Friday, December 9, 2016

a moment in the day: rear-ended

Driving home from work, I've got the classical station on so I can think through what I might say for the radio taping tonight. I'm going to be appearing on KBOO's "Bread and Roses" program, the country's longest-running feminist radio show, and I'm very excited to be appearing alongside three badass woman writers, discussing feminism, womanhood, and our respective parts in the anthology I edited, City of Weird.

I'm feeling quite badass, myself, with all my badass woman musings - until the car behind me rams into my bumper. I'm thrown forward, a quick fishtail as I slam on the breaks, and all of my woman-power feelings fly right out the window, along with the decidedly girly squeak that just jumped from my mouth on impact.

Now I'm pulled over on the side of Burnside Bridge yanking stuff out of my glove compartment, looking for the insurance card, looking for that little pad of paper, looking for a pen. Finding ice scraper. Hot pink flashlight. Envelope full of miscellaneous papers that aren't the one I need.

And my brain has gone where my brain tends to go in uncertain situations, to that place where I feel like a loser, and maybe it's all the feminism musings, but all I can think about is how I'm a woman.

Does the guy in the other car think it's my fault because I'm a woman driver?

My hands are shaking - am I weak, scared, wimpy because I'm a woman?

Where the hell is the insurance card and do I call the police or do I not call the police and what information do I need to get from the guy and am I a scatterbrain because I'm a woman?

Am I going to burst into tears because I'm a woman?

Why do I sometimes think this way, stop thinking this way, it's wrong, it's untrue, and it's stupid, stupid, stupid! Am I being stupid, stupid, stupid because I'm a woman? 

The cars are going by so steadily on my left that I can't open the car door sitting here pulled off into the bike lane of the bridge, and I finally climb like an idiot over the parking brake, over the shopping bag and girly purse on the passenger seat, climb clumsy out the door into the cold dark.

The other driver is a woman. Early twenties with a pretty face and short brown hair, big eyes at me: "Oh my god, are you OK? I'm so, so sorry! Are you OK?"

I'm saying I'm OK and she's asking again and I'm saying it more emphatically, still climbing out of the car. Somehow this strikes me as just as feminist as all of my feminist musings from before: all I want to do is reassure her and make her feel better, and all she wants is for me to be OK.

I straighten up out of the car, and I don't know why I do it, and it's weird when I do it, but I do it anyway, the first thing I do after getting rear-ended, I throw my arms around this woman I don't know and give her a hug.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

City of Weird Contributor: Susan DeFreitas

While reading submissions for City of Weird, I started to see themes emerge. There were a lot of aquatic monster stories. There were a lot of stories that had a strong focus on dogs. One of the groupings I was surprised by was stories centered around otherworldly books. In fact, I wrote about how interesting this was, and how conflicted I was about it (being a bookseller, myself) for the Powell's blog here.

One of these otherworldly book stories was Susan DeFreitas' "The Mind-Body Problem." Late at the library at Reed College, binge-researching a last minute term paper on the correlation between the mind and the body for her philosophy class—while unsure about the relationship between these two parts of herself—Shana discovers a book that doesn't exist. The book gives her exactly what she's looking for, for her paper, but it's also an omen of death and misfortune.

The book-as-omen-of-death thing is super cool, but "The Mind-Body Problem" is so much more. One of the main themes is star-crossed love, but the one-sided kind of star cross where character A is in love with character B, but character B is focused elsewhere. Here's a favorite passage of mine. Narrator Shana is having tea in a homemade shelter in Reed Canyon with the young man she's been secretly in love with for a long time, and he's just shown her the scroll of Chinese calligraphy he has made for the girl he's in love with.

We sat sipping from our tiny teacups, and he told me about a party that night at the old dorm block; our boy Alex would be there—I should come. I nodded, thinking about the bridge across the canyon from which those rumored students had jumped. Had they been driven to it by heartache, the weight of it? As Cam spoke, I could feel myself sinking into the stone upon which I sat, which was itself sinking slowly into the bog.

I wondered, how would it feel to climb up onto the railing of that bridge at night, to look down into the darkness? How would it feel for that one brief instant to be released from any contact with the earth?

Above is a photo of Blue Bridge over Reed Canyon, courtesy "Another Believer," via Wikipedia Commons.

Susan has been getting loads of praise for her debut novel Hot Season, which was just published by
Harvard Square Press. An outlaw activist on the run. A pipeline set to destroy a river. And three young women who must decide who to love, who to trust, and what to sacrifice for the greater good. Wow, what could be a more perfect time for this book to come out! Hot Season is a beautifully written story that combines the personal themes of coming-of-age with the wider themes of climate change and eco-terrorism.

Monica Drake, author of Clown Girl and The Folly of Loving Life, calls it, "a beautiful book that asks the crucial question, is it worse to destroy a dam or to destroy a river? Which is to say, how do we live our conscience on a crowded, corrupted planet?"

