Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Lucinda - Live @ The Fillmore - Tonight!

I wouldn't be a friend if I didn't put in a quick plug for my girl, Lucinda Williams. She's playing at the Fillmore tonight, debuting some of her prolific 24 new songs. (Was I supposed to spill that yet?) The album has been pushed out to February 15, 2007, but adoring fans will be delighted to know that Lu re-released "Car Wheels on A Gravel Road" just yesterday. Tonight's show is Sold Out...but if you really want to get in I can probably help you make it happen.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Manifesting Great Things

Today I bought Janet Fitch's new book Paint It Black. Janet tops my list of contemporary writers for her first masterpiece novel, White Oleander. The magic of her words, woven into her signature hybrid of poetic fiction, is mesmerizing. She is a leader in our craft for having the rare ability to leave a reader with the sense they actually had an experience. It's haunting. I then worked on revising a difficult chapter of my own novel for several hours. I took a break to walk through the city. San Francisco has gotten dark and cold in the space of a week, reminding me of how fast things can change when you aren't paying attention. I thought about why I was stuck with my writing. I decided, after I witnessed a street fight between a quarrelling couple, that it's because my writing is vulnerable and telling. My characters explore their emotions and motives deeply. They scatter on the page, like photographs, or soundbytes until I can make sense of it. But I can't capture a scene or chapter, with any satisfaction, unless I tell it as it's felt. It's refreshing that another writer (JF) seems to approach writing similarly, and without reservation. I considered how inspiring it would be to have Janet as a mentor.

I thought about another mentor of mine, Chris Abani. We haven't been in touch for a month or so, but we texted today. While at Centrum he told me to explore PhD programs, and turned me on to Percival Everett's writing. When I visited the website at USC where Percival teaches, I learned that Janet teaches there, too. I sent her an email, and told her how much I loved White Oleander. Since I didn't think she'd actually read it, I babbled on a bit about my work as an advertising copywriter in NYC and SF, my transition to becoming a professional commissioned artist and my recent goals as a fiction writer.

I came home ready to dive into my writing. I closed the window to my email, but my eye caught on a new message. It was lyrical and encouraging. It was a personal email from a mentor: Janet Fitch.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

In Memoriam: Barbara Yanowski

This summer, my first workshop in Iowa City was "This Too is Life: Memoirs of Illness." I was interested in the genre of memoir, and considered myself an expert on illness. Even though I was newly-diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, I wasn't openly sharing about it. The first day I stepped in the class, there were a few older people, a couple of doctors, a woman who had lost her daughter to cancer and another woman with MS. After the first class, I was completely bummed out.

I stuck with it, though. I realized that being with these people for several hours a day--reading essays, writing our experiences, and being in all stages of illness--was uncomfortably confronting for me. I secretly defined myself as the "healthy sick girl." I believed I could heal myself with wheatgrass, vitamins and positive thoughts. I wasn't fooling anyone though, with a cooler of interferon at my feet.

One of our assignment was to discuss our regrets. Two women in their seventies-Ruth and Barbara-were the comedy troupe of our class. Ruth said that she would have been "more promiscuous." Ruth detailed all of the ways she had tried to be a "good girl" and how if she could go back, she would have lots more sex. Barbara was a firecracker, spurring her on, asking for details. I later learned that Barbara was struggling with cancer, an ongoing battle for her.

The last night of our class, we had a special dinner sponsored by the university. When I arrived after getting my Interferon treatment, Barbara and Ruth saved a place for me. Ruth assembled a small plate of desserts, instructing me, one by one, which ones were her favorites. It hit me how ironic, I was fighting with every cell of my body to look good--while it felt like every joint was swelling and dismantling. Meanwhile, this table of "sick" people were so energetic, self-expressed, free. The difference between us was they had accepted their situation and I was using all of my energy to deny it.

Barbara grabbed my arm across the table. "Your writing reminds me of Augusten Burroughs," she said. I told her that Augusten Burroughs was one of my favorite contemporary authors. I was flattered out of my mind. "Truth can be funny." She smiled and told me to keep on writing. That's the last time I saw Barbara. Today, I got the sad news from our teacher, Cecile Goding, that Barbara passed away comfortably on Friday night with her husband by her side. Cecile said her only comments on the workshop evaluation form said, "Loved everything, but need more desserts!" Barbara exposed me to the possibility that having an illness is not a character flaw. It creates opportunity and compassion, and ultimately is part of what can make a person truly extraordinary. She saw the funny side of truth. And, she showed us not to sit around, waiting for the good stuff: Eat dessert first.


My thoughts and prayers are with Barbara's family and friends during this difficult time.
The memorial service is Nov. 4, 11-1:30 at the Beach AA meeting she started in St. Pete Beach. Memorials may be sent to Moffet Cancer Institute, Foundation for Lymphoma Research, Tampa, FL.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Mantenna and the Fall of Western Civilization

Someone in my class sent me an email with the subject line, "My Brain Hurts From Studying." If it's possible to imagine, my brain hurt too much to open and read the email. I haven't been updating my blog...or, uh, showering for that matter. I'm knee-deep in study-mode: GREs, Personal Statements, formal applications and deciding which manuscript to send to my list of chosen universities. I've narrowed it down to about eleven schools from my eighteen original darlings.

