Tuesday, May 22, 2012


The other night I sat down at my desk. I used to always write at night, often very late, but the last few years I've taken to writing early in the morning and going to bed before midnight. Lately, though, I've returned to my nocturnal ways. And it works. 

Writing at night: all those hours before you in the dark. Nothing in the way. And the room dark, and outside dark, and just the spotlight of the lamp and the screen, the desk a small stage. I light a candle every time and start the music (I'll listen to the same album hundreds of times when I'm writing, usually something instrumental like Sigur Ros or Amiina or Kammerflimmer Kollektief, lately it's been Yo La Tengo's They Shoot, We Score.) My notebooks around me. The little flame flickering. Just like I always have, from Brooklyn to Iowa City to Portland to Berkeley to Portland to Oberlin to Virginia. It is the most familiar thing in the world, this small pretty space in the dark. And more than anything else I know it feels like home.


Monday, May 21, 2012


Pawing through a 2005 notebook I come across notes from a Stegner workshop.
Says John L'Heureux: BEGIN at a point where life has been lived in a certain way up to now, but something is about to change it—close enough to the denouement as possible, far enough back to gather up all the events and changes and explain why they're this way.
Then it says underneath (RE: NOVELS.) Which I'm not sure is about that or the next note. Either way: this is helpful to me right now.

Oh JLX, I do miss you. The man also pluralized "spouse" as "spice."

Monday, February 27, 2012


This "Downton Abbey" thing. I'm watching with 50 percent interest and 50 percent sense of obligation to keep up with the conversation and 50 percent for Maggie Smith. I love epic television shows, especially to watch in bed, and especially those without too much head-stomping and woman-assaulting (those months of "The Sopranos," "The Wire," and "Boardwalk Empire" were a nightmare factory.) And I loved "Big Love," so, you know, I can get sucked into the melodrama of socially restrictive, kind-of-incestuous white people trying to hoard their questionably gained fortunes. I want to believe. I really do. But this is the show everyone is twittering about?


Drink every time Cora does the head-bowed eyes-tilted up lips-closed smile. This is one of her two expressions, the other one being when she forgets and actually raises her head like a normal person and looks concerned. Probably surprised at the view.

Drink every time the Earl has an outburst of righteous rage as he once again makes an ethically obvious decision. It's like the President at the climax of an American action movie, every time. Except on a tiny, sputtering English scale.

Drink every time you see Matthew's mouth poised partially open, his tongue hovering shyly just inside like a little pink fish. (Once you notice, this happens hideously often.)

Drink every time someone says "ma-MA" or "pa-PA." Then shoot me.

I think watching the hopelessly addictive "Manor House" some years back may have skewed me hard. It's the PBS reality show set in an Edwardian manor in the same period. After you watch the poor staff working 16-hour-days to the point of total physical and nervous breakdown, while the upstairs family say things like "I've never felt so cared for in my life" and take to calling their tween son "Master Jaunty" (seriously),  the shine really goes off the landed gentry. 

Also it probably doesn't help that right before "Downton" I watched season one of "Homeland." Say what you will about its politics (I have a whole abandoned post that attempts to but I gave up), that show was so debilitatingly exciting that anything afterward was doomed to feel limp and banal. I quaked through the finale. Before that, it was two seasons of "Treme," a show full of pleasure and unruliness and ramshackle joy.

Speaking of which: is there any pleasure in Downton Abbey? I am hard pressed to think of a situation where people actually seem to enjoy themselves for more than a moment. (Maybe Edith driving the tractor.) It is all genteel false smiles, or small suppressed private smiles, and the rare wicked smirk. How anyone's Anglophilia survives the show intact is beyond me.

I mean, I like it. I'll keep watching it in bed until PBS takes away the free stream. The widespread fervor just confuses me.

