Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chore Charts, Stars, and Banana Splits

Having realized that I still am motivated by the very same systems I learned in kindergarten, I recently made myself a weekly chore chart, breaking down all of the cleaning necessities into manageable days of the week so that I do a little something every day. It's fine as none of it involves real cleaning. I am excellent and putting my clothes away and picking up after myself; not so excellent at mopping the floor or cleaning the refrigerator. I gave myself a reprieve for Wednesdays b/c that's garbage day, my most hated day of the week as it involves me going down into the basement and cleaning the litter boxes. I am hoping this dread will dissipate somewhat now that I've added other times on the c.c. where I am supposed to clean the box. Today, I believe I have vacuuming and...something else. That will take no time at all as I have almost exclusively hard wood floors. At work, I have a similar system going where I get a gold star every time I go to the gym. I guess after four weeks of consistently going to the gym 3 times a week, I get a banana split or a pony or something. I haven't totally worked out the logistics. Maybe this can also work for my writing life. Well, I have somewhat figured out a way to bargain with myself; like, just write for five minutes. Five minutes of fiction. And then you can watch as much brain dead TV as you want (isn't that the saddest prize you ever heard of?).

Speaking of TV and pop culture, what is the deal with all of these reality shows featuring the families of the famous? I vaguely knew there were a few out there, but when flipping through the channels last night, I came across Meet the Lohan Blo-hans and The Fruit of Hulk Hogan's Steroidal Loins; the first starring the siblings and long-faced mom of Lindsay Lohan and the second being the daughter of a fake wrestler famous in the 80s. Who gives a crap about these people? Or the Osbournes or the Kardashians or Haylie Duffie as the wooden emcee for a reality contest show.

There's a feature on blogger where you can choose a "search next" option to see recently updated blogs. I was doing that for awhile yesterday and I'd say that the blogs (at least on blogger) break down in the following ways:

45% Blogs written by stay-at-home mom's posting pics of their families doing various boring things. For instance, in doing a google image search for this post, I stumbled on one with a header featuring three country kids who look like all country kids and the blog was called "My Scrappy Life" (not to be confused with the blog by a woman who does collages out of scraps of things). Many of the mom's list the bible on their top ten list of good reads.

35% Blogs from other countries.

10% Blogs with one post put up by a girl in junior high to show her recent photos with her three friends at Sea World.

10% Other.

Not lots of stay-at-home dad blogs or even blogs by husbands; really not that many dude blogs at all. I guess guys don't write about their days. They specialize. They write about a TOPIC. Or maybe I'm unfairly generalizing. But really, good luck finding blogs by guys who just want to journal about what's going on.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My New Boyfriend

His name is Paul Simms. He occassionally writes for the "Shouts and Murmurs" section of The New Yorker. No images of him to be found, but I picked up a NY magazine this weekend and read his faux campaign speech which you can read here. The best paragraph by far is the following (though it's funnier if you read the whole article):

What I’m really trying to talk about on this great occasion is women like your mother, whose decades-long struggle with morbid obesity has earned her much renown in the urban folklore of our great land. That’s right—your mother: a woman who is said to be so fat that, when she sat down on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday got bounced into the middle of next week. If I could, I would give her a medal, even though she would probably eat it, thinking there’s chocolate inside.

And here's another one he wrote that I love called "Four Short Crushes." I've been there. We belong together.

Soon to be Beaten to a Pulp

Had yet another altercation with a South Philly "dude"this morning;a minor one, but again, I was Miss Sensitiva about it. As you know, I like to take photos of funny or interesting windows. I try never to have the house number in the picture either, to project the anonymity and pride of the person. Today, I spotted a window with two strange rabbit pieces in them and crossed the street to take a picture. Just when I snapped it, the front door opened and a shaved head guy covered in blue tattoos and multiple piercings stepped out and said, Why you taking pictures of my house? Of course, he has every right to ask that question because it is a weird thing to do. I was startled. I said, Oh, I just like to take photos of windows. Sorry. His little dog came out on the stoop and I petted it. He said, Oh, okay. I said, Sorry about that. I just like your bunnies. He said, No, that's okay. I still felt like a jerk and like I had to be really nonchalant walking the rest of the way down the street in case he was watching me to see if I was reporting to his ex-wife on the corner or his probation officer. I have to be more discreet. It's lucky so far that I haven't gotten yelled at or chased off with a broom. In a similar vein, I realize that the time will have to come when I'll get bitten by a dog I insist on petting. I almost always ask the owner if I can pet the dog first, but not always, and not when the dog is tied up by itself outside of the grocery store. So, for the record, I know that one day, odds are good that I'll get bitten. Or yelled at again by someone whose window I am photographing. But these are two things I really like to do so I will take the risks.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bike Madness

This morning, I was happily walking out of Black & Brew with my coffee when I saw a girl on a bicycle tipped over on 10th Street, just past the Pub on Passyunk. Apparently, this guy parked on the side of the street, opened his car door without looking and knocked her off her bike. He jumped out of the car, this fat old guy with a pot belly and white hair, and the first thing he did was to examine his car door to make sure it wasn't scratched. This is while the girl is still lying on the road. She stood up. The girl had on her bike helmet and was wearing hospital scrubs, obviously on her way to work. She wasn't bleeding or anything, but she was scraped up.
He pointed his finger at her, yelling, "I wouldn't care if I killed you! I wouldn't care if you were dead! Watch where your going, you fuck!"

