Thursday, July 24, 2008

Harvey Milk

Wow. Ben and I watched The Times of Harvey Milk last night - I highly recommend it. For anyone who doesn't know the story of Harvey Milk, it's a pretty amazing one. He was a the first openly gay city supervisor in San Francisco, assassinated along with the mayor, George Moscone, by a former supervisor, Dan White. One of the worst parts of the story is that White only served about five years, and got off easy because of the famously ridiculous "Twinkie" defense, stating that he had snapped because of too much sugar and junk food. (White committed suicide less than two years after his release.) In any case, it's a moving and thought-provoking story - this was thirty years ago, but it made me think about what's changed and what hasn't since then, and I feel like we still have a long way to go. He was quite an inspiring character, and it would have been nice to see what he could have done had he lived, since he was instrumental in getting a proposition vetoed to allow gay teachers to keep their jobs, among other things.

P.S. Looking for the photo, I discovered that there's a Milk biopic coming out later this year starring Sean Penn. I might have cast Adrien Brody... but either way I'll be eager to see it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Two Two Two Anthologies

Hey there good people of the internets! Right now I have stories in two, countem two anthologies that just came out:

Who Can Save Us Now? A superhero anthology, which features a brand-new (illustrated!) story called Nate Pinckney-Alderson, Superhero


Dzanc Books Best of the Web
, which features my story Promise from You Must Be This Happy to Enter.

Monday, July 07, 2008

What Would Courtney Do?

I have one record by Hole I may have listened to three times. That’s it.

But I’m obsessed with Courtney Love. I dream of Courtney Love.

I read articles about Courtney Love, I read interviews with Courtney Love, I study photos of Courtney Love.

(I don't know what it means, no.)

Probably, her music would also be a good place to look, but it’s not her music I’m interested in. I want to be Courtney’s friend.

It’s thoroughly transparent, my Courtney obsession, if you know me. Even if you’ve barely heard of me, to know nothing more than that I once loved the Carpenters is to know enough about why I am so fascinated by Courtney Love, why I love even just the sound of her name, but if you still don’t get it, I can spell it out, that’s fine.

(Oh, yes.)

I’m no Courtney Love.

Courtney Love says what she wants and does what she wants and does not seem to care what anyone thinks. I want me some of that.

In my dreams, Courtney is my best friend. She does not think I am uncool. I’m not just talking about daydreams. I have dreamt of her while sleeping. More than once.

I first became interested in Courtney Love by way of a certain hipster I was dating some years back.

(Just say no.)

Certain Hipster didn’t profess to being a fan of hers, in fact, I recall him mentioning he didn’t really even like music much at all, which is actually more mind-boggling to me than if he’d said he listened exclusively to yodeling or zither music or polka or something and which probably should have clued me in to our romantic incompatibility because What? No one doesn’t like music, that’s like saying you don’t like breathing, that’s like, I must have misheard you, you must have said something that rhymes with music, but wait, nothing rhymes with music, it’s like orange, so you must have said it and if you did say it there is something seriously wrong with you because that is not a preference so much as it can only be a disorder that probably warrants medication or perhaps an operation of some kind because the only explanation for someone not liking music would be if they didn’t have ears, maybe, although from what I’m told even hearing-impaired people like music, so it would be more like if you were just missing a critical element of, um, humanity, and as far as I can imagine must lead an utterly joyless, blank existence in which pierced eyebrows and tattoos and ironic t-shirts step in and somehow try to fill the musicless void of your world, either that or now that I think of it perhaps means that if it is not some sort of medical condition that he was an alien. Nobody doesn’t listen to music. Maybe he was just blaspheming, or maybe he was testing me, like I was supposed to say, Ha ha, that’s funny, no music, if so for sure I failed; it was back in the day when I was still more inclined toward polite nodding than openly declaring opinions, which personal era, as you can see, has passed. Sorry – this was a while ago now but apparently I’m still working it out. Anyway, I do remember him mentioning that he knew people who knew Courtney (in retrospect this information alone should have told me I wasn’t cool enough for him; at that time I wasn’t even hanging around people who’d ever heard of Courtney) and after we broke up (he loved me, but not loved me loved me) I got it into my head that if I could understand Courtney Love, then married to about the hippest hipster ever of all time, I could understand what had gone wrong in our relationship and perhaps be a little more Courtney next time.

