Wednesday, September 30, 2009

look down

The other day I was getting close to the end of The Dharma Bums (audio book - with a reader whose voice is too polished to play beat poet), and Japhy Ryder suggests to the narrator, “Try the meditation of the trail, just walk along looking at the trail at your feet and don’t look about and just fall into a trance as the ground zips by.”

You shouldn't put yourself into a trance walking down city sidewalks to work in the morning, but you can certainly watch your feet as you walk to see what you can see. And what I saw:



Brick sidewalk raised in gentle waves by underneath tree roots

Pavement with a scatter of yellow leaves

Blond cat and one meow

Small flat metal discs in the pavement that hide pipes that lead down to secret places

[OK, passing a bar - look up or you'll probably see something gross]

Pavement that's a smooth almost-white

Pavement that's a spread of tiny pebbles

Asphalt the color of campfire ash, painted white lines, painted yellow lines

Pavement in a long, clean ribbon but broken by one square with names carved in by stick or finger

Wet shoe prints walking

Moss growing up through cracks in pavement

Hopscotch chalk lines in faded colors

Pavement painted with the brown-gray imprints of old leaves

Manhole covers embossed with roses

A small, perfect heart drawn with blue crayon

One tiny feather-shaped leaf up on its end and twirling in the wind against the pavement.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lovely skishshshshsh of rain on Powells' roof. Portland is my town.

Monday, September 28, 2009

an evening with coco

Excellent reading last night at Powell's City of Books: the fabulous Karen Karbo with her book The Gospel According to Coco Chanel. It's shelved under self-help, I think, at Powell's, but to me, it leans more toward biography. Is it self-help in the form of biography or biography in the form of self-help? That's some nice wolf-in-sheep's-clothing, there - and ultra elegant sheep's clothing, of course. At the reading, Karen called it "riffography," and I think that's the perfect kind of biography for a woman like Chanel. Because she may have had her ups and downs, her goods and bads, but we're not reading about her to luxuriate in her personal tragedies or bad habits - we're reading about her because deep down there's a part of us that wants to be her.

Be stylish, be big personality, be confident, be great wits, be comfortable in our skins.

The book is also very funny - and so was the reading. Karen is a great reader - has great timing. And there was a slideshow! Or powerpoint. I don't really know the difference. But there were pictures!

I like pictures!

[Seriously, did Coco ever do cigarette ads?]

The powerpoint show was framed with droll captions and sometimes tragically funny pairings of photos from Coco's time and ours.

After the reading, Karen took loads of really great questions and gave us loads of detailed answers. And was very attentive to everyone as they lined up to get books signed. My bonus for the evening was Diane Ponti, also there for the reading, so it was great chatting afterward, and great meeting a very nice writer who studies under Karen, and one person knew another person in the crowd, who knew another, and we had a nice, little group waiting in line for Karen.

Of course, me being me, I wanted to dress up for the event - something semi-demi-quasi-pseudo-reminiscent of Chanel. I consulted the book for guidelines - blacks, beiges, jackets, cardigans, sleek lines, nothing barrel-like or bubble-like... Then I consulted my very own built-in Chanel - Stephen - for his eye and expertise. He said, hmm, the jacket's not going to look good with the. And that cardigan's not as good as the. And pointed and said, how about this? I said, "Great, and it's beige! Coco loved beige!"

Stephen said, "That's not beige. That's tan."

So apparently all my life, I've never known what beige means.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why I need Stephen.

Well, not the only reason why, but it's pretty important.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

torn asunder

I follow a blog called The Old Foodie, which gives you, once every weekday, a bit of food history and a recipe, sometimes an old menu, and always neat musings by the blog author (blogthor?). Beyond my fascination with history-through-food, I also get a great kick out of the lovely twists of old language I get to read in her snips of nineteenth century cookbooks, eighteenth century food-writings and the like.

She's in my blog follow list, but you can check her out here.

Today's topic is an Irish potato cake called boxty (or boxtie), and I thought the explanation she included from the Dublin University Magazine of 1854 contained some fabulous bits of old language. I've bolded (emboldened?) my favorite parts...