I said, "Dude, are you serious? Are you seriously saying that out loud? I saw what happened. It's not her fault." (I actually didn't see what happened, but she clearly hadn't run a stop sign and she wouldn't have been hit by the door if he glanced back before opening it. I kept calling him "dude," I don't know why. It was like my default language suddenly).

He said, "You stay out of it, you fuck!"

I said something else and then I said, "Dude, you better watch your blood pressure, you're going to have a stroke."

He said, "You keep walking and shut it!" Like, seriously, was he going to beat the crap out of me and her? I asked her if she was okay and she said she was. Later, after I emailed A. about this, he asked me if I had called 911. It didn't even occur to me. I suppose I should have. Instead, I was imagining how I could've pretended to be a cop or a detective and threatened to run his plates or some crap. It sort of ruined my morning for awhile, mostly because I couldn't get over the fact that he would check out his car door before he would check to see if she was okay. Then I thought about The Stranger and how some action happens at a funeral that makes everyone think the central character is cold; it's some inappropriate thing he says or does that overshadows every other action he has from that moment on and possibly even leads to his death (can't remember). So, I was trying to give the old guy credit, like maybe he just found out that his wife is dying of cancer, or maybe he had to put his dog to sleep the day before, or maybe his brother was hit and killed by a unicycle or a passel of clowns riding trikes--because I couldn't accept that someone could be such a TOTAL DICK.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Farm Girl

Still reading this Margaret Atwood collection and the two stories I read yesterday were about the character, Nell, trying to adjust to living on a dilapidated farm. Her boyfriend, Tig, keeps bringing more and more animals to their place. First, it's chickens. Then a peacock and his mate. Then four cows and three lambs and a blue-tick bloodhound named Howl and a cat who multiplies into many many other cats and the last story I read was called "White Horse;" about a stumpy, asthmatic white horse who coughs when Nell rides her. The thing about farm animals is that they serve a purpose and the purpose is not to be pets or companions. Mostly, the purpose is for food. Nell has to accept this and in the meantime, there are all sorts of gruesome deaths and mishaps. The peahen accidentally hangs herself on the clothes line and her mate goes mad with grief, killing off a bunch of hapless chickens. Tig and Nell try to hatch chicks using warm light bulbs but something is off and when the chicks pop out, their eyes are popping out and their stomachs are unformed and so Tig has to kill them with a shovel. One of the lambs has triplets, but rejects the smallest one. They raise her in the kitchen, but as an adult, she becomes aggressive toward Tig and so they send her to the butcher shop and she arrives back at the farm a few days later in pieces wrapped in neat white paper. They butcher one of the cows too and a chicken who then runs around with blood spurting from the its headless neck. It's just this melee of murder and chaos.

I saw a cow get butchered once when I was visiting Nebraska. I went with my Uncle Tom to the butcher shop on the corner and petted the cow and then watched as they shot it through the head with a steel bar and then hoisted it up by its back legs to the ceiling so they could slit her throat and let the blood pour into a huge gray trash can underneath, an ordinary plastic bin like the kind we had in grade school. I don't know why I thought I should take the opportunity to witness this act. It didn't make me a vegetarian, but I'll also never forget it.

It's happened more than once that someone pinpoints something I do as being Midwestern; making honey toast for instance or wanting to eat popcorn with slices of cheese. Are those strictly Midwestern meals? I had no idea. I don't feel Midwestern or Floridian or East Coastnerian.

This photo, by the way, has a caption that reads "Depression Era Farm Girl in Nebraska."

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Secrets of Victoria

Somewhere along the line, I got signed up to Victoria's Secret mailing list and so pretty much every day, I receive an email or a postcard that tells me how I can go purchase a super sonic bra and matching panties for a mere $75 plus 4% off. It's tempting, especially since it was only about a year ago that I learned my actual bra size and so now know what to look for. The problem is that most bras in my size are unflattering; look like something you imagine a professional wet nurse wearing. And since I should be trying to save my money to buy a house and pay off my credit card bills, I really don't need to be distracted by today's missive, an offer to buy the new "Biofit Uplift...Now in 20 sizes and 10 colors." If I do happen to buy this amazing bra, praised by InStyle magazine, I will also receive a free pair of panties. This particular bra offers the following: "padded uplift, lightly padded uplift, shaping uplift, contouring uplift, subtle uplift." That's a lot of uplifting.

Have been having a bunch of disturbing moving dreams. These are dreams where I'm frantically trying to pack up all of my stuff to move into a new house. I don't have enough boxes and the cats are running wild and won't be put into carriers and are escaping through the back yard fence while the car to take me to my next home idles at the curb with an impatient driver who keeps honking the horn. And the places I'm moving into are not in very good shape. In my dream last night, I was with Shawn, examining this possibly new house that had no doors or windows and the previous tenant had left a lot of her stuff. I opened a cupboard in the kitchen and found it stuffed with expired boxes of Honeycomb cereal. We went into the bedroom and found a huge wooden box filled with her receipts and a large blow up doll with flat, shark-like brown eyes. She also had left her wallet and I discovered a $50 bill in it as well as several uncashed paychecks. This made me think that she had been murdered or kidnapped. In another part of last night's dream, I was with Jodie at a writing retreat and we had to perform some kind of public skit and so we decided to do a scene from William Inge's Picnic, a play I did in high school. Of course, I didn't remember the lines, but I winged it and it seemed to go over okay. Then I was stuck on an elevator that wouldn't stop on the floor I needed--it kept whizzing up and up and up until I was sure we would fly through the sky. Clearly, these are anxiety dreams, but I don't know why I keep dreaming about moving. I have no plans to move. I guess the positive part of these type of dreams is that I wake up filled with relief that my rent is affordable and that I want to stay where I am, at least for awhile.

