Thursday, August 31, 2006

Waging A Living

Ben and I watched this episode of P.O.V. the other night called Waging A Living which was a pretty excruciating documentary tracking the lives of several people trying to get by on just slightly more than minimum wage. I strongly recommend checking the listings for a rerun, or trying to rent it, and then maybe sending a copy to our president who doesn’t seem to think we need to raise the minimum wage. The thing that really struck me was that these people all work so hard, and that they actually like their jobs – they want to work – but the system is set up so that the so-called cost of living pay increases – sometimes a QUARTER A YEAR – TWENTY-FIVE CENTS, people, don’t even come remotely close to the actual cost of living increases. And for those receiving any kind of government aid – food stamps, section 8 housing – same thing – they maybe get a raise at work, then the government takes away some of their benefits – which seems like it makes sense until you realize that what they take away is not at all equivalent to what they’ve gained in pay. I lost it when this one sweet guy, a recovering addict and alcoholic and former homeless person, handed single dollars to some homeless guys on the street, even though he lived in an SRO and was scraping up his pennies to go visit his kids he hadn’t seen in nine years.

And you know, I’ve never been rolling in the dough, not for more than five minutes at a time, anyway, I’ve struggled quite a bit, especially in New York, I can certainly relate to low wages, never being able to catch up, but the truth is, I am so fucking lucky, and I’m beginning to wonder if it isn’t just a little luck we all need because a hell of a lot of hard work isn’t adding up to much for a lot of folks.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Morning Glory

I am still here, dear twelve readers, I have just been massively busy with work work. Which is unfortunate as there have been any number of things I've wanted to blog about but had no time.
So here is the shortest of them. Among the flowers I grew from seed this year was a morning glory, which promptly climbed a little trellis thingie by our back door and then some, and just the other day got it's first bloom. It has been very exciting to watch this vine grow practically in front of my eyes, so the bloom was the frosting on the cake.
And I learned why they're called "morning" glories.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Whole New Weird World

I just got an airport card for my laptop. As we speak I am in a coffeehouse. This means many things, but one of the things it means is that I will be able to look at movies and such on the internet without waiting six hours for them to download. I feel like I’m in the future, and it’s weird. And great.

I Guess I Should Weigh In On The Tom Cruise Thing Now

Only because this turn of events is so very surprising. It seems to have been true so far that Hollywood is all about money, and even if Tom’s movies are maybe doing a little worse than before, I’d like to have just the difference in my pocket, and he’s still a huge star and Paramount is openly stating that they’re letting him go because of his public weirdness. Is it the end of an era? Just recently, you might recall, Lindsay Lohan was also called out by her employers for her bad behavior... and on top of all this, now they have to pay taxes on their goody bags! All I’m saying is, I dunno what’s gonna happen if movie stars start to get treated, you know, like everyone else. But I’m pretty sure it involves things imploding.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Little Movie

Someone, I can’t completely remember (was it you, Rebecca?) recommended I rent Little Manhattan but it was a while ago and I forgot who or why. Last night Ben and I watched it and he started out grumbling something about why are we watching a kids movie. No less than a minute into the movie, Ben and I are cracking up pretty hard. I’m not sure this is a kids movie or a grownup movie, but it is a feel good movie, and it’s a lovely movie about a boy’s first love in my old hood of the Upper West Side of NY. Okay, well, not exactly my old hood – not the grungy version where I grew up, but the shinier version you’ll see when you visit now. In any case, I loved two things about this movie – the story aspect of it was very true-to-life I thought – the boy’s not as well-off as the girl he likes, who lives in an incredible apartment on the park. He lives with his separated parents in a crowded two-bedroom – which I’ve heard, with real estate the way it is in NY now, not uncommon at all. At one point in the movie, when we’re still waiting for him to kiss the girl, Ben cried out, “Oh, I SO know what that’s like!!! It would take me weeks just to work up to holding a girl’s hand!” But what made it especially great was that it was a NY movie very clearly, um, not shot in Toronto. Shot in NY, quite beautifully, and from what I could tell, accurately – what I mean is, I have a huge beef when I see movies that’ll have let’s say someone running around a corner on Broadway and 73rd, and then the camera cuts to him coming around the corner on what’s obviously Fifth Avenue and 17th or something. Creative license, whatever, it makes me nutty. Anyway, I barely remember even hearing of this movie when it came out, which is too bad. Check it out if you’re in the mood for a sweet surprise.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Whole New Levels of Smooth