Mo Daviau, author of Every Anxious Wave, calls it, "a beguiling college novel in the tradition of The Secret History."

Here's a great review of the book on the EcoLit Books blog.

More info on Susan and Hot Season is here.

Somewhere during the process of editing City of Weird, I was contacted by Susan and honored with the chance to design the book cover for Hot Season, using the beautiful photography of Lucy Wu.

On Friday, Susan will be appearing alongside two other contributors to City of Weird, B. Frayn Masters and Leigh Anne Kranz, as well as myself, to talk about the themes of womanhood and feminism in City of Weird on KBOO Radio's Bread and Roses, the longest-running feminist radio show in the country!

But first! Today is the day of the official book launch event for Hot Season. Susan will be reading at Powell's City of Books in downtown Portland at 7:30. If you're in town, come on down and celebrate with us. The Facebook event page is here.  CORRECTION: this event has been postponed because of inclement weather. I'll post an update when it's rescheduled.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin at Portland Center Stage

Stephen and I are huge fans of Irving Berlin. So much so that on Friday night, after we watched the sweeping biopic one-man-show Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin at Portland Center Stage, happy in that afterglow of a good night of theater, we had to go home and watch Carefree, one of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films featuring Irving Berlin's music. I'd been up since five and had worked all day and I knew I'd fall asleep within probably the first half hour, but I didn't care. I had to have more.

And I did. Both. I had more and I fell asleep. Contrary to what the movie poster advises, I did not stay awake to see them do "The Yam." But it didn't matter because earlier in the evening I'd been treated to Irving Berlin's entire life as encapsulated and dramatized and sung and played on piano by Hershey Felder, the playwright/performer who has brought to life such figures as George Gershwin, Chopin, Beethoven, Abraham Lincoln, and Shirley Temple. OK, he never did Shirley Temple, but I wouldn't be surprised if he could pull her off. He did some pretty nifty impersonations during Irving Berlin, including a pretty spot-on Ethel Merman, and I figure from there it's just a short hop, skip and a jump to the Good Ship Lollipop.

The show opens with Felder as a young Irving Berlin in conversation with his older self as personified by a wheelchair that sits stage left throughout the performance - and then he proceeds to take us through his whole life, starting with his childhood. It's a lot to encapsulate: one hundred and one years, in fact! It's a fascinating life, from the triumphs of his career to the heartbreaks of his lost loves, and through it all is music. To name a few of the songs Irving Berlin wrote: Cheek to Cheek, Alexander's Ragtime Band, I'm Putting All My Eggs in One Basket, There's No Business like Show Business, Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better, Easter Parade, Always, I Used to be Colorblind, God Bless America, The [aforementioned] Yam, Blue Skies, What'll I Do, I'll See You in C-U-B-A [popularized by the character of Ricky Ricardo], Puttin' on the Ritz, I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, and White Christmas.

Felder doesn't just tell the story of Irving Berlin's life. He sings it and plays it - sometimes accompanying his own singing, sometimes accompanying clips of famous film flashed on the huge decorative mirror center stage - and, heads up: at one point, he makes you sing it too. I usually hate singalongs. After the show, my husband said to me, sort of incredulous, "You sang along!" I don't know what made me go for it this time. Maybe it was Hershey Felder's very personal performance that made me feel comfortable. Maybe it was that I felt proud that I knew all the words and didn't need his calling them out to help jog my memory. (Even if my knowledge of some of the songs was a little less classic Irving Berlin. Here's my favorite rendition of one, Always, performed by the powerhouse Damita Jo with Steve Gibson's Red Caps.)

In his performance as Irving Berlin, Hershey Felder has lovely timing. He takes us to very deep places, bringing us just to the brink of melodrama in a manner that is befitting a figure who pens such lines as Soon we'll be without the moon / humming a different tune and then / There may be teardrops to shed / So while there's moonlight and music and love and romance / Let's face the music and dance. And from that brink, he does a quick about-face and drops into a joke, or simply directs his energy forward as if Berlin is saying to us with that dry wit of his, eh, life moves on.

These days I can't see a show, watch a movie, read a book without pulling in some extra layer of context based on the current political climate and the changes that have come and are going to continue to come into our world. During a lot of Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin, I found myself musing on, and occasionally suddenly choked up about, the idea of Berlin's patriotism, his devotion to this country. Here was a man who was born in Russia, lived in poverty, immigrated to America with his family in search of a better life. Here was a Jew who, ironically, gave us Easter Parade and White Christmas, who had changed his name from Israel Isadore Baline in response to anti-Semitism. Here was a man who, with all of his fame, was still "other" within the culture, still felt (at least from what I learned from Felder's performance) like an outsider, yet held onto a deep love of this country and gave us one of the most patriotic songs of the American canon, God Bless America. Called America his "home sweet home."