Friday, July 25, 2008

This Week in Windows/Cats

First, we have the creche combined with a stuffed bunny and stuffed dog. Kitty in a store. She was more interested in the white Scottie dog walking by then she was in me.
Sad black cat. No eye contact here either.
Sleeping ginger cat who I woke up.
Another ginger.

This is the nervous dog I pet every morning when he's out. The owner never leaves him water, but he seems well-adjusted though skittish.

Suspicious of me.

The fabulous Emma Carol putting her fur on my clean dishes.

Henri has five good minutes a day when he jumps on the bed while I'm reading and gets petted until Ernesto comes in and scares him off.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I Am Snowing

Had a dream last night that I had a short story published in some obscure literary journal, something like North Dakota Journal of Literature and Kitty Cats and the story I submitted was called, "I Am Snowing." Can't exactly remember what it was about; a sister/brother story maybe? I do remember that I liked it and was happy that it got published. I know I stole that phrase from something I read once. I keep thinking it's from Smilla's Sense of Snow but probably only because of the title of the story. I also have this idea that it's related to a Milan Kundera story somehow. Anyway, somewhere I have read a story where the characters talk about how they're feeling in terms of the weather. I've also been reading Margaret Atwood's collection of related short stories, Moral Disorder and she writes a lot about what it's like to forget about being a child. One story is titled something like "The Headless Horseman" and is about the narrator at age 13 working hard to make this costume of the HH for Halloween and then, once it's done, she can't remember why she was so excited about doing it in the first place. I know that feeling. I have vivid memories of worrying about what it would be like to "grow up." How horrible it would be to give up my imaginary games, my love of dolls, the way I could get lost in this pretend world. I knew I would miss that.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Subway Bestsellers

Sat next to a woman today who was reading one of the Harry Potter books. I wondered if she was reading it b/c she has kids or if she was reading it because she likes the make-believe aspect. I've gotten through maybe two of the Harry Potter books, but didn't become hooked and haven't seen any of the movies. I like magic as much as the next thinking person, but I've never really been into the fantasy/sci fi genre beyond junior high (possibly up to 10th grade). Last week, I saw a woman reading the Bible on the train and had much the same reaction except it's disconcerting to think that she really believes the stuff that goes on in there such as the parting of the Red Sea and resurrections and virgin births and Jonah surviving in the belly of the whale and all the holy saints and angels and demons, etc.

I've been reading the Dawkin's book at lunch and he makes the point that it's a logical fallacy to claim that the argument for and against there being a God is an equal one; since we can't yet definitvely prove the nonexistence of God, except for, like, the facts of science and evolution and hundreds of other clues. He references Bertrand Russell's parable of the celestial teapot:

Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics (of God) to disprove received dogams, rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving abotu the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescops. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disprove, it is intolerable presumeption on the pat of human reason to doubt it. I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlighted age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Wave of Heat

I’ve been walking around with ice cubes in my pants in order to keep cool or lying prone on the floor ala Emma Carol. Thank God for the air conditioner in my bedroom otherwise, I’d have to start shooting up. But, no, there’s no such thing as global warming. Or economic distress. In response to a reporter’s question about the declining economy, ourPresident said, “Well, heck-fire, I’m not an economist! I don’t know!”

I’m reading this nonfiction book called The Sociopath Next Door. The author keeps emphasizing how statistics prove that one in every 24 people is a sociopath. Consequently, I’ve now diagnosed about ten people as sociopaths including Shawn, Angela, other exes from Chicago, my neighbor, the guy working at H & M, Coffee Shop Boy, and Ernesto.

Padhraig let me borrow about twenty of his CDs to add music to my i-pod. I’ve never been a groupie. Don’t know why except it seems like a lot of work to like a guy in a band. They travel all the time, they keep late hours, they’re on the road half the time and are accosted by other girls in tight clothes and loose morals, they probably don’t smell so great after spending two hours onstage in bright lights. Maybe I don’t have enough appreciation of music. I know it’s hard. I admire a person who has rhythm. I dated a guy in high school who was a drummer in a Christian rock band. Really cute, mullet hair cut (this was the 80s), wore blue Converse sneakers, kind of shy, had Jesus in his heart, and was a great kisser. I did have a crush on Michael Stipe because he also seemed shy and introverted and intense and because he was from Georgia and the writer of some lyrics that seem like poetry (and bi-sexual, though 75% gay. I heard him say so to Terry Gross). Oh, and Bruce Springsteen for certain with his blue jeans, sideburns, and love of the Midwest (evidence: the album Nebraska). Also because I love the song and video that goes with “I’m On Fire” and his scratchy, low-down, troubled voice. And then there were the Billy Joel years in middle school. I thought he was political and deep because of Nylon Curtain and all the references to Vietnam (“Remember Charlie. /Remember Baker./ They left their childhood/on every acre”). Maybe I’ll turn over a new leaf and start following a local indie band with wan, thin-armed anemic-looking boys who are so frail it’s difficult for them to hold their instruments without toppling over.