Look, I’m trying to be honest here, you wanna mock me, that’s fine, but I’m giving you the truth. It’s what Courtney would want.

If Courtney Love has a feeling or an opinion or an impulse to flash a boob, she puts it out there, right, wrong, whatever.

Courtney Love code requires putting any and all thoughts, pretty much whatever comes into her head, however fleeting, out into the world for all of us to consider, with absolutely no regard for consequence and even less for what anyone thinks about it. Courtney Love thinks cheese is satanic. I am not making that up. Could I make up something better? No, I could not. It’s not that I haven’t occasionally said things before I thought them through. I once used the word “awesome” no less than three times at an academic luncheon. Unlike Courtney, I am a person whose day will be ruined by such a thing. I am a person who keeps her boobs safely harnessed inside her shirt. I am a person who writes rough drafts of letters. That may not even be a bad thing, necessarily, but it is very unCourtney-like. I imagine Courtney to be the kind of person who, if she writes letters at all, writes them on whatever happens to be closest, even if it is not a paper product, even if it’s a lampshade, and gives it to her assistant to figure out how to mail, or if she does actually have some sort of expensive stationery product, like nice letterpress notecards with CL running though a little ribbon on the top, would spill coffee on them and probably not even say “Shit” and give it to her assistant to mail out without thought of an apology. Probably with thought of, “This person is fucking lucky to be getting my coffee-stained note!” I began life as the kind of kid who, fearful of any possible controversy, answered questions like, “What kind of cookies do you like?” with “What kind of cookies do you like?” and then when you told me what kind of cookies you liked I would say that I liked those cookies too. Even if you said your favorite cookie was banana oatmeal honey walnut chocolate chip I would say banana oatmeal honey walnut chocolate chip was my favorite too, although I will tell you now without hesitation, after many years of therapy, that although these ingredients are all quite delightful individually, this is way too many ingredients for the good of one cookie and if you know one thing about me besides my Carpenter love you know that I do not mix nuts and sweets. I imagine little Courtney Love answering the question any number of ways involving the word “fuck,” possibilities including but not limited to, “What the fuck kind of cookies do you think I like?” or, “I don’t fucking eat cookies, bitch.”

Not to get too far off subject, but my interest in Elizabeth Wurtzel is similar, if not as epic.

(Note: also flashing boob.)