As this country moves more and more toward marginalizing and rejecting its immigrants and its so-called "outsiders," Hershey Felder's Irving Berlin has what we need: a determined love of home, a soupçon of old fashioned schmaltz (no, I mean that in a good way), and a reminder that, no matter what happens, there will still be music.

It's running through December 30th at the Armory. More info is at Portland Center Stage here.

Thank you to Eighty Eight Entertainment for the pictures and Wikipedia Commons for the Carefree poster.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

City of Weird Contributor: Bradley K. Rosen

While reading submissions for City of Weird, with a blind on so that I didn't know the authors of the stories I was considering, I had one author in mind who I was pretty sure... was awfully sure... who I knew for damn sure I would recognize the moment his words crossed my reading screen. Bradley K. Rosen.

Even as time went on and I was reading submission after submission and not recognizing any voices, even though I was sure writers I knew were submitting, even when I realized maybe this blind thing had a magic to it, that made you blind to the voices you know so well, I was certain that if Brad submitted a piece, I'd know.

Came the last day of submissions and no Brad, I was certain.

I read submissions, made my decisions on the stories I wanted, and finally the blind came down - and, yep. Nope. No Brad.

So I just came right out and asked him. He said he'd worked on a story but had decided not to submit because he knew I'd recognize his voice and that would be kind of against the rules. I instantly demanded that he tell me about the story, and when he told me it was about an old man who lives in a tent in Forest Park and believes it's his duty to save the children of Portland from the Krampus (this was way before the movie, by the way) and that his weapon of choice is this weird drum on a stick called a waldteufel...

...well, I demanded that he send me the story.

Here's a taste. And you tell me if there's any way you wouldn't recognize this voice if you knew it, even reading blind:

She woke me up out of that whiskey slumber with her whining, that high pitch of a dog’s way of talking that gets to your attentions and grabs quick at your nerves so much that you’ll do most anything she wants to get her to shut the hell up. She was standing there with her nose to the zipper of our tent. Our tent that sleeps six. Said so right there on the box it came in. That it sleeps six. Our green tent, green to blend in with the forest. A camouflage. The forest we live in that is half a forest and half a park. Not like they are half and half separate, more like they is half and half together. Like a good marriage. Like me and my dog. That is why they call it the Forest Park. Biggest city kind of park that is a forest in all of the United States of America. The city being Portland, Oregon, with all its odd clients and good-looking bridges. The city I have come to love almost as much as I love that dog. 

The Yay-yay’s sad Christian eyes. Them eyes of a patron martyr. She whined some more. 

“What is it now, asshole?” I said. “You got to pee again already?” 

The zipper that was the door of our tent was on the other side from where I was laying warm and cozy in my sleeping bag and other odd array of blankets that padded under and over me. It was cold. Part of me wanted to stretch out and grab ahold of Yay-yay’s collar and pull her back into the comforts of our bed. 

Go back to sleep. 

But I didn’t, I knew that whine she was making. I knew that look in her eye. 

The Krampus. It was coming.

I had to have it. I took the story outright, no submission, no blind, no anything.

Here's a fun fact about Brad's story "Yay." His was the very last edit made in the book. We'd gone though the process of my own edits, then three, count 'em, three separate rounds of copy edits to get all the stories pristine down to the last hyphen, and I was sitting in a Thai restaurant waiting for a to-go order. I had a copy of the book which publisher Laura Stanfill had had made through the Espresso Book Machine at Powell's, a hard copy to use for any last minute catches that had slipped by during our endless read-throughs via computer. Tonight, I was tired of scrutinizing and feeling confident that we had all our Ps and Qs crossed and dotted, and I was just reading for pleasure as I waited.

I chose Brad's story. In it, there's a flashback to when the old man is a boy, in a five and ten cent store, and, being poor on Christmas Eve, steals a cross on a chain to give to his mother as a Christmas present. After slipping the necklace into his pocket, he buys a Coca-cola. One of those older style Cokes in a glass bottle curved sexy like a woman.

Suddenly, I realized that a poor boy who steals an inexpensive necklace from a five and ten cent store would not pull out a ten dollar bill to pay for his nickel Coke.

That was Tuesday, August 9th. The next day, I spoke to Brad about it and he decided to turn the ten dollar bill into a more time-appropriate one-dollar bill. On Monday, August 15th, the book went to press.

I've loved-loved-loved Brad's writing for a long time. We were both long-time members of the Dangerous Writing fiction workshop, in which I witnessed the progress of a novel and a half of his work, along with a couple short stories. The novel he wrote in full is called The Bunkie's Spills (don't try to fathom out that title - just go with it) and it will be published next year by Small Doggies Press. I'm head over heels for that book and can't wait for it to come out.