Here is a photo representation of how I feel in the heat, courtesy of a South Philly window:

And my two favorite religious icons in one place. The Virgin Mary and St. Francis, patron saint of cats and birds!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Five Days of Morning Pictures on the Walk to Work

First, a window that competes with mine for Virgin Mary bling. Next, a cat who resembles Ernesto so much that I thought maybe he had escaped under my nose and been recaptured.

My favorite part of 10th Street. Two stone lions plus flowers. Sometimes, I touch the tops of the heads of the lions for good luck. It hasn't yet become a compulsion, but you never know.
This cat then pressed himself so hard against the glass that I could almost feel the thrum of his purr from the other side.
Two more Ernesto look-a-likes, and good friends.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Found Notes, Violence, and Music

I've been doing this thing in the morning where I get up early and write for a tiny, tiny fraction of time (like 15 minutes) and then walk up 10th to get on at the South Street subway stop. That's how I'm adding exercise and music to my day. The song I'm currently re-in-love-with on my i-pod is Rilo Kiley's "The Good That Won't Come Out," from The Execution of All Things. Julie and Danny and I went to see them in Philadelphia years and years and years ago in this small church basement place where everyone was sweating and swaying and you could just feel the retro-Jesus vibes from Sunday school bouncing off the walls in time to the drum beat. You cannot help but love this song. Look it up. You will like it. I promise.

Anyway, today I spotted a piece of lined notebook paper with writing on it lying on the ground and since I have a history of picking up trash and adding it to my decor combined with an intense curiosity, I picked it up to read. I thought it would be a high school note from one girl to another, the kind we used to pass in the halls between classes: "God, geometry class is sooooooooooooo boring!!! How is the Pythagoreum theorem going to help me get a date??" Instead, it read something like: "Once you get this note, walk into the house at 8xx Watkins St. and rape Paul who will be waiting for you. Then make him dress up in a maid outfit and give him a hickey on the left side of his neck. Go on in. Tell us when you are ready for us to show up at your place. He will do what you say." I thought maybe I should save it for police evidence or something, but instead, I shoved it in an empty pizza box in a nearby garbage bin. But now this could be evidence in case someone files a report? It occurs to me now that nobody probably passes notes anymore. They just type text messages. That's too bad. There's a cerain art to folding a note to pass that will be lost and also, it's fun to read an entire note instead of listening to your anatomy lecture or whatever. I never passed notes to boys, only girls, mostly this girl with pretty red hair named Kirsten. She had lived for a few years in Saudia Arabia and I thought that was so cool. We also wrote a book together; some fantasy thing where we would exchange chapters. In 9th grade, I liked unicorns a whole lot.

Should I start writing a weekly blog update about Project Runway ala The Bachelorette? I've never watched a season of it, but the premiere of the fifth one was on last night and I kept flipping between that and Clean House (whenever I watch Clean House, I think, Oh, yeah, right, a chore chart! Good idea! And then I toss a napkin on the floor. I did take LM's advice about my ant problem last night and moved the cat food. That felt like enough housework for one night I put out traps too, but mostly, I just smash heartlessly smash them with a book. And that works for about 5 minutes. Then more arrive. I smash them too. I expect I've killed about 55 out of 13,000 ants, so not too many more to go). However, I don't know if PR would make for good on-the-spot blogging because it's a little harder to make fun of as the contestants actually have to illustrate some creativity and talent by fashioning dresses out of grocery store items (the challenge for last night). The first guy to get booted made a dress out of a shower curtain and a tablecloth. Another girl constructed a necklace type thing from lettuce and cherry tomatoes. She stayed. Just don't know if I want to take on another weekly show, what with my incredibly busy social life.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


That's a joke Jodie and I used to have about a title for a story I was trying to write, or maybe it was my thesis. "Disorderly" would be a double play on words like the guy's job was as an orderly in a hospital, but he was bad at it and his life was in shambles, but it was also a reference to an accidental comment J once made to like the only black guy in the PhD program. She said, "Gee, Verne, your shoes sho is shiny!" I don't think he even noticed, but she felt like dying as soon as the words were out of her mouth. So the title of the story would also be racist as if someone were saying "dis orderly, not dat one."

I only thought of that conversation with Jodie because I was recently trying to figure out why I watch so much Law and Order: SVU (I have to qualify b/c of the many versions. Not a big fan of Criminal Intent or the other one, uh, Law and Order: Judgement Day or whatever it is). I must like it, right? Even though it follows the same predictable pattern. Like a somewhat more sophisticated version of Scooby Doo, quite often the person you would least suspect is the actual culprit (like the grandma, the little girl, the butler). But then I don't like how serious everyone is in the show, with the exception of the tall, craggy-faced wiry guy. Is it that hard to interject humor into hour long dramas? Can't someone on the show lighten up? I suppose I watch it because it doesn't always have a happy ending. Sometimes, the bad gets away with it and justice isn't served. However, the show can also be heavy-handed or not as smart as it thinks it is; trying to complicate issues like stem cell research or the death penalty or terrorism in these ham-handed, obvious ways. Is it just because I like the blue-eyed, unsmiling detective, Detective Elliot Stabler (I looked him up, people, it's not as if I know his name)? Yes, that's a big part of it and also how they don't make the show about a romance or go into the personal lives of the characters too much; it's mostly about telling an interesting story ("ripped from the headlines!!!!").

