Sunday, March 28, 2010

After two nights of watching singer-songwriters...

I want to MARRY a singer-songwriter.


I understand that they are just people, with all the indignities and imperfections of regular people. They put their pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us. But they also play instruments, and write artful, intelligent song lyrics, and then sing them. And they've got such nice forearms that they show off while strumming their guitars. Many of them have tattoos. And history. I love tattoos and history.

While watching Joe Pug, Ciara said, "I just want to take him home and feed him." I was like, "Get in line." (Hopefully, Joe Pug likes cold cereal.)

This weekend, Birds on a Wire came to Pullman, and I discovered some new musicians that I'd never heard before. Now I want to tell my slog! Here are two videos that will do a little to recreate the magic of Joe Pug and Justin Townes Earle. But if these men ever come to your town, go see them! Please?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Better words from better voices.

(Carson McCullers made uneven bangs cool, which I appreciate especially after my most recent haircut.)

One of the many, many (many) brain-breaking facts about trying to be a writer is that you must always and forever live in the awareness that there are writers out there who offer better words from better voices. It is a fact of life. Sometimes, it makes me want to weep with joy because there are such good brains out there making sense of my life for me. Other times, it makes me want to chew off my own fingers if only to keep myself from ever trying to compete. Surely I'm not the only person who feels this way. As a slogger, I've found that every so often, I want to shut up and give my slog over to a brilliant voice.

On my trip to Bellingham, I started reading Carson McCullers. She is best known for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (which I haven't read), but in one of the many used bookstores, I found the slimmest, trimmest paperback copy of her book The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories. Now, I think "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe" may be one of the best short story titles I've ever heard. And in it, McCullers says this:

"First of all, love is a joint experience between two persons--but the fact that it is a joint experience between two persons does not mean that it is a similar experience to the two people involved. There are the lover and the beloved, but these two come from different countries. Often the beloved is only the stimulus for all the stored-up love which has lain quiet within the lover for a long time hitherto. And somehow every lover knows this. He feels in his soul that his love is a solitary thing. He comes to know a new, strange loneliness and it is the knowledge that makes him suffer. So there is only one thing for the lover to do. He must house his love within himself: he must create for himself a whole new inward world--a world intense and strange, complete in himself. Let it be added here that this lover about whom we speak need not necessarily be a young man saving for a wedding ring--this lover can be man, woman, child, or indeed any human creature on this earth.

"Now, the beloved can also be of any description. The most outlandish people can be the stimulus for love. A man may be a doddering great-grandfather and still love only the strange girl he saw in the streets of Cheehaw one afternoon two decades past. The preacher may love a fallen woman. The beloved may be treacherous, greasy-headed, and given to evil habits. Yes, and the lover may see this as clearly as anyone else--but that does not affect the evolution of his love one whit. A most mediocre person can be the object of a love which is wild, extravagant, and beautiful as the poison lilies of the swamp. A good man be the stimulus for a love both violent and debased, or a jabbering madman may bring about in the soul of someone a tender and simple idyll. Therefore, the value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover himself.

"It is for this reason that most of us would rather love than be loved. Almost everyone wants to be the lover. And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being loved is intolerable to many. The beloved hates and fears the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare his beloved. The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him only pain."

Now. What do you think of this? Emily Dickinson said, "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry." I guess when I read this passage, I felt physically as if the top of my head were taken off. Not because it says something that I didn't already know on some deep, inarticulate, emotional level, but because McCullers was so able to order and articulate it. I think that's what a good writer does--shows the nature of our lives and impulses to us--like a big, eloquent mirror. Reading McCullers is like staring into a big, highly verbal mirror.

As the poison lilies in the swamp,


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Working hard? Or hardly working?"

