She is ridiculous, which I say a little afraid I might be struck down by Demeter for defamation of the heavenly guard. But she really is so far gone on the wackadoo train that she choo-choos right back into the perfection depot. The woman makes me want to leap through the computer screen and then realize with a not-unpleasant shock that I can only hover in reverent caution there on the hem of the red carpet, chanting in tongues. Awe. My mother agrees. ("Oh yeah, was she the one who played the bad witch in Narnia?")

Why yes, she is a Very Bad Witch, Mom. That's most astute and progressive of you to note. Just look at the way she holds herself. There is no towering being more wrathful than Corporal Tilda, I am sure of it. And did I mention she is taller than I am? Tilda bless, how often does THAT happen?

Now really. How can I be expected to return to my writing when Tilda just keeps showing up to events in outfits that are just unforgivably cuckoo for cocoa? I mean, she's entertainment just standing there, like Grace Jones without the pretension, David Bowie without the datedness, God without all that morality hassle.

By Swinton, that's it. Is there a church of Tilda? Behold, like a prayer, ordain me, Witch of Wonder! Ave Tilda, gratia plena, Elizabeth tecum. Amatus tu in mulieribus, liber eram et vacuo meditabar vivere lecto; at me composita pace fefellit Amor. Cur haec in terris facies humana moratur? Iuppiter, ignosco pristina furta tua. Calvin Klein Eternity spritzed and brand name gossamer swaddled as crazily as possible, Amen.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

the dirty dozen

So remember when I wrote, only half-apologetically, a few posts back that I was becoming one of those intolerable grannies with the fold-out pictures of my family, prattling on about my dog Stella and cat Maude?

Well that was due in part to the enormous energy I was pouring into getting my dog Canine Good Citizen-certified.

The test was today. Seventeen dogs, pit bulls every one, gathered in a parking lot before the fog lifted off the Bay and waited our turn with an AKC official, who ran us all through a gamut of ten tests, what I can best equate to a set of back-to-back merit badge assessments. Here's the lowdown.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

green crusaders v. the whippersnappers

For better or worse, I'm a suggestible reed--Obama's talk of subsidy cuts to big agribusiness buoys the spirits, pretty lil pictures of babies cheer me, even just witness to folks on Facebook rallying around an old comrade who's lost her dog warms the deepest parts of my heart--all sorts of thing restore my faith in human beings, and I'm glad for that.

But sometimes people are stinkers. And when these stinkers threaten to get in the way of the good my tribe is trying to do, I get this crazy aggression, like goodwill infected with zealotry. It's ugly.

Let me tell you about Green Earth Guide: Traveling Naturally in France. The author Dorian Yates, the delightful, kind, industrious sort you'd find calming your anxieties over a chilled bottle of Beaujolais at the corner café, has developed a series of travel guides intended not only to direct readers around town, but do it in a way that kicks up as little pollution as possible.

It's all in the book: finding local and organic foods, supporting ecological businesses, the ins and outs of public transport, green places of interest, the whole conscientious shebang. Yates writes about strides various cities have taken to green themselves, among them Paris and Montpellier for their public bicycle systems.

Shortly before I sent this handy reference to press, I read about all the rat-youth vandalizing the bikes, taking them on joyrides and documenting it on YouTube (here's a mild one). Admittedly, in my dumb youth, such stunts would have been hilarious. No more! Yes, even my use of the word "stunts" reflects a certain stodgy intolerance. I see that. But mindful that these weak vaunts at thuggery may bring the system to its knees, I find myself categorically humorless about it. How I wish I were sipping my trifásico with Dorian in a Barcelona plaça where she's researching the next in the series.

I'm sure she'd have something wise to say about our planet and those damn kids today.

Monday, February 23, 2009

frickin adorable

Try to ignore all those people in the background (the ones who can't really dance) and just listen to this gal's great voice. Love this grassroots YouTube-and-a-ukelele-type stuff. Happy work week!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Monday, February 09, 2009

up crossroads:
who knew it could
go that way?

by Joyce Sutphen

The second half of my life will be black
to the white rind of the old and fading moon.
The second half of my life will be water
over the cracked floor of these desert years.
I will land on my feet this time,
knowing at least two languages and who
my friends are. I will dress for the
occasion, and my hair shall be
whatever color I please.
Everyone will go on celebrating the old
birthday, counting the years as usual,
but I will count myself new from this
inception, this imprint of my own desire.

The second half of my life will be swift,
past leaning fenceposts, a gravel shoulder,
asphalt tickets, the beckon of open road.
The second half of my life will be wide-eyed,
fingers shifting through fine sands,
arms loose at my sides, wandering feet.
There will be new dreams every night,
and the drapes will never be closed.
I will toss my string of keys into a deep
well and old letters into the grate.

The second half of my life will be ice
breaking up on the river, rain
soaking the fields, a hand
held out, a fire,
and smoke going
upward, always up.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

go gays!