Read the Mary Gaitskill book before bed last night and though I like it, I did notice one kind of thing that might possibly get irritating if it continues. Like Lorrie Moore, she's good at writing unexpectedly apropos similes such as "Her rage flapped awkwardly away like a duck." Well, that's not a good example, but it's the only one I can find online at the moment. But anyway, so Mary Gaitskill is doing this things in her novel where she has to describe each characters eyes in a very particular way, often using similes. I don't have the book beside me, but she'll write things like "His eyes snapped like two hand puppets fighting in front of a group of British school children..." or "She looked at me with eyes as deep and liquid and slippery as a moray eel..." It's not even that the descriptions are necessarily bad; just that she keeps describing the eyes, the eyes, the eyes.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Nature Shock or I'm Going to Graceland

We saw many animals on our adventures to State College, including a white-tailed bunny rabbit that hopped around Carrie's mom's yard, numerous Holstein cows chewing in the mud next to a rickety fence, horses flicking their tails or pulling the Amish to and fro down the roads, goats doing goaty things, a sheep, and a swooping bat who appeared at twilight two nights in a row to dip into the pool. I miss trees and I miss the hard dark rocks along the sides of 322 and I miss the sound of not-traffic or hollering or car horns at 6 a.m. However, I also remembered how hard it can be there too because it's so insulated and shut off and full of nineteen year old white boys with side-slung baseball hats and low denim jeans.

We spent much of the time out by the pool--I bought a new black one-piece from TJ Maxx that has a little skirt and makes me feel like I'm Esther Williams sans the flowered bathing cap. I didn't in fact forget how to swim, and there are fewer things that feel better than diving down into the deep end and kicking until your fingers brush the bottom of the pool and then shooting to the surface.

Made friends with Carrie's college roommate, Kathryn, she of the pretty arm tattoos and long hair. She lives in Germantown with her boyfriend and works in the library at the Friend's School as well as being a licensed massage therapist for pregnant women. She shared with us several useful tips for massages and finding pressure points on the feet.
But now I'm back to concrete and treeless sidewalks and that's okay too, I guess, because there are still lots of things I like about the city; one of which is the number of slinky cats I see while walking to the subway. This morning was a four cat morning. I always stop to tap the screen. Some cats like this and will bump their heads against the window. Others, like one this morning, will hiss at you, though that is rare.

Also went to the library at lunch and checked out an tall armload of books including novels by two of my favorite short story writers, Mary Gaitskill and Amy Bloom. I may have already read the MG one (Veronica), but that's the good thing about having a spotty memory; I get to enjoy things again and again. Also checked out a collection of writers interviewing writers published by Believer magazine and a nonfiction book by Richard Dawkins called The God Delusion. Do we like him or not? I feel like I read The Selfish Gene by him but maybe I just thought about doing it and never got around to it. Finished up my shameful SK book and was disappointed, though I somehow raced through the last 500 pages of it. I must remember to add this great line I read in MG book--something about an author talking about her book on the radio and how the narrator pictures her head as a giant inflated balloon with a smiley face drawn on it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Amy Winehouse Lives In South Philly

I swear I saw her today on the subway--same, highly-piled, pitch black dyed hair, pointy face and darkly rimmed eyes. She was wearing a black and white checked suit with a pink blouse that had a ruffle down the front and headphones. Lots of make-up, painted fingernails, and a tag on the belt of her skirt for Jefferson Hospital. No discernible drug paraphernalia that I could spot from my seat. A man also brought a tiny dog on in a cage and this one little boy on the train could not stop talking to it and getting on his hands and knees on the floor to stick his fingers in the cage. I couldn't really see what kind of dog it was, but it's had on a pink collar tag that flashed across the car. I like taking the subway except I still don't understand why people bum rush at the City Hall stop--like, they always try to get onto the car before others have exited. But you can't. So, just stand back and let people off first. I try to be the example.

Going to State College tonight for ArtsFest Weekend. Happy Valley. Maybe I'll stop by and see our old building owner at the Heather Bloom, Helen, or knock on Carl's door, the former crack addict turned manager. That was a great building. I had two bedrooms and a sun porch and a huge living room and dining room for like $300 a month b/c Jodie and I were the building managers. Why didn't I just stay in SC with Adam and teach classes? Well, b/c I was afraid of becoming PK. I suppose I could've applied to the PhD program. But I definitely didn't want to study lit and had no brilliant ideas to carry a thesis in rhetoric, so...So now I live in South Philly with Amy Winehouse, punk rocker turned receptionist.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Don't Write This

Though my own writing impulse is lost in some psychic abyss, I still find it quite easy to identify the things I don't like in writing or the mistakes you can make in a story. Here's a short list:

1. Having a first person narrator who turns out to be dead at the end. Like, the last line is: "And then he shot me dead..." Or, "And that's how I died that day." Because, really, how are you telling the story then?

2. Cramming 15 characters into a ten page story like this: "Tommy opened the door. 'Hi, Timmy,' he said. Tony was in the kitchen, blending the drinks with Rich. 'Come on in,' called Joe from the living room where he was playing cards with Jack, Jim, Todd, and Dan. 'Sam called,' announced the man with the blue suit from the top of the stairs. The dog, Jeff, barked. 'We're in for it now,' said a familiar voice."