Wurtzel is probably the literary equivalent of Courtney Love, and I might feel bad about saying what I’m about to say if the entirety of her book Bitch weren’t so, well, bitchy, if it didn’t practically beg me to. In fact, Elizabeth W. has the hubris to describe Courtney’s entire existence as “calamitous” on page seven, and if I had the inner resources to comb the entire four hundred plus pages again for other Courtney references, I would, but I don’t. The fact that I withstood the reading of this book in its entirety even once, is a feat that should merit some sort of acknowledgment. Nevertheless. Although I don’t covet her approval in the same way, or – at all, I have read all of her books with a similar desire to understand – well, something about myself ultimately, via her unlike me-ness, and it’s a safe bet that I’ll read whatever she spits out next. What continues to fascinate me about her is how incredibly bright she is, how observant she can be both about herself and the world, and yet how thoroughly she is just not getting over herself enough to see the traffic accident that is so apparent from this side of the road. To be honest, I am sure that a great deal of what interests me about her is that I do see myself in there, if a few degrees less Cosmo cover goes to Harvard. I have always been a person who believes herself to have a good deal of self-awareness and yet sometimes not quite enough to keep me from making the same mistakes about fourteen times or however many more than once I need to in order not to do it again. But that Elizabeth seems inclined to make her mistakes about forty-eight times, and then to write about them with this compelling combination of charisma, ego, talent, brains and apparent lack of concern about what anyone will think of it. She’s just slightly less in-your-face than Courtney about it, undoubtedly only because she’s not a rock star, and I suspect, is the needy moat to Courtney’s fortress of pain. (It makes sense to me.) When I read Prozac Nation, my overwhelming thought was, Well, she may very well need Prozac but I think she also has a drug problem. When I read Bitch I realized how right I was about the drug problem. Never has there been a book that’s a better argument for an intervention than that one. I imagine relatives and friends and random people in her famously long acknowledgments sitting in a huge circle wordlessly holding up copes of her naked self on the cover of that book as E. walks in, forced to admit it’s time to book a suite at Hazelden. Naturally, when I read More, Now, Again, her book about her recovery from Ritalin addiction, I was hardly surprised, but this time I can’t quite guess what the next book will be. She has one book I haven’t read, called Radical Sanity, filed under “self-help”, I kid you not. There are undoubtedly limitless ways to go on the joke front here, but I’ll just say that I fear for any woman who chooses a book by Elizabeth Wurtzel as a guide to life over virtually anything else in the self-help section. A woman would do better to entrust herself to Chicken Soup for People Who Love Lindsay Lohan’s Soul or whatever random Soup title is on the table this week. Cripes. Do you realize what it takes to get me to use a word like cripes? I don’t say cripes. A peek inside this book reveals some tips from Elizabeth, including “eat dessert,” “be strong,” “have opinions,” “say your prayers,” “embrace fanaticism,” “enjoy your mistakes,” and “be gorgeous.” Cripes again. This is alarmingly close to my own life, but I wouldn’t offer most of it up as advice. I love my life now, but I’m much more inclined to say, “For the love of god, don’t do what I did.”
I’ve always wished Wurtzel would just use her superpowers to write fiction, because I really do think she’s quite talented and could translate that into a real knockout if she wanted to, plus it might actually be a positive step in her personal evolution to write about something besides herself. Ok fine, I’m no one to talk. I am to be sure, my own favorite subject. All I know is that I have known people like her, it is extremely easy for me to imagine being friends with her in that kind of too-close-for-anyone’s-good friendship where the person drives you absolutely crazy because they have everything going for them and yet just cannot get it together, and that in my mind, Elizabeth W. and I get together and I shake her shoulders (because as we know shoulder-shaking is always a surefire method for straightening people’s lives out), and say “Come on, lady! Cut it out!” But the truth is, the few times I’ve (metaphorically) shaken shoulders, it has come to naught, and I’m not really much of a shoulder-shaker anyway. I’m much more of a people-pleaser who would probably meet Elizabeth Wurtzel and tell her only what I really like about her work and ask her where she got her jeans and then try to have coffee with her.

It occurs to me only at this late date that my desire for a more Courtney mindset had everything to do with my unfortunate decision to drive across country with a man I barely knew, a man who was against electricity, a man who despised all things money including anyone who had any, a screenwriter who didn’t believe in scripts, a man whose waistband was hitched inexplicably high for someone under the age of sixty-four.

(In real life, not as bad as this from the waist up, but still...)

This was a guy you would never describe as “cool” unless perhaps you too were against electricity, which seems like a small group to me. Was he extremely bright? Yes. Was he sort of cute? I guess. Did I find him moderately amusing? Once in a rare while, he didn’t make me want to cry. But I think the more important questions are: Was I deeply in debt and looking to get out of town any way I could? Yes. Was he as creatively messed up as anyone I’d ever dated? Fo ‘shizzle. Did warning bells go off on or about the time of our first date? Warning gongs, more like. Warning steamships knocked me over as they cruised up the streets of the Upper West Side, sailors yelling off the side, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU OR ANYONE WITH THE LAST BIT OF MENTAL HEALTH IN THEM TRAVEL IN CLOSE QUARTERS WITH THIS MAN. I used to describe myself, often, as a person who made terrible decisions with her eyes wide open, particularly when it came to men. I was never part of the I Can Change Him school. I always know that’s out of my hands. For me it was more like, the But He’s So Cute school or the No One Else Is Banging Down My Door school or, most often, the Well, This Might Be An Interesting Ride school. There was nothing that wasn’t obviously filled with potential for disaster from my first date with… well, why don’t we call him “Mickey Rourke”… ew, no, let’s call him “What’s That Guy’s Name Who Played Buddy Holly?”… scratch that, too long, still not cute enough… what about “Robert Downey, Jr.”… no, that might actually have been fun… gee, maybe I’m in touch with my inner Courtney after all… how about let’s just call him “Bring On The Crazy #468”.