In college, my friend Andrew gave me a framed copy of the image above. Can you read it? It says, "Procrastination: Hard work often pays off after time, but laziness always pays off now." For five years, it has been on my desk. Often, when I should be working on a short story, or a lesson plan, or--Heaven knows--a slog post, I look at the picture instead, and I puzzle over the following questions:

1. Is that man standing in a real place? One that actually exists? Where is it?
2. If it is a real place, and it's as high as it appears to be, how cold must it be where he is? Shouldn't it be snowy? He's above mountains! And clouds!
3. What does this picture have to do with procrastination? Or laziness? Is the message supposed to be that if you don't procrastinate, you can climb this mountain? And what if I've got no interest in climbing mountains? I'm terrified of where he is.
4. Why are his shorts SO SHORT??

Then, an hour has gone by, I've done no work, and I start to think I might feel a little bit hungry, and just like that: productivity gone. Truly, if there was a Procrastination Olympics, I could win. But I wouldn't, because I'd be too lazy to turn in the registration form.

Now, I've got this new TV plan. I've got celluloid dreams (not cellulite dreams--certainly not). With this new goal, you know what two personality traits will absolutely not help me on my way? Procrastination and Laziness. Which means I've got to act against my instincts, just like Dexter Morgan. I've been watching a lot of Dexter, lately. Have you seen it? It chills my bones, and also fascinates me. Dexter has to work against his instincts in order to not be a sociopath serial killer, so, we've got a lot in common, obviously.

The point is that I'm consciously trying to be a different, more industrious person. It's hard to change when I've got 27 years practicing one pattern of behavior, but wanting the job I really want is a very good reason to change. And lately, I've had a lot of work to do. Like, a lot. I've been scrambling. I've been stressed. It has not been graceful. But, I haven't totally hated it. Which is surprising! I'm changing.

For proof, look at these text messages from last night:

Mom: "Life going any better yet?"
Me: "Yes, thanks. Digging myself out of the hole. Is it weird that it's been kind of fun?"
Mom: "No, it's usually rewarding when you work hard at seeing difficult or challenging things through."

I think most adults wouldn't need this explained to them. But I did. Because, honestly, it's kind of new to me to enjoy working hard. I hope I can keep it up.

But, I'll keep the Procrastination picture on my desk--if only because I really like the man's shorty shorts.

(more) Productively,

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I suck because...

Should I count the ways?

1. I haven't blogged in eons.
2. I got a haircut that, when I wear my hair in a ponytail, looks like a sad, bad bowl cut.
3. For dinner, I ate crackers and mayonnaise.
4. I cannot do math.
5. My garbage stinks but I don't have the energy to take it outside.
6. My Dexter DVDs are insanely overdue.
7. I haven't blogged in eons.

I do have some good news: I fell in love with a new city. The Ham. Or, Bellingham, to you laypersons. Here are some photos, with brief explanations of what I saw when I took the blog out for a walk.

1. Here I am in Fairhaven (charming neighborhood of Bellingham) with Anne, and a minivan that looks exactly (and I mean exactly) like the car I was driven around in as a child. The sentence I think I heard most when I was young was, "We need to run errands." And errands, friends, were always run in a white minivan with wood paneling. When I was five and I stole a candy bar, the white minivan with wood paneling was my getaway car (though neither the van, nor my mother, had any idea).

2. Have you ever seen anything happier, or more enticing, than a used bookstore so full of books that they're stacked knee-high into every possible corner? I cannot begin to describe how this place suited me. I want to live there, and never leave it, and have someone bring me fish and chips every day. Some people might think it looks like an inky, musty death-trap. I say: Heaven. In Fairhaven!

3. This, here, is a double-decker bus out of which are sold fish & chips, and ice cream. Upstairs, on the deck, are some mannequins, and doll heads, and cut-outs of human faces. No big deal. The bus smells very enticing, unlike most busses, with nice looking people sitting outside, and I really wanted to go in. But we'd just eaten a huge breakfast, so I could only look longingly from the sidewalk. At one point, Robert said, "You must really like that bus. You keep looking at it." I did really like that bus.