Monday, February 20, 2012


I prefer to go to movies knowing as little as possible about their plots, preferably nothing, so I went into Mosquita y Mari with only a few keywords I'd scanned from the local film festival program--teenage girls, Los Angeles, Chicana, queer. I liked the sound of it but what is more predictable than an indie-film coming-of-age story? I came expecting it to be decent, flawed, another sympathetic sigh of a lesbian movie.

Instead, it was just good, good, good, all the way through, the kind of movie that fills your chest so the weight lasts for hours afterward. The film is about two fifteen-year-old girls in the Huntington Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. They go to high school, they study together, they find an abandoned chop shop that becomes their secret hangout, they pile onto a dirt bike, they share headphones, they wear tight black jeans every day, and they fall into an intense friendship. I have never seen a film that captured this kind of teen girl friendship so perfectly, the love and fascination and tension and jealousy of it.

The word "gay" never appears. None of the same old tropes of queer coming-of-age stories are recycled here. Instead a whole complex world, personal and cultural, engulfs you. I don't want to say anything about the plot or even post the trailer here because it contains some of my favorite moments in the film which are so subtle. But go see it. It is pitch-perfect in its nuance and understated intensity.

Monday, January 9, 2012


I am infatuated with the name of Restore our Future, who make attack ads for Mitt Romney. Restore our Future! This phrase is fantastic (literally) on so many levels:

1. How can you restore something that has not existed yet? I love the idea of the future as this object we built some time back--decades ago, presumably, if it has deteriorated to the point of requiring restoration, like a Victorian house or vintage automobile or Renaissance painting. The future is old, people. Needs a good touchup.

2. To restore a future, we would have to have had it first. And then it wouldn't be a future anymore, would it? It would be a present or a past.

3. Although in a way, the future is a real thing as much as conceptual art is. We all construct it every day, individually and collectively, as a people and as affinity groups and as a nation. The future is an idea that has been used as a tool for us and against us for a very long time, depending on which "us" one is at which time. "Our future" has been used to to establish college funds and medical research, and "our future" has been used to nearly exterminate the Native Americans. For something that does not yet--and never will--tangibly exist, "the future" has a profound influence on decisions that affect the present.

4. Which "our"? Which future? There have been so many.

5. But maybe that deliberate ambiguity speaks subliminally to the my more than the our. How many of us would like to restore our own future? How many people would love to go back and polish up their idea of what their life would turn out to be, to have everything still possible, to brighten and retouch that vision as if it had not aged a day but was still new, still now? What this imperative asks for is to give me back my idea of what life was going to be like. It's a bitter demand. It's rallying cry full of disappointment and indignant nostalgia.

Hilariously, one of the largest donors to Restore our Future is a guy who made his millions betting on the collapse of the housing industry. Also, the chairman of New Balance, noted.

I live in Williamsburg, Virginia, a town that fervently and aggressively wiped out an enormous portion of its physical present and future in the 1930s by reverting (recolonizing?) much of the town to the year 1774. Evacuated of its residents, cleared of all 19th- and 20th-century structures except reconstructions, Colonial Williamsburg™ guards a past that is constantly rubbing awkwardly against the present and battling the future (as time weathers paint and erodes brick and renders the longtime Thomas Jefferson reenactor increasingly anachronistic as he ages away from a plausibly 1774-aged Jefferson and into the next bygone century)--but I'll write that essay elsewhere.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


 Happy (estimated) birthday to my sweet Emmett, born circa January 2006 somewhere around Tillamook, Oregon. I took him home "to foster him" on September 8, 2006, when he was eight months old. In the rescue business they call this a "foster failure." 

I couldn't have failed better.

I don't know what else to say except thank you, Emmett, for being the perfect road trip buddy, polite party guest (and host), woods wanderer, and reading armrest. You changed my life. I'm so glad you're in it.

I don't blame you for not wanting to fetch. It's stupid to keep bringing something back to a person who just throws it away again. 
Happy sixth, little friend. Please stick around for another dozen if you can.