Ben and I just gobbled up season 2 of Project Runway, or P.R., as we’ve come to name it around here, and I have do say, I don’t know what the big fuss about Santino’s attitude was – yeah, he kind of had one, but he was so funny I really didn’t care, and it never seemed to me like he was some sort of evil character. His songs (Lighten Up, It’s Just Faaa-shuun!) and his impressions of Tim at the Red Lobster with Andrae are, well, classic television, I feel. I loved season 1 too, but this season I just want to be new best friends with Santino, Daniel Vosovic, Nick Verreos, whose devilish smile and giggle just kill me, and my new group of best friends wouldn’t be complete without Tim Gunn. Tim Gunn, who at first has this sort of cool demeanor, a very New Englandy proper way of talking, is actually a total sweetie with a great sense of humor.

I don’t know how it would be done, but I think someone should think up an equivalent show like this for artists. Talented artists come on and have to do artistic challenges, but something that sort of makes sense like it does on P.R.

Anyway, Sunday night since we had no more DVDs and our best tv option was some teen awards, we decided to watch some videos Ben downloaded called Yacht Rock. I’m not sure any explanation I could offer would do it any justice, and might actually detract from the element of the inevitable what-the-hell-is-this surprise. I will offer the advance warning that it’s not for everyone – but I think this sort of homemade entertainment, as evidenced by the popularity of YouTube, is the wave of the future, and much more fun than anything tidy that’s on actual tv these days. Except P.R.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

How Do People Function Without Lists?

I have always kept a list. I do not know how to get by without a list. Yet there is always a point at which it becomes necessary to admit that certain things on the list will not get done. Nevertheless, if I do not have a list, I do not know what to do. Example: Dad gave us some Japanese prints to try to sell for him and I haven’t put it on my list, so I keep forgetting to call around. I haven’t completely forgotten that this is something I want to do, because the prints are on the desk in the hall. But were they out of sight, I’d forget it altogether. I can’t even give you any other examples of things I might be forgetting because they are out of sight. In any case, I think the reason I really like lists, besides my forgetfulness, is that there is a decided feeling of accomplishment when I cross something off the list. Yesterday I went downtown to do some things on my list, and I got them all done easily, but when I got home I was unable to find the list they’d been on, and was extremely disappointed looking at the only remaining list with plenty of uncrossed-out things on it. Here’s something that’s been on the list for quite a while: renew passport. I should probably cross it off, and do what I always do which is to leave it until we have plans to leave the country. I’m just going to hope the need to leave the country won’t be urgent.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Note: Writers Do Not Necessarily Look Like Their Book Covers

I don’t know about you, but I have a habit of picturing people I haven’t met, whether I know them by phone or just by email.

Even with the clue of their speaking voice, I am almost always wrong. For example, before I met my agent in person, I imagined, from her chipper speaking voice, that she was a tall, preppy blonde. In fact, she is a petite, wholesomely sexy brunette and not at all preppy.

Now that I am on myspace and conversing online with authors whose voices I haven’t heard, I find myself imagining these people as well, but in a whole new way. I think of them as their book covers. I realize I may be alone in this, and also, I myself would probably prefer not to be imagined as the cover of my current book. I was never and am not now a softly-focused happy young girl. There’s no logical explanation for this mental phenomenon, I’m just saying it’s what I do. I get an email that says, Hey Betsy, blah blah blah, I picture the writer wherever they live, a book cover walking around their house, composing email, doing readings, teaching classes, speaking Chinese. I do it a little bit with their photos as well, which is perhaps slightly more accurate, but for example, I imagine Etgar Keret is perpetually carrying his baby over his shoulder. So you can imagine my surprise when last night I received my copy of Roy Kesey’s Nothing in the World, which features a lovely painting of a pear on the cover, and turned the book over to discover a small photo in the bottom left corner, which I take it is some sort of representation of the actual Roy Kesey, but which I find to be rather disconcerting. To me, Roy Kesey is now and will always be a lovely green pear.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Susan Powter is In My Dreams