Since I'm no longer a twenty-year old college student, with a racy red motorcycle and a Mountain Dew addiction, study breaks are lame. I've read (and written) one too many Public Service Announcement ads to smoke cigarettes, and I don't have the metabolism for beer. My old college roommate is doing perfunctory married people things, 2500 miles and two time zones away. We can't run over to Doc's Pad to flirt ourselves into oblivion.

Bored, somewhat depressed, and unshowered, I checked my messages. Or, message, singular. Plus the twelve I think I might need someday to remind me of how popular I used to be two weeks ago. Sprint automatically deletes them after a month. It's like they're saying Get Over It, Lady, but with the manners of an "Oops! I did it again!" technological hiccup. My incoming message? The Pharmacist. And "he" was automated. He says my name, pronounced hard, like it's taking every nano-chip of his energy to push out: "Ju-Ain-Nell AT-Toe-LEE-nee!"

It's official. I've. Hit. A. New. Low.

I decide, since the Pharmacist went to all that trouble to call, least I can do is pay him a visit. I also want to see if I can pick up the latest Sun Magazine. It's my favorite magazine, and it seems like hardly anyone knows about it. I discovered The Sun while an obsequious new writer in New York City.

When I got to the pharmacy, the automated man is actually a very friendly Asian woman with palm trees painted on her acrylic nails. I know that the drugstore doesn't carry The Sun, but I look for it anyway. I feel the same level of surprise and disappointment everytime, when it's not there.

A guy with a Mantenna passes, then stops beside me and grabs a magazine. He asks me which magazine I am in. Seriously. What is a girl supposed to say to something that creepy? And how great would the look on his face have been if I would have handed him a Playboy?

Fortunately, because he was wearing The Mantenna, I had an out. "I'm sorry?" I said. I pointed to his ear. "I thought you were on the phone." He fiddled with his earpiece, and my eyes refocused with the gravitational pull of the headline BRAD WALKS OUT, ANGELINA BLAMES JEN! (Trust me, this stuff actually starts to make sense after spending hours writing...)

Later that night, I ask my roommate about the evolution of The Mantenna. When did this happen? I thought guys didn't like talking on the phone. Most of them are self-described masters of the five-minute, dictated converstaion. Now, they're ruining the foundation of generations before by prancing around with phones ATTACHED to their ears.

Is this Escape of the Killer Telemarketers, or is the Shopping Channel having a sale on hyperactive man accessories? I thought men, and the geriatric population, were the reason Operators asked us to stay on the line if we have rotary dial. Because telephones are complicated and mysterious. I personally could never understand how some men could be mesmerized by 42inch HDTVs, reassemble computers, and pirate their neighbors cable, but "just weren't phone people." Now, those same men are going on dates with fat, blinking spaceships hanging off their ears and ringtones blaring "I'm Bringing Sexy Back!" by Justin Timberlake. I don't know if they sleep with their Mantennas, but it's safe to say we've got a national crisis on our hands. Not since the Fanny Pack, which in its worst stages became the Manny Pack, have I seen such a fashion debacle.

The next day I got a speeding ticket. I was rushing to the doctor. I had a bad experience giving myself a shot. I must have hit a vein or nerve because it hurt like hell. Renee was getting her climbing gear together, and after I screamed, gave me some medical explanation in a very monotone voice. That girl is solid. The house could be on fire, and Renee would come home, look at the damage, and say, "That's cool. I was going to donate that stuff to Goodwill anyway."

I was determined to shoot the other side, but was completely freaked out. It still hurt where I stuck the needle. Renee brought me Mac and Cheese, and we were watching The Girls Next Door, pretending like I could give myself the shot...any second. Renee finally recapped the needle, and I called the doctor to give me the shot.

When I got pulled over, I made no excuses, didn't cry. The cop told me to go 50 MPH. (uh, Really though? 50?) After he handed me a pink slip, I punched it Chuie, and hit the turbo to get back in the freeway flow. The cop was still trailing me. I looked down and realized I was going about 70.

He came up beside me. I thought he was trying to tell me something. I actually thought I'd get pulled over again and get a second speeding ticket in five minutes. A record for me. I wasn't nervous, maybe because he looked like a Doogie Houser, M.D dress up version of a cop. Or those security guard dudes at the mall who are like B Team knock off cops. I slowed down and mouthed "I'm sorry."

But he wasn't trying to communicate with me. He didn't even look my way as he zoomed off. He was too busy talking and laughing into his Mantenna to notice.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Cruise Jewerly and Scarves

Do you know what it's like to pack up your stuff in storage, and unearth it several months later?