The California Supreme Court announced today that it will hear oral arguments on Thursday, March 5, 2009, in the Proposition 8 legal challenge.

On November 19, 2008, the California Supreme Court agreed to hear the legal challenges to Proposition 8 and set an expedited schedule. Briefing in the case was completed on January 21, 2009.

The California Supreme Court must issue its decisions within 90 days of oral argument. On January 15, 2009, 43 friend-of-the-court briefs urging the Court to invalidate Prop 8 were filed, arguing that Proposition 8 drastically alters the equal protection guarantee in California’s Constitution and that the rights of a minority cannot be eliminated by a simple majority vote. The supporters represent the full gamut of California’s and the nation’s civil rights organizations and legal scholars, as well as California legislators, local governments, bar associations, business interests, labor unions, and religious groups.

In May of 2008, the California Supreme Court held that laws that treat people differently based on their sexual orientation violate the equal protection clause of the California Constitution and that same-sex couples have the same fundamental right to marry as other Californians. Proposition 8 eliminated this fundamental right only for same-sex couples. No other initiative has ever successfully changed the California Constitution to take away a right only from a targeted minority group. Proposition 8 passed by a bare majority of 52 percent on November 4.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, and the ACLU filed this challenge on November 5, representing Equality California, whose members include many same-sex couples who married between June 16 and November 4, 2008, and six same-sex couples who want to marry in California. The California Supreme Court has also agreed to hear two other challenges filed on the same day: one filed by the City and County of San Francisco (joined by Santa Clara County and the City of Los Angeles, and subsequently by Los Angeles County and other local governments); and another filed by a private attorney.

Serving as co-counsel on the case with NCLR, Lambda Legal, and the ACLU are the Law Office of David C. Codell, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.

The case is Strauss et al. v. Horton et al. (#S168047). This press release stolen wholesale from Equality California.

Monday, February 02, 2009

international poetry fix

Amazing to think that it is the thirtieth anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. I encourage anyone interested in history, in poetry, in art, in performance to come to these events put on by the Translation Project in partnership with the SF International Poetry Festival, the Friends of the SF Public Library, and the Asia Society, to celebrate Iranian diaspora poetry of the past three decades.

It doesn't hurt to note that you will walk away with a fierce crush on moderator Niloufar Talebi, an erudite, hypnotizing, and imposing raconteur. Events are FREE and OPEN to the public. Registration is nonetheless recommended.

Thursday February 5th, 2009
“30 Years of BeLonging,” a roundtable discussion about the future of diaspora literature, with poets featured in BELONGING: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World: Ziba Karbassi, Granaz Moussavi, Majid Naficy, Partow Nooriala, Abbas Saffari, as well as with SF Poet Laureate Jack Hirschman and Isabelle Thuy Pelaud, professor of Asian American Studies at SFSU.

Fort Mason Book Bay, San Francisco
Building C, Room 165
Phone 415-771-1076
6:30 PM

Friday February 6th, 2009
Honoring Ziba Karbassi, Granaz Moussavi, Majid Naficy, Partow Nooriala, Abbas Saffari, poets featured in BELONGING: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World, gathered from all over the world! Reception, reading, and film screening.

Friends of the SF Public Library
391 Grove Street, San Francisco
Phone 415-626-7500
6:30 PM

poor, poor groundhog

Sometimes I am ashamed to be a human. (See: rituals that should have expired by now.)

Friday, January 23, 2009


It is looking to be a perfect weekend for snuggling up and reading. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

duckweed and other houseguests

It may be the case that I'm in the midst of looking for a roommate, but that's not to say I'll welcome just any old denizens into my midst. Icksquiggly critters have lowered themselves into the merry, murky waters of our fountain in the backyard and an all-out bacteria war was at the brink of a violent outbreak. It was time to TCB.

First, we had to flood out the gooky bits. That's scientific language, my laypeople friends, for yukky stuff. Also take out the grapefruits and oranges that had the tough luck to fall into the rainwater. I've salvaged most of the other fruits from this yard, but even I have limits as to what I'll eat. Floating fruit is, in general, a no.

More gooky bits work:

Then came the organic compound to lull the mean bacteria to sleep and send them to the cesspool in the sky.

Sleeping potion close-up:

Then came the magic yukky-water-filtering plants! That's duckweed. What a great name. (Better than magic yukky-water-filtering plants anyway.)

Pretty duckweed unfurling in the light:

Canna plant likes water. See all those baby duckweed bits floating around? Fun!

Happy canna:

Artsy canna:

There were other plant pictures, but I don't have them here. But I do have pictures of my dirty gardening nails. This is the solution to carpal tunnel syndrome and mild depression: get your pinders in the dirt. Or in my case, in the duckweedy waters.


Monday, January 19, 2009

temporary service interruption

I've been doing massive drill-sargeant variety training with my dog lately. She's working toward her Canine Good Citizen. So in the meantime, I offer you this video/audio mashup I stole from another site.