I’m almost sure few of you will remember Susan Powter’s infomercials of a dozen or more years ago, but I found them hard to forget, in spite of the fact that I was never quite sure what she was pitching. For the rest of you, picture this: You can’t sleep. You get up to turn on the TV. You have to get up to turn on the TV because it’s so old there’s no remote. Your choices, at this hour, are limited. You land on an extremely fit woman with a spiky white blond haircut, pacing back and forth across a stage saying “I know three things! You gotta eat, you gotta move, and you gotta breathe!” It may be an exercise video, but it seems more like some weird exercise/self-help hybrid. The voice is an important part of it – her diction is extremely crisp, and her voice is husky, inasmuch as it’s possible to affect a husky voice when you probably don’t actually have one. You have the sense that many hours were spent developing the “look” and the “sound,” and choosing just exactly the right midriff-exposing top, and frankly, if I had her body I might expose my midriff on late night TV as well. Okay, no I wouldn’t. But anyway, so this woman repeats this mantra many times and you begin to consider that possibly a rerun of Hogan’s Heroes would be a better choice, but you cannot look away, and you can’t even use the lack of remote as an excuse. Susan is your new best friend. You find her riveting. You have no desire to be her, you are not even going to be hypnotized into buying whatever she’s selling (a video if you recall correctly), but there’s something mesmerizing about her... you wonder if she’d maybe be your exotic new best friend.

Then she went away.

The other day she came back on one of the morning shows. She’s got the same eat/breathe/ move shtick, more or less, she’s updated her look a bit, added some pinkish blond dreadlocks and a bunch of tattoos, but the midriff is still on view, except now she’s almost fifty. She’s got a few years on you, but her midriff would whup your midriff’s ass in a fight real fast. That night you dream that she’s your personal trainer. You are grateful. She would for sure frighten you into shape at the very least. You wake up and Susan is gone, but not really.

I remember now what it was about those infomercials that struck me all those years ago. I was just beginning to get my shit into a together-type styling, with the support of many friends and a good therapist, and I remember thinking, god, this is probably what people do who don’t have what I have. And while a part of me wants to say, hey, whatever works, another part of me was grateful that I got my help from actual people in the world, and that I didn’t have to work through my issues via infomercial.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

One Ocean View Is Sort of A Hugely Misleading Bummer

I suppose I should be thankful that there’s pretty much no chance that anyone of sound mind is watching it. But for the one or two of you who even peeked at it, let me say this: if you happen to be watching, as I was, for the sole reason that this show takes place on (my beloved) Fire Island, I can assure you, you can stop right now. There is virtually no footage on this show that will give you any sense of what this unique place is like, and what there is, is a bunch of self-absorbed, genuinely unlikable (okay, the guys more than the girls) singles in a group house, which is only one small aspect of life on Fire Island, which has a variety of communities, families more than anything else, although it’s known for its gay communities, The Pines and Cherry Grove. This show takes place pretty close to where Nina’s family’s house is, and occasionally shows familiar places for about three seconds, and the rest of it is annoying single people arguing about who sent who a text message and why. From what I could tell (until I became severely distraught) that text message was seriously the focus of last night’s episode. To reiterate – if you ever want to go to F.I., you should go in spite of this show. It’s a lovely place populated with much nicer people than this.

My Spam is Very Dada

There’s not much I can really say to enhance your reading pleasure of this email I got the other day, which I paste in exactly as I received it:


Cjjalis from 3, 75$
Valjjum from 1, 25$
Vjjagra from 3, 35$
went past the armed guards and headed for the waiting ground car.
Silence? Into the car. Speak to me in the office about a salary
raise-not before.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Tying Shoes On a Train When Your Fine Motor Skills Haven't Arrived Yet Can Be Hard