I doubt that the question of what Courtney would do is ever a conscious one, if it is, I invite anyone to admit it. Bizarro indeed would be the life modeled on Courney’s. One is probably enough. So this wasn’t at the forefront of my mind when I got the call from Bring On The Crazy inviting me to go. At the forefront of my mind was, I have no job, I have no money, my rent is late as usual, New York is making me want to beat myself over the head with a mace, and since I no longer drink, my options for distracting myself from all this seem limited. Cut to the telephone ringing and a conversation not unlike this:

BOTC #468: Hey, I just bought a car for forty bucks, do you want to come meet me in LA tomorrow and drive to Florida with me to meet my mom with whom I have a lifetime of unresolved issues?
Me: Why yes, I’d like that very much.
BOTC #468: Wait, this is probably a terrible idea. Forget I said it. I really need to concentrate on the “screenplay” I’m writing. (BOTC #468 makes air quotes even though he’s on the phone.)
Me: Yeah, you’re right. Just the same, I can’t really think of a better way of not dealing with my life right now.
BOTC #468: Alright then. I guess it would help to have someone share the driving. You can drive a stick, right?
Me: No.
BOTC #468: Oh well, that’s okay. I can teach you.
Me: (silent, thinking about the time my dad, who I do get along with, tried to teach me how to drive a stick, and I almost rolled backward down a hill while simultaneously being yelled at by a cop as though I ought to know how to propel the car in a forward motion)
BOTC #468: One of us can just take the bus home if it doesn’t go well.
Me: Okay, then, I’ll see you tomorrow!

Alright, the conversation was a little longer and considerably more fraught with mind-games. BOTC #468 was all but certified in coming up with the exact right thing to make me feel, well, whatever he felt like making me feel, one of which was never “happy.” Nevertheless, I was on a cheap flight to LA faster than you could say, “You may just have made the worst mistake of your life,” and I didn’t take it as a good sign that BOTC #468 was late picking me up when I got there.

Pummeling home the masochistic aspects of the trip (which I suppose implies there were some non-masochistic aspects of the trip, which there weren’t), it wasn’t as though I was even getting any sex out of it. BOTC #468 believed sex was something not to be entered into lightly, like say a trip across country after four dates in a vehicle that cost forty dollars. But as long as we’d made the decision, it wasn’t anything a little unlicensed psychoanalysis couldn’t make worse. Highlights of the trip included arguments about: why having babies was selfish, misguided and wrong, why marriage and monogamy were prehistoric, unnecessary conventions, why my wearing makeup was a mask and showering regularly was a cultural custom the purpose of which eluded him, why he planned to move to Costa Rica to live an alternative filmmaking lifestyle without running water, why I still, in my thirties, had unresolved issues with my mother, why he still, nearing forty, had unresolved issues with his mother, why mothers everywhere were more or less the root cause of everything that ever went wrong anywhere ever (but mostly in the United States, see sub-why, why the U.S. is second only to mothers as the leading cause of anything ever going wrong anywhere), why every single thought in our heads is unoriginal because it’s in some way sold to us by the man, and that advertisers are probably developing new ways to program our heads even as we sleep. And I’d like to say? This is a short list. Sightseeing on this trip was limited to an overnight in Joshua Tree, one hot spring at a quirky youth hostel in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, two hours in the French Quarter of New Orleans (by myself, while he went off to a cafĂ© to “write”), and souvenirs included whatever I could get at a gas station. I took about three photos during the entire two weeks, knowing this wasn’t a trip I cared to commemorate. Summing up: was this better than staying home? Actually it was, in that worse-before-it-gets-better sort of way. In the absolute most circuitous way possible, via this supremely calamitous road trip, I had come to understand that I had to get out of New York once and for all, which decision, if also made with no backup plan whatsoever, ended up being on my top five list of best decisions ever made, top two or three if you count decisions I made with little or no real consideration. Within months, I was living in Chicago, er, well, in the hipster’s building… but I’ve digressed enough. It all worked out.

