Tuesday, August 30, 2011

one hundred word story #24: Survivor

Here's what you should know, she says. We like you, we really do, but you're just not pretty enough, you know? She spins me in a little circle. You've got that free spirit thing going on, which is great, but rein it in a bit. Maybe dye your hair. Wear thicker eyeliner, invest in stilettos. Change your major. Dump your boyfriend and kiss a girl while other boys watch. In my peripheral vision I can see the other girls nodding. The camera zooms in and she steps away for my confessional. Go on, says the producer. Give us our reality.

Friday, August 26, 2011

one hundred word story #23: sugar high

Originally uploaded by Julia_h_j

Jorge has a problem: he is too ordinary. Average height, average looks, average intelligence. Boring job, bored girlfriend--hell, even the dog is over him. He tries pickup soccer, watercolor painting, French, but he still lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. Then he spots a multicolored candy bus, windows inspired by Hello Kitty. A girl with red dreadlocks beckons him inside, hands him jujubes and gummy bears. “In case you were wondering,” she points to a sign that reads “You Are Special.” He brews an above-average root beer float, sugar charging him home. Rover actually wags his tail. Voila.

Monday, August 22, 2011

one hundred word story #22: missed connections

She sat on her hands while she waited. It was impossible, the waiting. Men and women walked by, cable cars clanked, cyclists ducked through traffic. Somewhere amongst the Chinese food, the bus transfers and the countless pigeons, he was coming. She hoped he looked like his picture, hoped he liked rollerblading and science fiction. Her watch was loud with ticking. A man skidded before her on his rollerblades, looked her full in the face. “Finally,” she said.

At the dinner table several months later, she brings up the ad she answered.
“What ad?” he asks.
She decides not to answer.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bathroom Stall Series #11

I spotted this in the bathroom of Vancouver's Our Town Cafe. Ry and I had just spent the afternoon exploring the beautiful Stanley Park, where we saw seagulls lunching on sea stars and found a beaver dam but no beavers. And then we tumbled into this coffee shop on East Broadway. The coffee and paninis were good, but the best by far was this bathroom and its not-so-subtle artistic messages. I especially like the way this octopus was born out of a broken hook.

Other great graffiti animals included the snail:

and Le Skunk, who hearts bikes. As if there weren't enough reasons to visit and/or move to Vancouver.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Maggie Nelson and the livable condition

"217. 'We're only given as much as the heart can endure,' 'What does not kill you makes you stronger,' 'Our sorrows provide us with the lessons we most need to learn': these are the kinds of phrases that enrage my injured friend. Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to come up with a spiritual lesson that demands becoming a quadri-paralytic. The tepid 'there must be a reason for it' notion sometimes floated by religious or quasi-religious acquaintances or bystanders, is, to her, another form of violence. She has no time for it. She is too busy asking, in this changed form, what makes a livable life, and how she can live it."

--from Maggie Nelson's Bluets, p.88

I love this.

I finally got my hands on a copy of Maggie Nelson's Bluets, a thin tome of numbered variations on the color blue.

I was recently talking with a good friend who lives with bipolar disorder about this very issue--how hard it is to respond when well-wishing strangers tell us that living with a chronic condition is some sign that we were marked at birth as people "strong enough" to handle them. It is perhaps the weirdest form of flattery. I understand this desire to explain away the bullshittedness of disease, that perhaps when we don't have a solid medical reason, or a clear cause and effect, we need to make up some reason why.

I tell myself these stories regularly--that I'm a bigger, stronger, tougher person because I'm diabetic. But there's a difference between growing stronger as a result of coping with something, well, unwanted, and the belief that those of us "lucky" enough to live with chronic conditions do so because we're the best for the job. That the sheer randomness of disease is best explained in terms of our more flattering qualities, or, better yet, that there's some cockamamie predestination to who gets to deal with what in life.

In Nelson's book, she references this quadri-paralytic friend and her body several times. In 109, they "examine parts of her body together, as if their paralysis had rendered them objects of inquiry independent of us both. But they are still hers. No matter what happens to our bodies in our lifetimes, no matter if they become like 'pebbles in water,' they remain ours; us, theirs." (pg. 42) This, I think, is what so many medical professionals don't understand: that even if our bodies are imperfect, especially if our bodies are imperfect, they are still very much our own. It has little to do with strength, or even luck. It's just a fact that we come to terms with on our own, as we go on figuring out a "livable life"--something that I imagine is much easier with four functional limbs. Nelson explores this fine line between acknowledging tragedy and leaving room for self-definition, which is perhaps one of the reasons Bluets reads like a literary Bible, peppered with philosophical nuance and no-nonsense confession.