On the el the other day there was this very cute little baby girl, with a big fat Angelina Jolie mouth, saw that one of her baby Reeboks was untied and endeavored to retie. This baby girl, strapped into her stroller, was aware that her mother was busy tending to a smaller baby, and therefore unavailable for bigger baby shoe-tying. She was, I would guess, maybe fourteen months at most, and from the looks of her, she could just have been a well-fed one year old. Either way, I know of very few twelve-to-fourteen month olds who have developed the motor skills to tie their shoes. Untying them, they are especially skilled at. Tying them, not so much, but damn if this little girl wasn’t gonna try. Several attempts by pulling on both laces so that they were taut, and then touching the tips together at the ends, and then, when they didn’t suddenly become tied, starting over again. After quite a few attempts this way, she became annoyed, and threw the laces down. Another effort involved pulling the laces taught one more time, but then dropping them and waving her hands near the shoe in a dramatic fashion, much like a magician. She was also doing quite a bit of talking during this entire process, either not in English or not in adult, and it's not unimaginable that what she said on this attempt was "Abracadabra." Taking a different tack, the little girl pulled on the laces until her chubby leg was up on the seat nearer to where her mom was, trying to force her shoe, with her foot in it, near enough to her mother, seemingly unaware that the shoe and the foot in it were not something she was able to separate from herself in order to get it tied by someone who wasn’t close enough to do so. Again, frustration, this time throwing the foot back down, but quickly trying the original method several more times. Needless to say, she did not succeed before we got off the train, but what I loved about this was that she was so clearly frustrated but she never cried about it, she just kept trying.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Unleashing My Inner Punk, Part I

Regarding the Cover of My Book, And Whether or Not to Judge It Based Upon That Criteria

So. It’s official. I will have a new publisher for my next book, which I am very excited about (more to come), and as such, I will nibble on the hand that once fed me, with regard to the cover of the paperback. By saying this: I don’t care for it.

I’ll backtrack a bit. My former publishers did very well by me on my first book, When the Messenger is Hot, and I need to say up front that I adored my editor there and still do, and that she had everything to do with why I landed there, but that unfortunately for me, she is not the boss of them. They promoted the hell out of it, and it got great reviews, and sold a respectable number of copies for a short story collection, and I didn’t go on a world tour but when I did go out I stayed at hotels that had Aveda shampoo, which is enjoyable. Various stars failed to collide the second time around, and although the press I got for All This Heavenly Glory was good, it was just not as ubiquitous as with Messenger, thus proving to be the all-around disappointment that ultimately propelled me to my new home.

So. Back to the cover. The original cover of Glory was okay enough, if a bit subtle. It was dark navy with a starry sky and the outline of woman in stars, like a constellation. I felt okay about it except for the fact that she was wearing sandals, which, if you read the book, is very very wrong. Fortunately it wasn’t that noticeable, so I remained calm. And then the book didn’t sell anywhere near what Messenger did, in spite of the fact that it could easily have been marketed as a novel, and has often been reviewed (favorably) as one. (In France, it almost seems (from my poor French, anyway), that they have no idea that Bonte Divine, as it’s known over there, is actually a book of stories.) In any case, conceding, as much as a company can do so, that a mistake was made with the publicity, they agreed to attempt to make up the difference on the paperback. Which I interpreted to mean a new round of publicity, advertising, touring, and which in the end, amounted primarily to a new cover.

Everyone at my former publisher loved this cover. Most people I’ve met have told me they love this cover. Which I have tried, and, I’m sure failed, to accept graciously, but depending on the person offering the compliment, I would, occasionally, say, Really? Because to me, this cover, has almost no relationship to what’s inside the book. This cover depicts a young girl who looks pretty darn comfortable in her green sunny world of blowing bubbles.

Let me tell you a little bit about what this book is about. This book is about the life of a woman, from girlhood to adulthood, who lives not in a green sunny world, but in the gray, often claustrophobic, crime-ridden, world that was New York in the early seventies, and follows her through alcoholism, recovery, failure, success, obsessive relationships and successful ones, and even into her imaginary future. It is comprised, among other things, of a seven-page personal ad without a period, many lists and parentheses, a timeline, several fantasies, a few obsessions, and a sexy film strip featuring Benicio del Toro, Christina Applegate, and some dogs.