3. Anything that's too directly derivative, like the fake writing exercise I did the other day after reading too much Joyce Carol Oates: "Mommy's singing again in that high-pitched ghostly voice like a train whistle in the night. She sings and sways in her white nightgown in the kitchen, her eyes shut tight as if against some bright light. Then she pulls me close, her breath hot and sweet on my neck. Daddy's gone. Where did Daddy go? Gone. Gone. Gone. Long gone now and there will be no blue pick-up in the drive way, country music blues bleeding from the windows, waking us up at night, his big loud wolf voice howling, Little pigs, little pigs, let me come in!"

4. And this is perhaps personal preference, but for literary fiction, don't submit fantasy or sci-fi. That means your story can't contain any elves or unicorns or hobbits or dragons or swords or elves on dragons with swords chasing unicorn-riding hobbits.

5. Not a big fan of the "crazy narrator" story. Unreliable: fine. Nutso: no good. That's really really hard to pull off and so it usually just sounds fake and stupid and often ends with some kind of cliche like the narrator making plans to escape his padded cell.

6. Third person stories where the point of view shifts for seemingly no reason. I haven't come up with an example because it's more subtle and takes longer to see. What happens is that you'll be reading a story and think that it's third-person limited (b/c that's how it's told for the first 10 pages), and then suddenly, you'll get a random interior thought from a periphery character; often one that doesn't really impact the story and so that's even more confusing.

7. You're also not supposed to write stories about writers, or about cancer, or about break-ups or about mental illness and I have tried to write all of those stories.

8. Bad nonfiction masquerading as fiction. Often easily distinguished as there are no real descriptions, lots of telling rather than showing, and a lack of the kind of deviation from the "truth" that would make the story better.

9. Stories where the narrator is an inanimate object or an animal. Luke was telling us this weekend about a girl in one of his workshops who was writing a novel told from the point of view of a tree. This was from the same girl who turned in a story called "Sweat Beads;" referencing the sweat between the breasts of the female character. She was from another county and often used auto translate before turning in her work, which led to sentences like, "We were windowing him like you and saw him philandering with her."

10. Not really interested in sound effects in writing.

More bad writing from bad writing contests:

"Her breasts were like ripe strawberries, but much bigger, a completely different color, not as bumpy, and without the little green things on top."

"Rain -- violent torrents of it, rain like fetid water from a God-sized pot of pasta strained through a sky-wide colander, rain as Noah knew it, flaying the shuddering trees, whipping the whitecapped waters, violating the sodden firmament, purging purity and filth alike from the land, rain without mercy, without surcease, incontinent rain, turning to intermittent showers overnight with partial clearing Tuesday."

"Through the gathering gloom of a late-October afternoon, along the greasy, cracking paving-stones slick from the sputum of the sky, Stanley Ruddlethorp wearily trudged up the hill from the cemetery where his wife, sister, brother, and three children were all buried, and forced open the door of his decaying house, blissfully unaware of the catastrophe that was soon to devastate his life."

And this is my new favorite artists/comic person that Luke introduced me to this weekend, Don Nace. Soft Skull published his book, Drawn Out. Amazing and horrible and distressing and funny.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Final Rosetta Stone

Both men are completely in love with Deeyawna and yet she’s still in love with Graham Cracker. She will most certainly pick Jason or else run off with the host, Chris Harrison. Jason stands in the doorway naked, showing us his chest and his ab muscles and photos of his son. See, he’s weird. He’s also super tan. He reminds me of someone—can’t think of who…Maybe every guy I ever dated in high school who I thought was really sweet but who made me instantly sleepy. We will have to deal with recap after recap—that’s the first ninety seven minutes of the show and then the last three minutes will stretch out into

Now Jesse is being coached and told not to say “dawg” right away. His hair drives me insane—it flips up at the end like a little boy in a commercial for oatmeal. “I’m so into you, that I just am like so radically charged right now, so much so that I’m not even thinking about taking a crap or snowboarding or nothing right now—wait, hold, I might have to—no, it passed. High five, D!”

For some bizarro reason, she’s bringing both of the men home at the same time. She has the giantist framed collage of photos that I’ve ever seen; like at least 500 photos crammed into one frame the size of a roadside billboard. She’s describing the two men to the family and the way she’s describing them makes them both sound like total losers. Well, Jason has been divorced and he still breast feeds his children…And Jesse is a 26 year old snowboard with long hair who is totally opposite from me.

Jason arrives first with a basket of goodies like Little Red Riding Hood and flowers. He could’ve shaved before he showed up. How many dogs do they have? About sixteen. The sister Chrissy is so ready to take over for Deeyawna if she gives up Jason. She just kissed him on the mouth with tongue. Now she’s taking him outside to explain how hard it is to be the less cuter sister and how she “don’t want to see my sister get her heart broke again” (they’re from Georgia). Why don’t someone fix up her hairs or somethin’? She is on national TV. Now Jason will talk to Deeyawna’s dad to explain how he is in love with his daughter. Dad can’t stop staring at Jason’s hair line—is he losing his hair? Jason has asked the dad if it’s okay if he can ask Deeyawna to marry him. Dad says, “Well, hell, boy, you’re the first person who has ever asked me that.” They’re having a staring contest and may either kiss or punch each other in the jaw. Oh, hug. Aw, he’s cute. He just said, I can’t keep my hands off of you (to Deeyawna, not the dad). Dad tells Deeyawna that Jason is a gem of a guy. Oh, dear, dad’s falling for him too. I can’t wait to see how disappointed they’re going to be in Jesse.