Open two windows. LINK A is the soundtrack. LINK B is for viewing.

So play LINK A (make it loud!) in one window in the background:


And as that plays, watch the video at LINK B on mute instead:


Sadly the video at LINK B ends much earlier than the motown magic that is LINK A. But fear not. Just switch over to LINK A and enjoy the complex choreography and electric purple skyscape of the Altantic Starr show. Tremendous all around. I encourage you to hold on all the way through to get to the narcoleptic mumblings that once constituted a Soul Train interview. Incredibly acute sartorial analysis.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

a mother's eyes

I suppose someone, somewhere will likely see my serial life revelations as provincialisms--these disclosures about my exhilarated love floods, the overblown changes of heart, the books I've read and reviewed, the detailing of my dog's days, the mad sporting, all my expectations, experiences, and intentions candied with such rich sentiment. Provincialism because it may have all been said before. But I prefer to see that as my commonality with you. It must be why you're here, to see something of yourself in another's personal pageantry, to hear your pleasures and pains set to someone else's music.

Now rest, gentle reader: this is not a dog blog in which I liken your hopes to my dog and her food bowl. In fact, I won't even talk about Stella here again (in this post, I mean--be reasonable). And guess what, I won't talk about civil rights either. Or my bicycle. Or training in the morning darkness. No. This is fresh territory, people. This is a shameless, off-key aria about the families we do not choose, the ones we're born into, and my witness to the ways we pay back the love parents give as we grow.

I recently attended the book launch of an obstreperous, exacting author of mine, Casson Trenor. We were together, a small tribe of thirty or so, to celebrate Sustainable Sushi, his noble and fine must-have book, an equal triumph in aesthetics and ethics, if I do say so myself. And here was this author outside the editorial office, in his element, a peer with whom I'd wrestled at every single stage of the book process--each of us as aggressive, articulate, and unaccustomed to surrender as the other, and both steadfast in the commitment to improve the book in ways we insisted were vital to the project. And how lovely it was to be taken by surprise by that stealthy sylph, sincerity. One would not be out of line to suggest the friends and family seated around me were visibly flush in the significance of Trenor's moment: the realization of a goal they'd seen him working toward for so many years, well before his proposal ever crossed my desk.

And with each course that came out from Tataki's extraordinary kitchen, Trenor navigated the room, hovering over one of his comrades--this one in the striped tie, that one in the dotted dress--and he thanked them one by one, each member of this gathered Algonquin clan a contributor in some way, a league that raised their sake glasses like sailors, a jostle here and there to roast and recognize in turns, shades of rosy pink warming all faces in the place. And I gotta say, it was pretty beautiful to see--tears, hugs, Golden Globes gratitude and all. It was one of those uncommon nights that shimmers with enough fair goodwill to mend personal rifts and plumb the bonds deep, deep, deep. And as I walked by the watered bamboo and tea lights, a bit high on all the rarefied levity, a hand sliced the air in my path. That outstretched hand belonged, it turned out, to Deborah, Trenor's mother. And she intended that we were to meet that instant.

Now as an editor, for better or worse, I rarely slow down my machine long enough to revel in the achievement of the book once produced. And in an era when slapdash products are flung onto the Amazon floor only to extinguish themselves some months later under the embers of their own outsize ambition, it is a grace for the heart and spirit to be genuine in my enthusiasm for a project, to be given the chance to say aloud, "Yes, this one will rise." And Sustainable Sushi is nothing if not the consummation of that endangered species in our consumerist culture: a singular expertise distilled in clean concentrate.

We spoke fleetingly. Trenor's mother. His father. His sister and his cousin. All in town just for this night. But the communion spoke volumes about the author, how pleased this family was, not unlike the in-group wonder felt when every child is miraculously born into the world. The book was here! A necessary, cogent, beautiful guide to a little mercy for our depleted seas and oceans. Something to slip into your pocket and use to buy sushi that doesn't destroy the planet on which all those little miracle children will be trying to live after you're long gone.

And I realized, really only half-listening to the family, that the years we spend devoted to causes, chained to the brutal wagons of our developing ideas always out there ahead of us, they're not actually spent at the expense of the ones we love. Because if you'll forgive the presumption in such a personal assessment of a woman I'd met only a moment before, I swear the look of pride in Trenor's mom's eyes as she declared to me with that forceful hand--"I just had to meet you. I'm Casson's mom."--well I'll tell you from experience: nothing can really begin to characterize the pride that emanates from a mother whose son has accomplished something great.

And I know: visit any old blog, any parenting magazine, periodical, even the sweeter game shows out there on TV, and you'll hear a mom enumerating the unique wonders, the treasures within her child's bright being. But let me tell you this: to see it first-hand, in the eyes of a woman I never expected to meet, whose son I came to appreciate first through his work, well however many times it's been said, a mother's pride is something singular. And I see how it makes it all matter.