A sample. In it, our hero Bunkie is musing on the girl of his dreams, Evelyn:

Evelyn one of them girls you always catch your friends looking at. A Michelangelic. With a thin bone of nose separating her eyes, and the hints of a cleavage that run smack dab right down through the middle of her chin.

One of them peoples that looks good wearing a sweater.

Evelyn’s Evelyn. Evelyn.

A year younger than me. Same age as Angelina. They was best friends ‘til death do us parts. Where Big Pete was smart Evelyn might have been smarter. Always getting the straight A’s and knowing about all them things I didn’t have much of a clue to think about. Things like them French Resolutions and them Reforestations of the Catholic Church.

Keep your eyes out in the coming year for The Bunkie's Spills. It's sweet and funny and profound and it will surprise you at every turn.

In the meantime, you can hear Bradley read from his story "Yay" and maybe even demonstrate the playing of the waldteufel, at City of Weird's winter event at Corkscrew Wine Bar as part of the Plonk Reading Series - Wednesday, December 7 at 7 PM.

Monday, December 5, 2016

City of Weird Contributor: Nicole Rosevear

One of the things I did during the editing of Nicole Rosevear's story for City of Weird was suggest that she change the title. Come to think of it, I did this for a few of the pieces in the book. In Nicole's case the reason was that I was afraid the original title would give away some of the ending or where the story was headed. Because to mention the original title here would do just that, I won't, but Nicole has so many beautiful turns of phrase in her piece that it was easy for her to go through and choose something else.

"This Many Lost Things" is a story about loss in its many, many forms. Here's from the opening:

If Janie had a superpower, it would be losing things. Socks, jewelry, her cell phone. Four dogs, her father, six jobs, a fiancé, a fetus. Queen of the lost.

And a little farther along:

On weekends, Janie climbs. She drives to the center of the state and scrambles her way to the tops of scree slopes, every careful step releasing miniature rockslides in her wake; drives into the Gorge and views waterfalls from above, from the source, from before they can possibly know what they will become in another mile of wet and rocky tumbling. She climbs Tabor and Rocky Butte, but the West Hills loom taller in the not-so-far distance. From Council Crest, Hood taunts her with its crisp, bright angles. She has never touched glacier.

Nicole explores the theme of climbing as deeply and as metaphorically as she does the theme of loss in "This Many Lost Things." Janie climbs hills and mountains, furniture in her apartment. She goes to the tops of buildings to survey the world and try to find her lost things. Reality blurs, but not in the way it does when you're reading a ghost story or a monster tale. "This Many Lost Things" is really a story that falls a bit outside the theme of City of Weird, because the "otherworldly" element isn't so much something fanstastical or science-fictiony as something surreal and poetical (is that a real word? I'm going with it.). But I fell in love with the beauty and the quiet heartbreak in the piece, so I had to have it.

Sometimes Janie finds her own lost things on her climbs, although never ones she’s looked for. She turns a corner and finds the third argument she had with her fiancé, before they had moved in together, before either of them had considered that one day he might be her fiancé, climbs a flight of uneven stone stairs and rediscovers, word for word, a conversation with her father when she was twelve and they were on a vacation in Arizona. She finds her mother’s “You can grow up to be whatever you want to be, Janiebird” and the meth-riddled smile of a long-gone ex.

Her most recent ex, the fiancé, the almost-father to her almost-mother, used to come with her on her climbs. She understood that her silence on the climbs, her intensity of ascent, disturbed him. Janie is not a meanderer through nature, doesn’t hold hands on bridges and revel in the waterfall spray misting her face, doesn’t pack picnics. She did not talk about the child they would have had, never unpacked the box of heirloom clothes her fiancé’s mother sent not long before it became clear there was no longer going to be anyone to wear them.

Sometimes she can still feel the ghosts of the little butterfly flutters in her belly, the somersaults and loop-de-loops of another living thing sharing her body. Little fish swimming along, heartbeat under her heartbeat, until it wasn’t anymore. Just another lost thing.

One of the things that is really intriguing to me in this story is the deft way Nicole juxtaposes this world of surreal poetry with the harshness of reality. No matter how far Janie climbs, no matter how deeply we're nestled into the lull of Nicole's language, she's ready to pull us back with a dose of something deeply real.

Nicole teaches composition and creative writing at Clackamas Community College and is a member of the Clackamas Literary Review’s editorial team. She's a graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars and has had work published in North American Review, Bennington Review, and VoiceCatcher.

To check out more of Nicole's work, read her story "One Small Thing Right" in the lovely journal Voicecatcher here.

She'll be reading "This Many Lost Things" at our winter- and Christmas-themed City of Weird event for the Plonk reading series, at Corkscrew Wine Bar on Wednesday, December 7.

Thanks to Morguefile member Schick for the Mount Hood photograph.