Okay, here comes Jesse…What will he be wearing? A caftan? Oh, well, at least he brought something in a crumpled red tissue paper and he looks like he just rolled out of bed. Chrissy hugs him too. Well, at least he got his hair cut. He says, “I have long hair usually. I snow board a lot.” Huh? And luckily, he’s wearing the gigantic watch. He’s trying to explain snowboarding and how it’s a great time…And uh, he really likes the snow…And how he wants to wake up in the snow…And uh…Chrissy says that she saw it more with Jason than with Jesse. Dad asks Jesse what he will do after the butterflies leave, will he be ready for a real commitment? Jesse says, Uh, I like snowboarding and I like butterflies in the snow and when the two…Um…GET ME OUT OF HERE! He drives off in a huge Jeep. Jesse screwed up because he didn’t seem to be enough in love with Deeyawna and he didn’t ask for her hand in marriage as though we are back in the days of chivalry. Well, it is the South.

Deeyawna keeps trying to pretend that she might like Jesse, but we know the truth.

Now the two guys have to come back and meet the rest of her family. This is so boring. I don’t care about the family. Deeyawna’s jaya (grandma?) has decided she will pick the guy for her granddaughter. .Jesse shows up wearing the same outfit that he had on the day before. Why does everyone in the family keep saying how they’re going to grill the guys? Why is that effective? Jesse and Jason hug hello. This is so stupid. Jason is doing okay, but Jesse looks like he wants to die. She’s holding hands with both of them. This is so dumb. Jason is totally dissing Jesse by saying that he’s not as “rad” as Jesse. Oh, God, Jesse is teaching grandma and grandma how to give “knucks.” There is no way that he’s going to get picked. Not when the other guy is asking the grandparents what the secret is to having a happy marriage.

The sisters feel sorry for Jesse and are telling him that he needs to rock it out. Jesse is now making his move and asking the dad if it’s okay if he can ask her to marry him. Good move, Jesse. Jesse’s telling some long convoluted story about his own dad gave him the stamp of approval, he keeps saying, It would mean the world to me. He has said that same phrase like 400 times. He just gave dad knucks!! This is ghastly. When will this meal end? Oh, great, now they’re making the guys take shots. Jesse says how much it sucks to have to share the girl, “It’s like sharing a cupcake. .I want the whole thing.” Gross, Deeyawna’s hugging both of them. Jesse gives grandma knucks again. TERRIBLE! Please, make this part be over. Please! I just talked to Julie and she’s so nervous that this whole thing is a ploy so that we will be shocked when she chooses Jesse. I told her that she has to name her baby after whomever Deeyawna picks.

Now we have to watch Jeremy come back so that Deeyawna can explain to him why she didn’t pick him. Another stupid twist. He walks in and says, “I have to talk to you. I have to talk to you.” They’re holding hands. He says, “I feel like you’re making a big mistake letting me go. You have made me have feelings and I haven’t ever had these feelings before because I am only part human and the rest is mechanical.” She’s sobbing and dripping snot on his hands. She’s telling him that it’s not in her heart right now to be with him because she feels something more for the two other guys. And also, she doesn’t like him all that much, to be honest. Yes, yes, get on with it. He kisses her on the cheek and now she must walk him out. This is ridiculous. They must have just needed to kill more time. Now he’s lying on the driveway, crying. He will become a serial killer now. He won’t leave the property. The cops are showing up to drag him off while he yells, Stella!

Okay, now are the two dates with the two men and Jesse wears a green striped shirt and yellow cartoon pants. Make an effort, dude. They’re going up into a helicopter because they haven’t done that in two episodes. He does look like he probably smells really good though; don’t know why. She’s taking him to a secluded island so that they can hang out all day. He’s pretending that this is the best thing that ever happened to him. “We get off the plane, and it’s just like the two of us.” Except for the entire camera crew. At least he doesn’t press his thumb into her chin every time they kiss.

Oh, god, he’s wearing flip flops on their evening date. I know because he just kicked them off. He’s giving her a book of his thoughts, the exact same kind of book you give your sorority sister when she is inducted into Tri Delta. I’m not kidding. He’s written it all in blue Magic Marker. “Deeyawna, thanks so much for taking the time to be with me…You impressed my family and I fell in love…You are my soulmate…And I’m ready to settle down and spend the rest of my life with you and I love you and I want to love you for the rest of my life and the rest of your life and I love you so much, please pick me, dear God, please pick me because for the rest of my life, I want you to pick me and if you do, I will love you and so we will be together for the rest of our goddamn lives. Luv ya, J.” I’m hardly making any of this up.

Julie is flipping out because she thinks this is all a ploy and that they’re making Jesse seem so lame b/c she picks him in the end. I had to tell her that if she does pick Jesse, then she is a total bonehead and they deserve to be together.

On her date with Jason, they’re swimming with sharks. Both of them are freaked out. These are nurse sharks, dude. They’re not putting you in a tank with great whites. Nurse sharks eat plankton and they are very polite about it even. The even ask the planktons dad’s if they can have their permission to eat them first. Jason has a little surprise for her and it’s a game of...It’s a board game that he made—something about 8 Roses. Cute, it’s taking them both through their dates that they’ve had together. Now he’s just telling her that he loves her with all of his heart. Oh, dear, I’m starting to get convinced that Julie is right. He is too perfect. She won’t pick him.