"In the formation of potato starch the fibrous portion of the tuber, when separated and squeezed from the watery part, was mixed with coarse flour or oatmeal, and by the addition of a little kitchen stuff or butter formed into a cake popularly known in the vest as boxtie, and in the south denominated “buck bread”, “Scotchy”, or “stampy”. This was so much admired, that the children in country parts used to make a grater out of the side of an old tin can, by punching it with an awl in order to rasp lumpers for a feast of boxtie. If we have reserved to the last, the potato-cake, made by bruising with the bottom of a tin porringer, two cold well-boiled potatoes, and mixing therewith a pound of the finest flour, the yolk of a fresh egg, a print of butter, and a sup of new-milk, the whole being well kneaded then pounded with a rolling pin, made into a cake five eighths of an inch thick, cut into squares and diamonds, baked on a griddle, and when properly browned and mottled, each piece torn asunder like a muffin, and a bit of butter slipt in to melt in the interior, and then eaten at tea or breakfast but particularly at the former, it is because it was the most widely disseminated, and universally admired form of potato-eating known to all tea-drinkers and cup-tossers from Cape Clear to the Causeway."

Of course, it's just my own modern conception of the language, but I love how an unassuming little potato cake can be torn asunder. As if the poor thing was rent limb from limb by an angry mob of cup-tossers.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I chose the goat cheese and caramelized onion. Years ago, it would have been the peach and berry for sure. Years ago, on the road with the circus, it was a long day driving with nothing but circus music on the stereo, or a long day under a tent, hot under the wig and makeup, knowing I couldn't really make them laugh, and then in the off-time, nothing to talk about but the circus - but in the evening late, maybe eleven, finding some plastic-booth-breakfast-anytime coffee shop at the edge of a truck stop for limp iceberg lettuce salad and my heart hungry for cherry cobbler. Ice cream sundae. Blackberry pie.

Blackberry pie, Noni's specialty, when we picked the berries in July in Virginia when I was nine.

Chocolate mousse in a wine glass with lush unsweetened whipped cream at my mom's French restaurant.

Or in high school when I discovered there was a candy machine and I could blow dart sugar into my system anytime I had fifty cents on me.

Here I am forty now, and I choose the goat cheese and caramelized onion.

It occurred to me this morning - and I should preface this by saying I worked like thirteen and a half hours yesterday and then slept six, which may be a way of life for some people but for my puny brain it tends to set off punchiness and delusions of grandeur. But it occurred to me this morning that for most of my life, I've been very immature. OK, that’s not what occurred to me this morning – I’ve known this for a long time. Tom Spanbauer once called the novel I’m writing a bildungsroman, even though it’s based on the time when I was thirty five. No, what occurred to me this morning is that my rate of maturity is directly proportionate to the rate of my lessening interest in sweets. Which really didn't happen until these last few years.


Now lunchtime after the morning of my post and thinking about pie makes me think about something else. It's not just maturity that's different now [and I want to go on record and say I realize I'm not actually that mature]. But the other thing is some certain personal fulfillment. Some sense of self that wasn't there before. Some vague but all important something that a big velvety, cocoa-sprinkled slab of tiramisu was never a perfect substitute for - but, in all honesty, it was a pretty good consolation prize

Friday, September 18, 2009

Plus I won a pie!


I never take those Facebook quizzes. Once in a while I want to take one just to see if the grammar in the questions is as horrible as in the little snippets you see when one of your friends takes one - but, no, I never take one.

Except one time I took one. A bunch of my Dangerous Writer friends were taking the Which Famous Writer Are You [or some such] quiz, and everyone was coming up with Kerouac, and they were having such a fun time laughing about everyone coming up with Kerouac that I wanted to be Kerouac too. So I took the quiz.


I think I read On the Road in high school. I say that because I was supposed to read it and I remember putting my eyes down the pages, but I don't really know what I got out of it. I think what I got out of it was bored - but then again I was in high school and if it couldn't make me cry like Of Mice and Men, I probably wasn't really absorbing much of it.

But I have a little library where I get audiobooks for my walks to and from work. This time around I came upon The Dharma Bums. And funny - listening to it, I hear little bits of my own sound. Some ways of using language, some forms of rhythm that sound good in my head and come out on the page. I'm not reeeeeaaally comparing myself to Kerouac, but after that quiz, it was fun to cut in on my walk to work that first day and say aloud, "Oh my god, I really am Kerouac."

Here's a passage I liked enough on my walk yesterday that I had to transcribe it...

"But now I was three miles into the industrial jungle of LA in mad sick sniffling smog night, and had to sleep all that night by a wire fence in a ditch by the tracks, being waked up all night by rackets of Southern Pacific and Santa Fe switchers bellyaching around, till fog and clear of midnight, when I breathed better (thinking and praying in my sack) but then more fog and smog again and horrible damp white cloud of dawn and my bag too hot to sleep in and outside too raw to stand, nothing but horror all night long, except at dawn a little bird blessed me."