I maintained, for some time, that this relationship ended because I wasn’t Courtney enough. BOTC had openly told me about any number of ex-girlfriends who sounded thoroughly out of their minds. What I was at the time was depressed. I correctly predicted that like many of my previous BOTCs, as soon as we broke up (because there was never any question that this would end, and not well – in spite of my poor decision making in this area, I never had it in me to stick with these people for too long) this one would soon be committed to someone else. What I didn’t anticipate was that he would marry rich and bear children. I’m running under the assumption that they have electricity, and frankly, I wonder how he can sleep at night with like, appliances and running water. No matter. I’m happily married now, and we are not ashamed to admit that we likes us some stuff.

Getting back to Courtney, yes, I know she has some issues. Don’t we all? She’s a bright chick, if you haven’t noticed. Plus I saw her on Rosie O’Donnell a long time ago talking about her eBay obsession with Little Kiddles which means we have at least one thing in common for sure even though I only have one and she’s probably missing one if any.

I had all of these:

This is what we had before Hello Kitty was born.

She had a helicopter!

Kiddle Kologne

Wouldn’t it be so much fun to hang out with Courtney and order pizza and smell all her pristinely plasticy-floral scented Little Kiddles and tell each other your life stories all in one day and ask her what she thinks about someone not listening to any kind of music and when she goes off for like forty minutes about how not listening to music is so thoroughly fucking nonsensical it makes listening to Mister Mister and Quarterflash

Take! These broken wings!

I'm gonna harden my heart... I'm gonna swallow these te-ars...

cool just by comparison which is freaky like she’s reading your mind’s record collection and you find a small opening to say “Right?” and feel totally validated when she describes the person your hipster said he knew as a “bitch-ass ho” and that she totally kicked that girl’s bony ass once and if you wanted she’d totally be into going out and kicking his ass right now, which you pass on because he’s actually become a friend and you’re not especially into ass-kicking even though you feel like it sometimes when people don’t use their turn signal. Also you try to think of any celebrities Courtney would care about that you even almost slept with which you can’t because there are none and so you skip the part about making out with a Baldwin because you know she wouldn’t care which one it was anyway, and totally become super codependent on each other instantly and ask her if she was always like how she is now and she says defensively Like what and you say Cool and unafraid to say whatever you think and show your boobs randomly and stuff and she actually admits to a bit of false bravado and even tells you a tiny bit of her private fears and insecurities which blows your mind both because she has any and because she’s bestowed this information to only you, and you become her new entourage maybe even and go shopping and gossip, ‘cuz you know she’s got some good gossip, and find out how big some movie star’s penises are or are not because she’ll for sure tell you and make something up if she has to and do each other’s hair and let her put red lipstick on you all messy-like and rock out a little bit and let her teach you how to scream-sing and maybe even fight because you let it slip that you used to love the Carpenters and she gets all pissy when you remind her she said any music was better than no music and she says well not the fucking Carpenters or because you lied and said you tried heroin once but didn’t really like it which Courtney and anyone else who’s ever done heroin once knows is a lie because they agree that there’s nothing not to like and she calls you on the lie and you get your feelings hurt because you both know that you’ll never be as cool as her especially when she asks you if you want to try the heroin now and you almost make up another lie before you realize it’s pointless at which time you make up and eat giant raw cookie dough slices with Courtney? Or better – just each have your own whole thing of cookie dough and eat it like it was an ice cream cone? And then get super sick to your stomach and have to sleep over? And stay in her totally fluffy guest room and call up your friends and tell them you’re at Courtney Love’s house and Courtney thinks you’re at least one whole percent of cool and that hipster made the biggest mistake of his life cause the guy you finally married is awesome and Courtney Love is your new best friend?

I so want Courtney Love to like me. There’s a small part of me that actually thinks Courtney Love would like me. Let’s see: What do you think Courtney would do if someone wrote an essay about wanting to be her best friend? Well, she’d probably a) have no idea about it, she gets written about way too much to keep track, or, being Courtney, to care. So I’m guessing that if she’s in the mood, she’d probably just b) show her boobs to someone.

Like I said, I’m no Courtney Love.