4. On several of the nights in Bellingham, we ended up at the Ranch Room, which features a jukebox, a Sopranos pinball game, and a 24-hour diner. At one point, I slid the camera across the table to Robert, so he could take a picture of dear Anne and me. We smiled, he snapped the photo, and said, "Turned out good." Then he handed the camera back, and I saw that this was the photo he'd taken. Thanks.

5. Look, I'm no photographer (as this blog frequently proves). I'm just a standard, pose-and-smile picture-taker. So, I feel enormously proud for capturing this moment. We were on our way to the antique mall (Bellingham is full of antique malls, used book stores, vintage boutiques, and other stores that specialize in cool stuff that is old and cheap), and the entrance features this curious banner: "Fantastic! Congress of Oddities." Which is just a striking statement, and one that is often an appropriate description of my life, and certainly seems appropriate to the photo above, featuring Matt and Robert.

In conclusion, Bellingham is my kind of town. And the friends that live there are my kind of people. And the friend that got stuck road-tripping with me out there--well, he doesn't believe in sharing drinks, which I find odd. But he does believe in loaning out treasured CDs, and not guilt-tripping people when they need to make yet another pit stop, so he's okay too.

Sloggishly, sluggishly, sheepishly yours,


Friday, March 12, 2010

Where I'm Blogging From.

(This is the moss on my roof. I think it's lovely, and appropriate for St. Paddy's Day!)

Dear Readers (are you still there? are you? I wouldn't blame you if you went away--I did. Sorry! It's been Spring Break over here in the Spider House*),

Question: Have you ever done the wrong thing for all the right reasons? Have you? Take last night, for example. I did the wrong thing: I stayed out until 6 am. Six! I mean, we're not in Spain, amigos! And I'm not twenty-one! 6 am is for younger people--people whose to-do lists don't read like mine: "Snow tires; ceiling mold; taxes."

But, I did it for all the right reasons! See, I'm blowing this town in a few short months, which means that everything that happens here has the added sweetness of not lasting forever. One thing I'll absolutely miss, and mourn, and grieve for, is nights like last night, when Nikiforos made an out-and-out feast--at 5 o'clock in the morning.

At 3 am, we went to Winco. Winco at 3 am is weird. Even weirder? Our shopping list: 1 whole chicken; 1 onion; chicken broth; jasmine rice; fresh thyme (also, stewed tomatoes, but Nem just had those in the back of his car. I still don't know why. Who drives around with stewed tomatoes?)

Me (at the checkout): "Are you sure we don't just want a frozen pizza?"

Oh, no, we did not just want a frozen pizza. Because the chicken and rice and tomato sauce that Nick made was so good (if slow to cook)! And then Nem brought over his homemade, still hot-from-the-oven, challah bread. Because, well, apparently people bake bread in the middle of the night and then bring it over to their friends' houses. Think of all we've been missing by sleeping! I don't ever want to sleep again. (Except today. Today I really want to sleep. I'm exhausted.)

Even though I had to walk home this morning, still in high heels, past my gym which had already opened for the day and had people inside it, working out; and even though I haven't accomplished any of the exciting projects on my to-do list--sorry ceiling mold!, it was worth it. I mean, these things do not happen every day. What are the chances that in the next place I go, people will make middle-of-the-night feasts and fresh bread? And even if they do make delicious chicken-and-rice dishes, what are the odds that they'll be as generous, warm, culinary and nocturnal, as the friends I've made here?

Slim to none, I'm afraid. I'm sure that new friends in new places will have their own blessings and behaviors that I'll embrace, but their food won't taste as good. Which means that while I'm here, I've got to stay awake and eat up. And nap in the afternoon.

Sacked out,


PS: The asterisk above* refers to the fact that I was going to blog yesterday, but then a spider crawled out of my laptop and across my keyboard. Right under my finger tips! And it ruined my blogging mojo. But now I'm back, and risking life, limb and spider bites to bring you my slog. You're welcome.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Well, this is weird. (To me. Maybe not to you. I don't know your life!)