Why are my dreams so stupid?

I need better writers.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

the top of virginia woolf's head

I spent a tad bit of my morning reconstructing the top of Virginia Woolf's head.

I include the picture here not because I'm so durn proud of my quick photoshopping skills but because Virginia Woolf has such a fabulous face.

Monday, September 14, 2009

9/11 reading

On September 11th (this September 11th), Stephen and I were part of a big audience at the Powell's on Hawthorne, listening to some great writing about the first September 11th.

When asked if I wanted to write a piece for this reading, I thought, what could I possibly write about my experience of that day that would be unique or interesting? Here's an excellent essay for you. I watched it on TV. I talked to my mom on the phone about it. I watched it on TV.

Well, the writers who stepped up to the plate showed me just how far flung the theme of that day can be. How writing about an experience that so many people had in fairly the same way as you did can still produce such unique stories and points of view. How that day, and those towers, could mean so many different things to different people.

Kevin Meyer

Elizabeth Taylor

Colin Farstad

Tom Spanbauer

And as a little photo bonus - here's the group preparing before the reading. Tom's buried, but he's in there.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

number four

See happy Mr. Umbrella Man.

See why he's blowing his party horn.

Friday, September 11, 2009

constructing a time traveler girl

As I was growing up, I always loved time travel stories. In fact, when I was a teenager I once wrote a novel about a time traveler. It was so stupid. It was about this guy who


maybe I’ll use that.

With the whole hubbub about the Time Traveler’s Wife movie, I decided at Powell’s to stage a window display that highlights other time travel books. Like Finney’s Time After Time, Wells’ The Time Machine, The Accidental Time Machine, A Wrinkle in Time, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (hence my earlier post)… My favorite is Slaughterhouse Five.

I loved loved loved

putting the graphic together. First because I got to emulate some excellent old silent movies I’ve been watching lately – those sci-fi epics with the great, elaborate costumes and sets, all kooky and constructivist. Metropolis, of course, and then there’s Aelita, Queen of Mars. Look at those great head-dresses.

Oh, I loved loved loved

that movie.

Here’s a detail of my time traveler girl in her time pod about to be blasted off to some monumentally exciting time period in the future.


To construct her, I used images I found on the websites Morguefile and Flickr’s Creative Commons.

Here’s the original girl, courtesy of photographer Julianne Hide – she’s the model as well.

To put together the main part of her space suit, I used a photo I found of a pair of weird metal somethings on the deck of the Queen Mary. I have no idea what they are.

They got smoothed down her torso as a sort of bodice, and then one was used, mostly in its intact state, as a sort of accessory to wing out over her arm. Because - well, you know, all futuristic sci-fi costumery has to have something like that.

For the other extras on her time travel suit, I found a gear from some piece of machinery and a coil from a wrought iron fence.

And her intrepid adventurer's helmet? That's the Sydney Opera House.

For her time travel pod, I used mostly very simple objects. A wine glass. A stack of coins. One of those tall silver cups they give you with your chocolate malted. To all of the objects I used on the girl and her pod, I gave some grain to make it look more like an old photograph.

In looking for a coil for her costume, I stumbled upon the crowning glory for the piece. This is called a magnifier tesla coil. I have no idea what it's for other than making lovely Frankenstein lightning shoot out in all directions, but I realized I had to have me some cool electric rays for my time machine.

And that thing just under the lightning and capping the wine glass time travel pod? That's the top of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The Islamic temple built over the rock where supposedly Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac, Solomon built the First Temple, and Mohammad ascended to heaven. It was built in the seventh century.

Which seemed like a cool bit of cosmic to include in my time machine, although once I had it in there, I realized it pretty much just looks like some upside-down mixing bowl.

One last piece of show and tell in this display graphic. A great constructivist photo-montage from 1932, with Lenin presiding like Godzilla over the masses.

Note the electricity pylon, which I used in my piece.

The project was great fun - and now I know that if I can get a wine glass, some coins, a milkshake cup and the top of the Dome of the Rock, I can go back in time and be way cooler in high school.


picture attributions: julianne hide, sin_magic / lake steele, mecookie / michael, betta design / francisco martins, tesla1000 / clintLightning

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

more creations

The other day I showed off some of my brother's art.

Today, I'd like to show off a couple of my sister's greatest creations.



Need I say more?

nine nine nine

Today has the auspicious honor of being 09-09-09.

To celebrate, I shall eat nine layer cakes.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

accidental poetry of the day

At Powell's today, I was on the Powell's website looking up a book. My type-too-fast fingers made a little screw up in the last word:

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Aourt.