I’m not even saying I know what I think the appropriate image for this story might be. (I have do have a great idea for the new one, and I know these folks will be 100% willing to consider my fantasies.) But I feel like someone out there, one of the many people employed at a big publishing house, ought to consult designers who actually read the book, then, I dunno, brainstorm with the author about it, and then, er, get the author’s approval. Let’s put aside the issue of wanting a cover that will make people want to look inside the book. Everyone wants that. I was happy enough with my first cover, as it was simple but eye-catching, even the spine, which had punchy red and black stripes, although I don’t know that it really captured the essence of the contents (if that’s even possible – although I think it is, even a complex book has an overall feeling that could be translated into some kind of single image, I think). Of course, I was so happy to be publishing a book that I might have been equally happy then with a picture of a big steaming pile of poo on a bright pink background.

I was chatting with my future editor the other day about this. She was the first person to say, out loud and unsolicited by me, that she was “shocked” by the cover. I thanked her. I said I was never sure if other people were telling me the truth, and that even if they were, I didn’t get it. She said, “Yes, damn those people who complimented you!” She is a very funny person. But she knew why I was glad to hear her say she thought it was ridiculous. I thought I was being a cranky, diva author type who should just be grateful and shut the hell up. I am grateful. I’m insanely grateful. My life as a writer? Kicks ASS. I’ve been incredibly lucky, particularly as a story writer, I am realizing more and more. But in the greater scheme of things, I am still relatively unknown, and I still want the most possible people to read my stories. To read stories, period. But that’s another rant.

So. Now you know what my book is about and what it isn’t about but what you think it might be about because of what it looks like it might be about and for which you couldn’t be blamed, if it were someone else’s cover I would think the same thing, and I hope this will encourage a few more of you to read it, whatever your feeling about what it looks to be but really isn’t.

Stay sweet.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Psychology of Myspace

So. I’m relatively new to Myspace. Someone, at some point, probably my publicist at Little, Brown, said, You should get a page on myspace. I didn’t really know why other than this general ‘promotion’ header. At this point I’ve got pages all over the place, amazon, friendster, here, and soon, WBEZ (which I feel sure is the one place people will actually hang around for a few minutes), and it’s a little hard to keep up, so basically, the Bert is still the best place to find me. All I knew about myspace was that it was very popular with bands and teenagers and the creepy older people who like them. So a couple of months ago I posted a profile and kind of left it alone, thinking if anything was going to happen it would just happen spontaneously. Nothing happened, which didn’t surprise me. Maybe a month ago I started poking around on the site a bit and discovered my friends and fellow writers Bryan Charles and Amanda Stern were on there. So I invited them to be my friends, and they agreed, and for a while I had just the two friends, which Myspace likes to remind me by saying on my page, “Elizabeth has 2 friends.” The digit “2” being in a much larger font than the “Elizabeth has friends.” Still, I didn’t take this too deeply to heart until finally, maybe a week or two ago, I started poking around again. The mind began this sort of thing: “Hm, let’s see who Bryan’s friends with. Wait, how does Bryan have three hundred friends? I have two books, and I’m ten years older than him. Hey, I know so and so. Hey, I’d like to be friends with that writer. Hey, this so and so keeps turning up on everyone’s page, let me see what they’re all about. Hey, I haven’t checked myspace in an hour, maybe I have a new friend. Hey, I have no new friends – why? Hm, I wonder if I should maybe be writing or something right now.” Then I start poking around some more.

Let me stop to define “poking around myspace”. Poking around myspace, v. wake up, make coffee, log in to see if you have any new friends, click on sixteen different profiles, notice that the little clock that tells you how long you’ve been online says 1:22:28.

Which for me is about 1:02:28 too much. I’m certain the time will come when I will get utterly bored with it, and it will say “last login, five years ago,” but until I have a complete handle on the psychology of Myspace, and/or I have a few hundred friends, I will be poking around a bit more.