Today was massively uneventful, except for a handful of less than eventful events. Like...I went to the grocery store twice. Twice in one day! Who does that? I'll tell you: people who have terrible pipes (house pipes, not personal pipes, that plumbing works fine if you wanted to know) and yellow water (again, not a euphemism, I mean actual tap water) that gives them soap-mouth and, also, unquenchable thirst from, well, from some salty Cheetos. People who sit on their futon, eyeing the diminishing amount of water left in the last remaining bottle, and realize that if they're going to make it through the night with all its salty snacks, another trip to the grocery store for potable water must transpire.

[I reuse. I fill the same containers again and again.] [Yes, thank you, I feel very good about it.] [Reducing, reusing and recycling are part of my spider-killing, plant-killing, no-platform platform.]

And it's a good thing I went back to the store, because I wandered over to the Paperback Section of the Grocery Store. Warning: I'm about to get a little judgmental. But books are sort of my thing, and everyone should be an elitist snob about something in their life. I'm sorry if you read paperback novels that are sold by the greeting cards at the grocery store, but I think that aisle is where sentences go to DIE. It is like a word graveyard back there, next to the reduced-price greeting cards.

There were so many amazing covers, and so many brilliant titles, particularly with the Harlequin imprint (The Maiden and the Magnate; Too Hot to Handle; The Spaniard's Defiant Virgin). Then, I saw a section with covers that looked like this:

These are apparently part of a growing body of romance novels about pregnant heroines. I'm just surprised. I'm surprised that pregnancy would be so central a factor in bodice-ripping, bosom-heaving romance novels. It's sort of like the first time someone gave me a bacon flavored chocolate bar--never would've thought of it.

Slog-readers, is it a strange connection between the purple prose of Harlequin romance, and the hard physical labor and extreme joy of bringing people into the world? It's weird to me, but so are lots of things.

Ravished and aquiver,


Friday, March 5, 2010


Lately, I've been setting my alarm to get up early (by my standards), even though I don't absolutely have to. Then, I start accomplishing things. As it turns out, my apartment gets really lovely sunlight in the morning, and it feels good to tell myself I'm taking care of business while the rest of the world sleeps (mostly, I blog, and buzz around the house on espresso). But, in that spirit, I offer a Morning poem. I suggest reading the morning.

Morning, by Billy Collins.

Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,

then night, with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?

This is the best--
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso--

maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins--
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,

dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,

and, if necessary, the windows--
trees fifty, a hundred years old
out there,
heavy clouds on the way
and the lawn steaming like a horse
in the early morning.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Testing like Bechdel.

Some of you may have figured out that my slog has an agenda. And my agenda is: me. All me, all the time. My life. My issues. ( The numbers of spiders I've hunted. The way I feel about beets. It's important stuff. We're changing the world, here.)

Apparently, other blogs have real agendas (in the good sense, not the nefarious sense. Not a "hidden agenda," but more like, "a point."). There are political issues that these blogs want to discuss and get people thinking about. Good for them! For example, blogs about feminism. KW edits a thought-provoking blog about feminism and pop culture. What? You want to take a look at it? Okay, go here.

On Wednesday, KW talked to a group of people about feminism, and media literacy, and pop culture. I took a lot of notes, because it's really very important stuff: I love pop-culture, I'd like to think I'm media literate, and I'm definitely a feminist (or, as people kept saying at the conference, "I self-identify as a feminist."). She showed us a clip, and I wrote the note: "Put this up on the blog. Too interesting."

So, now my agenda is to share the agenda of this woman from Feminist Frequency. Watch the clip, and then let me know what you think about this Bechdel test business. I can't believe I have such a hard time thinking of movies that pass the test. You?


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Just like a Chinese food casserole.

Here's something I remember from childhood. We were a Take-Out Family. Sure, some meals were cooked at home, but the meals my brothers and I most looked forward to came in paper boxes and plastic bags from restaurants in the neighborhood (sorry, Mom, Dad, thanks for everything you did for us, etc.). I'll tell you one of our very favorites: Golden Crown. Chinese Food! The greasiest, saltiest, not much at all like actual Chinese food I'm guessing, bloat-you-so-you-can't-wear-shoes-for-a-week kind of take-out.