Figuring the site would do an automatic suggestion for the correct title, I just waited for the page to load in.

It said:

"Did you mean a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Aorta?"

Monday, September 7, 2009

tattoo part three

It was in these very hills that I got my first tattoo.


But when people see my tattoo for the first time, they usually ask me what it says or what language it's in.

I say, "It's in Dnalsjian."

Saeshan ni'shou means water in the sand, and it's written in a language my brother created - actually one of many. Frank has created an entire world, with whole histories, maps, myths and folktales, ecosystems...

Seems like he's used every avenue possible in his ongoing fleshing out of this world. He's written stories, drawn creatures, plants and landscapes, made globes, written music - one time he took an old dining room table and painted the map of the world across it. The smaller lettering in my tattoo was taken from his writings.

Frank's latest medium is computer art. The picture at the top of my post is somewhere in the hills of Old Minzaron. Which, for all you travelers out there, is on the continent of Mersinoe, which is north of Dnalsj.

One of the things I love the most about his work, beyond the skill in it of course, is how he's able to create landscapes that seem equally real and alien.

Here's one more.

And here's what Frank says about the tasty treats in the picture:

"...their fleshy meat, though pungent, is considered a delicacy to many peoples in the region. Wealthy aristocrats from distant nations will pay exorbitant amounts to have it shipped great distances to be prepared at their courts....personally I'm not a big fan, but then again, I have simple tastes."

These small images don't do the pieces justice, of course. Click to enlarge and really see the detail. Then visit his Renderosity page here.

Friday, September 4, 2009

dangerous writing announcements

Dangerous Writing announcement #1:

On Friday, September 11, Tom Spanbauer, along with Dangerous Writers Colin Farstad, Elizabeth Taylor and Kevin Meyer, will be reading original essays about 9/11 at Powell's on Hawthorne. This event will also feature local writer Tami Lynn Kent and starts at 7:30.

Dangerous Writing announcement #2:

Brad found a watermelon leftover from the 4th of July, and it smells really, really bad.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

tattoo part two

I got my first tattoo from a guy named Salt Rock. He spelled his name with a dollar sign.

I'd been a bit obsessed with tattoos for a while and when I finally made the decision to go under the needle myself, for my thirty-fifth birthday, it was a kind of walk in off the street thing. Saw a place, went in, made an appointment for the next day. The place was called Evil Mind, and it was the luck of the draw whether I got $alt Rock or Tortilla Ted.

$alt Rock had a dollar sign the size of a jujube on his forehead and the letters of his tattoo nickname spelled out all Night of the Hunter on the backs of his fingers. And one of those big shaded tattoo hearts or roses - something red - along with the name of his wife or girlfriend (ex-girlfriend? one-night-stand?) on the back of his hand. When he said he'd done that one himself, I felt very at ease about my little lettering design.

When I look back on it now, the thing that sticks in my mind is the moment I could have let it all go wrong. That's the thing about the person I was then - and try not to be now. The first time he positioned the design on my ankle (he took a xerox of it, got it damp and pressed a transfer against my skin) - OK, I spoke up, I said he'd put it too high. Fine. He took a wet cloth and wiped my leg off and started over. But the second time, he had it on there crooked. The lettering, instead of slanting down, went straight across.

I couldn't believe I was going to have to tell him a second time that I wanted him to redo it. And this was not some sort of crusty bulldog tattoo guy - he had a big red heart (rose?) and the name of a beloved (once-beloved? once-be-lusted? imaginary?) woman (shih tzu?) on the back of his hand - there was no reason for me to be afraid to say something.

I stared at myself in the full length mirror - intrepid Amazon warrior woman out to get her boss tattoo - but it took $alt Rock being pulled away to the counter to schedule some piercings for two probably twenty year old girls - for me to work myself up to saying, uh, yeah, see, if you didn't mind...

And he didn't. And he said, sure, hey, no problem. And then without wiping the crooked stencil off and repositioning it again, he turned and started the tattoo machine into whirring.

Oh my god, what the hell. I do not want to have to say something again.

For one idiot moment, my brain actually decided that maybe he could straighten it out freehand. It was that important to me to not have to speak up.

He brought that buzzing electric needle over and pointed it at my skin and I finally said


Apparently when I'd said to him, see, the tail of that N should be pointing straight down, he figured he could just leave the rest of it the way it was and adjust the tail. When I think of all the time I schemed and mulled and reveled over (in?) that design, and then I got so close to letting it sit wrong on my skin