Anyway. Thus far I have had one or two actual exchanges with people, and the opportunity to find and connect with other writers is there, and that’s cool. It’s just that it ends up sort of highlighting my small little place in this universe, kind of like high school. Thankfully, there’s no one saying mean things, not to me anyway, no cheerleaders (although there does seem to be an endless number of girls in bikinis), and no peer pressure that I can ascertain. But last time I checked, I had 61 friends, which is still by far the least number of friends of anyone I’ve come across. I’ve been trying to be a little selective, in spite of the fact that it’s clear that by and large, myspace friends are very different than real world friends, or even blog friends. Yes, some of my myspace friends are real world friends, but I didn’t need myspace for that. In many cases it’s difficult to know whether other people’s myspace friends are their real world friends or just their myspace friends. With the more famous people, it’s clear that like, Ben Folds and The Flaming Lips, say, who have allowed me to befriend them in this arena, don’t actually have 92,654 friends. We know that these are fans. Sometimes you can tell from the “comments” section who seems to actually know, or have met someone, sometimes not. Then there’s this whole other weirdness of possibly fake pages. For example, David Foster Wallace is now one of my myspace friends, and I like that DFW has only a few more friends than me at the moment and that I’m one of them, but at the same time, I feel entirely uncertain that this is the actual DFW and not some fake bizarro DFW. For one thing, the photo he’s got on there is an older one. For another, well, I dunno, it just doesn’t seem like something he’d do, or for that matter needs to do. His comment on my page after I added him says only, “I’m grateful,” which is suitably short and sweet enough so that whoever wrote it can’t be accused of being a bad DFW imitator. (I feel it’s safe to assume that everything verbally DFW-related isn’t as wordy or complex as his writing.) Plus, whoever wrote his profile clearly knows a lot about him, and it’s convincing enough, particularly the part that says “Note – for research purposes only.” Which I take to mean it either is DFW researching the bizarro world of myspace for some future writing project, which is believable enough, or that it could be some random DFW fan or person researching the bizarro world of DFW fans and, oh, I dunno, writers who wish that DFW was their friend and willing to settle for his little picture on myspace page in his person’s stead (you know, not that I know anything about that). On the other hand, if someone put up a page claiming to be me, um, I’d be having a bit of a fit. So far, my own criteria for choosing myspace friends has been this: people, books, magazines, and musicians I like, fans, if that should ever happen, and generally, whoever might be someone I’d really like to have a conversation with. No girls in bikinis. Or guys.

And then there’s the whole weirdness of being “friends” with a book, or a movie, or a magazine, since those things are inanimate (defamer recently pointed out the particular creepiness of World Trade Center wants to be your friend – do you wish to add World Trade Center as your friend?), but again, I’ve discovered a couple of cool literary magazines on there that I might send something to, and so the point is, well, I’m finding some interesting things worth checking out on there and so maybe someone out there will find my book and check it out as well, although my sense is that because it seems to be really taking off, books and writers on myspace, it’s just not possible to check out all that many books, and so you’re kind of back to square one, the way I figure it, except there really isn’t anything to lose, except chunks of 1:22:28 throughout my days.

If you’re interested in checking out my page Ain’t nuthin there you won’t see here tho. But maybe you’ll be my friend.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Soon I Will Explore the Mysteries of Myspace

Which is both magnetic and bizarro, and about which I have many things to say, but for now let me say only that because of my recent presence on myspace, I have discovered an excellent writer by the name of Roy Kesey, whose dispatches from China I highly recommend, as well as a few stories of his that I’ve hunted down in lit mags I happened to have in my house, back issues of McSweeney’s and the Land-Grant College Review. His book is called NOTHING IN THE WORLD. I'm having html issues now. Find him.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Laurie Colwin

I’ve been reading a lot lately, mostly short stories, natch, probably because the heat is leaving me little energy for anything else. I bought some awesome fabric the other day, but I will not be hanging out in the attic to sew it up anytime soon. So. I thought that one story in particular deserved its own separate post, and that is “The Achieve of, The Mastery of The Thing,” by Laurie Colwin. Nancy Pearl, recommended it to me. It’s about this woman who’s a pothead, married to a professor who has no idea. About halfway through I couldn’t stop cracking up. Awesome.
I am so bummed that I’ll never get to hear Colwin read. She died really young, over ten years ago. But she has a bunch of books, and I’m going to get on it.