Watch, they’re going to get the rings now. Jason will show up with a white gold gigantic diamond ring hand-crafted by her ancient jawya out of the bones of her dead mother and Jesse will show up with a ring he found in a box of Cracker Jacks. And she’ll pick Jesse. Here we go. Jason is picking out a ring that’s made by fertile Greek women and matches her exact personality and Jesse is doing eeny-meeny Minnie moe. He picks a cubic zirconian ring from Zales. Meanwhile, Deeyawna is doing her hair with a crimper. Jason has a hot body. Jesse wears a stupid hat and he’s writing his vows on piece of crumpled notebook paper. Why is he writing down the word “cheesecake?” Is he seriously going to propose to her with a word that rhymes with “cheesecake?”

Okay, well, I’ve been talking to Julie through this whole break up thing. She went ahead and sent Jason home. Why? Because he’s too perfect for her. He’s in shock in the limo. He even has his son in the trunk—his son was going to pop out and run toward her yelling, “Mommy!” He’s clutching the ring in a box. He says, “I was so ready to be in love. She wanted something that I can’t offer her. An alternative life. Or she thinks she wants it.” He’s being very measured about this whole thing. He says the only for sure thing he has is his boy. Little does he know that the ex-wife has run off with the little boy to Bora Bora. With Jeremy. Well, I officially wasted how many hours of my life? Julie said she has to go throw up now.

And how many times do we have to watch this stupid preview for I Survived Japanese Game Show or Wipe-out?
Well, now at least we’ll get to see what stupid vows he’s written on that piece of paper. He didn’t say anything about cheesecake. He didn’t even rhyme it with Deeyawna. They are both saying how they are each other’s soulmates. He does have cute sideburns. She says that she loves him. He says that he loves her too. I am sure that her dad is kicking himself right now for now getting rid of Jesse right away. Now comes the stupid soundtrack and the montage of photos of them doing dumb shit. I wonder how long they will stay together? Two weeks? Three? I guess he’s cute. What is wrong with me? He gave her knucks like fourteen thousand times. I had no idea they had so many dates. Oh, it’s really just two dates stretched out to look like 100. She says, “I cannot believe I’m going to marry the guy with the pink shoelaces!” Don’t worry. You won’t.

Brooklyn Baby

Okay, so I guess I'll just move to Brooklyn and start over again for the 4th time. I love the wide sidewalks and the old walk-ups and the people-watching is unbelievable; like, duh, no duh, but it amazes me every time. While waiting for L & L to meet me at Port Authority, I saw at least ten people in a row that I wanted to take pictures of (though that's rude, I'm sure and touristy). And I heart the bodegas where you can buy everything from organic white vinegar to Virgin de Guadalupe candles. I got lucky too because L & L's neighbor were out of town and they were watching the cat (Samson, a big fat gray cat with a skinny tall and skinny legs. He slept with me and bit me on the nose in the morning, very gently) and so I got to sleep in their huge comfortable bed. On Friday, Liz and I went shopping for sneakers for me and some Hispanic old man grabbed my hand on the escalator, us going up, him going on the down side, and he said, Boo! I said, Never, ever, ever do that to anyone again. He said, I'm sorry, mami! I didn't scream, but did experience that jolt of adrenaline in my veins like when you almost get into a car accident.

Friday night, we stayed in and drank wine and I forced Liz to set up her own Facebook page and then we met the upstairs boy neighbor and sort of watched Bladerunner and that's really all that needs to be said about that.

Saturday, Liz and I made it to Beacon's Closet where nothing looked right and we tried on shoes at a bunch of other boutiques and went to the Farmer's Market and saw tons of babies and dogs. That's what Brooklyn seems chock full of--at least Park Slope--babies and dogs and dog babies and baby doggies. Saturday night, they had a garden party in their back yard and we slapped mosquitoes and ate cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Jeff and Carla showed up and it was good to see them--they're exactly the same in a really great way. Then I skinned my knee on the stairs and went to bed post haste.

Went to brunch at a Mexican restaurant where I ate cactus (well, most of it I picked out of the omelet, but some of it, I ate) and Liz picked at her banana pancake and kept insisting it was French toast. I helped them have their wedding pre-Cana or whatever it's called by having them talk about chores. That led to a fight. Not really.

Said bye-bye and hopped on the Greyhound and had a hellish two hours squeezed in next to a large woman who wouldn't stop singing along to her ipod, snapping her fingers, and bumping into me every five seconds. But I'm back now. Back in Philly where my neighbors continued to set off fireworks long into the night. I'll post pictures of the weekend later.

Oh, one more thing. Sunday, on our way to the Q line in Brooklyn, we passed that guy from Entourage sitting on the front stoop with some little girl (his eleven year old girlfriend? Models are really young these days, you know). He was wearing a gray t-shirt and holding a piece of paper like he was waiting for a realtor to show up or something. We exchanged eye contact, but I pretended I didn't know who he was, as if that would somehow compel him to chase after me and ask for my number.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Thanks, Dot

Here's my newest article for Philadelphia Maven. It's called "If Dorothy Parker Were on Facebook." I wrote it after recently reading Parker's short story, "The Telephone Call" which is great and wonderful and so sadly true of my experiences. My deadline for the next issue was Tuesday. Whoops! Guess I better get cracking on that. I've started it, but it needs to be wrapped. Okay, I will do that today, cause I'm going to see L & L in Park Slope for the firecracker weekend.