Never a family for moderation, we'd order: pork fried rice, chicken chow mein, mu shu pork, broccoli beef, eighteen servings of lemon chicken (seemed like), and pot stickers. It was enough to feed an army, but we were only a family of five. SO,

On the weekend, after the leftover Chinese food had spent a few days congealing and stinking up our fridge, my dad would take a break from paying a mountain of bills (how clearly I remember him sitting at the head of the table and working through such a daunting stack of bills! and always in a blue sweatshirt. my mind, it's like a steel trap, I tell you.), and he'd make--Chinese food casserole.

Everything, everything from Golden Crown, in a single pyrex casserole dish. It...wasn't pretty. But, oh my god, it was so delicious. The mashed up, congealed, four-day-old takeout was actually better than when it had been fresh and organized into its appropriate boxes. And, not only is that a metaphor, on some level, for my beautiful leftover-casserole of a family, it is, conveniently, a metaphor for this blog post, which will now consist of some stinky, leftover thoughts that have been congealing in my mind for the past four days.


1. Spring is here! I have a very scientific way of determining when, exactly, spring happens. Here's what I do: I look at my car. If it is covered, covered, in bird shit--I KNOW it's spring. Every window, in at least two distinct locations, must feature a uniquely shaped and colored bird "deposit." When that is the case--as it is now--spring has arrived! If you saw my car, you'd see it's a virtual constellation of bird excrement. So, Happy Spring, everybody.

2. Maybe it's Spring Fever, but lately, I've been really entertained by what I like to call the "Hall of Cyrus." Who is Cyrus? He is apparently the offspring of an instructor here at the college, who is extremely proud of EVERY piece of school work young Cyrus does. So, it gets posted to the wall right outside the women's restroom. And because I'm always going to, or coming from, the restroom, I feel very invested in Cyrus's ongoing academic achievements. Today, may I just offer you Cyrus's spelling test, on which he appears to have done exceptionally well:

I saw a big crater.
A comet is a huge mass of gas.
My brother is lazy.
There is a place called Rapid City in South Dakota.
Bacon is yummy!!!!
I like music.
I am a human.
When it's cold, I shiver.
There is a river near the school.
I am very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very clever.

3. I ate borscht for the first time. Something I really believe, truly, is that when someone asks you, "Do you want to try this food I made?" You SAY YES. So yesterday, when Jeff said, "Hey, I made some borscht today. Do you want some?" I didn't say, "What's borscht, again?" Or, "Do you think I'll like it?" Or even, "I'm not all that hungry because I just loaded up on free food at a reception." I said, "YES." And, as is always the case here where I live, it was really, really good. It was also hot pink (thank you, beets!). Like, exactly the color of a lipstick I have that is called, "Pomposity."

Are you on the Beet Train? People, are you? Get on the beet train! It makes for the best colored food, plus they've got such a satisfyingly soft texture, and they are so pompous. If you're not on board, get on board. Take a ride on the Beet Express. You won't regret it.

4. Here is the best thing that has happened to me this week: KW came to town! She's only one of my oldest friends, who has seen me through my bad perm, my bad braces, those awful tapered jeans with the zippers on the ankle, my crush on Matt Damon, et al. And she was a keynote speaker at a conference. Keynote! AKA, Very Important Person.

What I found out is: there is no better feeling, for me (I don't know how you feel, but you're free to tell me in the comment section of the slog), than watching someone I love do the very thing that they love to do. The thing that they're the very best at. I mean, KW, she had a room full of strangers eating out of her hand. I was eating out of her hand, too. I was so proud, I swelled up with pride the same way I swell up after eating a mountain of sodium in the form of chow mein.

Want to know what she talked about? Check back tomorrow, because it was so interesting I'm going to blog about it after I finish making this casserole!

So, there you have it. My slog casserole. Was it as good for you as it was for me?