Thanks, Maggie, for capturing the livable condition. That's what I want to read about.

Eat this, Bourdain

Ryan gave me a camping cookbook for my birthday. That, coupled with his new camp stove, made for some tasty meals on the road this summer. One of our favorites: jambalaya in Yellowstone.

There was also the night we made peanut chicken at Avalanche Creek campground in Glacier National Park. The ranger walked by our site to remind us to keep the grounds "bear-friendly," and stopped mid-sentence to peek into our pots.

"Whatcha, like, gourmet or something?" he asked.

The irony is that I'm not the best cook when I'm at home. Usually I work late, or make the mistake of not thinking to cook until I'm already hungry. But that's the beauty of camping: if you're not out hiking and exploring, you probably need to be eating, or preparing food. Hence the Action Jackson.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On music and memory

I have a sonic memory. All the important days in my life are shelved as visual and auditory archives in my brain, little PowerPoint slideshows with accompanying soundtracks that change color slightly over time. My dreams often include a single song, played from start to finish on repeat until I wake up. Last summer's road trip to New York is best characterized by the Presidents of the United States of America's classic "Tiki God." My nine month stay in Fuengirola, Spain is equal parts Julieta Venegas' "Me Voy," Ojo de Brujo's "El Confort no Reconforta," and (weirdly) the Black Eyed Peas' "The Boogie That Be." Without question, my diagnosis of type 1 diabetes is paired with the Dave Matthews Band's "The Space Between." Incidentally, I no longer like that band.

This summer is marked by two songs, the first being MGMT's "Kids." I'd never heard their music until the dance party that marked the last night of the Tin House workshop. We were crowded into the student center on the Reed campus, and Ryan had just flown in after a week away. I was high on all the right things--new friends, travel plans, that superspecial excitement that means it is time to write, and time to read. The minute the song came on, I swore I'd heard it before, though not out loud. It was the pulse of something I couldn't quite put my finger on.

One month later, I requested this song at my brother's wedding. And then Dana the deejay put on LCD Soundsystem's Great Release, my second song for the summer. We were swirled deep within the belly of our neighborhood community center, a pulsing mass of bridesmaids and groomsmen, friends, family. The circle grew tight, with Josh and Shelby at its center, foreheads touching. The intensity of the music built just as the group edged in closer and closer, shoulder to shoulder, shuffling and jumping and clapping and shouting their names. And the sheer joy of it all defied sentimentality; this is no ordinary couple. What's happened there was something that is rare and refined, something we'd all be lucky to have ourselves someday. The song said all that, but the people said it too, looking back over the moonlit lawn, our eyes falling on all the trees we grew up climbing and all the people we grew up loving. There's that sense that men and women fall in love all the time, that sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't, and the ones that do find themselves wound up in tight circles, cushioned by a living, breathing community.

One of my professors believes that all weddings are trite affairs, that in the end we cry for all the same reasons, and none of them original. But maybe that's okay. Maybe all it takes is one song to bring us back to that space, that night, those people, that moon. Maybe what makes it original is what we as listeners, as friends, as family, bring to the music. Maybe that's why, days later, the song still remains in my brain late at night, a reminder that all the important days have multiple dimensions.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

For Sacramento art fans

Three of my 100-word short stories (originally written for and posted on this blog) are included in the Revel Sacramento Gay and Lesbian Center's Second Saturday art show this month. The art opening is this Saturday, August 13, at the SGLC gallery at 1927 L Street, at the corner of L and 20th.

I will be busy best-womaning at my brother's wedding, but I am excited to know that the stories ("The Cliff," "Permissions" and "Pet Store") will be printed as posters and displayed at the gallery all month. My classmate and friend David Semonchik is also exhibiting two pieces of flash fiction, and there are two other featured artists as well.

Spread the word!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

one hundred word story #21: This one's true

This is the story of a smiley man and a surfer woman. He has a coconut that needs opening; she has a recipe for Hawaiian haupia. He goes Indonesia to chase waves but soon chases her back to California, back to Hawaii, then forward to Nicaragua, Spain, Italy, China, Tibet, Nepal. He becomes a teacher. She puts herself through graduate school. They both watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He becomes a brown belt in Hawaiian jujitsu; she a black belt in Los Angeles yoga. When they decide to marry, the smiles grow wider, the waves gnarlier, the coconuts sweeter. Ohana.

with love for my one and only brother, and his lovely wife-to-be