It's fantastic. It was like going to the Store of Jaynel. In every box, I was like, "I love that!" and then I realized I could take it because it was, mine. There was one problem. The movers did such a good job, that my storage "pod" was stuffed like a maze. I pulled out a couple of paintings, and my snowboard fell on my head. (ouch.) When I tried to stuff it back, it wouldn't fit. I took out this little sad, fragile table to make room. I remember asking the mover guy to take it at the last minute. I put it on the street, but I just couldn't leave it there.

"You're keeping that thing?" he asked. It was falling apart. I wonder if that's what I liked about it. "It's hella ugly," he said, "But I'll find room."

I came for clothes, and my paint. My paints were buried behind my desk, my favorite chair that's been following me since Colorado, and the ironing board I almost never use. I was actually afraid to move anything, for fear everything would come tumbling down. I took a small silver box cleverly coded "photos." There's me laughing with a birthday cake full of candles on my 30th birthday, my sister and I on Christmas, my college roommate (including my very studious college ID), my motorcycle permit and a very posed senior class picture from high school. I had a perm from a Beauty School Trainee. (I wish I was joking.)

At the bottom of the box is a tape. A "cassette." With Music. There's a sheet of paper shoved in the sleeve, and it lists the songs: Talking Heads, Michael Penn, Flaming Lips, Elvis Costello...I remember this particular guy telling me that he sang a song for me and recorded it from his basement, so it sounded kind of rough. I was a senior in high school and working at an art gallery in 1992. I was so impressed that I loaded up my girlfriends in the parking lot during lunch in my 1984 Ford Escort. The song was called "Butterfly." One of my girlfriends says with her mouth half full, "Your boyfriend didn't sing this!" And I just turned it up louder so she could hear the basement where he sang it. "Unless your boyfriend is Lenny Kravitz..." I was sipping on a Coca Cola Slurpee from 7-11. I either had a brain freeze or I went into shock. Whenever I imagine this guy (which is, in case you're wondering, absolutely never, and for the record, would not consider a boyfriend), I just imagine his face with Lenny dreds and a boa around his neck. Why did he have to ruin LENNY for me?! And what did Lenny ever do to him?

I wanted to find my box of scarves and jewerly. My mother calls it "cruise jewerly" because it's too extravagent to wear everyday. I don't want to wait for a cruise, though. I don't even like cruises. I think beautiful things should be worn everyday, even if they are a little extraordinary. But I went away empty-handed, because when I opened the box, it was full of kitchenware.

It's uncharacteristic for me not to wear a scarf, or big clumbsy jewerly. Tonight Renee made me laugh, "I'm surprised you didn't get your scarves out of storage," she says. "I don't think I've ever seen your neck." Maybe I should look up my imposter ex and see if I can borrow his Lenny boa.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

I'm a Saab Genius!

Winter is upon us in sunny California. I stopped by my storage to get my down comforter, sweaters, wool socks. It's a nippy 75 degrees.

As I left, I pushed the button to close the roof of my convertible. Suddenly, I hear a loud SNAP. The roof is beeping, but not moving. The interior computer says CHECK SOFT TOP. Usually that happens if the trunk is too full. But I can't open the trunk, because it's so jacked up.

I call Saab Roadside, even though my warranty is expired by two months. They're closed. CLOSED. Roadside is not open on Sundays. I read the manual...try everything. Since I once fixed my car in Montana via a phone conversation with a Saab mechanic hundreds of miles away, I feel I am uniquely qualified to fix this malfunction. I don't think it's electrical because it doesn't say SOFT TOP FAILURE, although it could be.

I start to give up, sit in the warehouse and stare at my freaked out, jacked up car. I still love this car, frustrated as I am. I can't pull up the backside top roof by myself, it's heavy and awkward. So I hang out until I flag down the guy on the forklift. I ask if he can help me. He looks at me sympathetically. He says he doesn't want to mess up my car any more than it already is, and puts on by. I don't know why, but I take it personally.

A scary, heavily-pierced and tattooed girl comes by with her belly hanging over her low riders. Since I'm basically at the mercy of strangers, I try to woo her with charm by complimenting one of her tattoos. It comes off totally inauthentic because she then asks, "Do you have tattoos?" To which I have to say, "Uh, not exactly."

I'm honestly too afraid to ask her to help the cause, but I push myself to ask her friend to lift the back roof of my car. It's tough to be in this kind of desperate situation, because it's imperative she treats it delicately--I'm convinced there's something in the joint that made it snap in the first place. So now I'm the weirdo who is micro-managing the Good Samaritan. I thank her profusely, and she wanders off like a kid who is disgusted with the candy I'm handing out on Halloween.

Pleasantries aside, I'm on a mission. I compare both latches, get grease all over my hands--so I'm legit. I clear out a single leaf. I don't think that could be the source of a breakdown, so I march on. And I find a silver spring that doesn't spring on the other side. I mess with it. I now understand what guys do for hours under hoods of cars. Tinkering is really just another word for patience. They look at things, compare them, mess with stuff. And unless the mechanics are wearing gloves these days, they get grease on their hands.

I stand back and assess the situation. I'm in the "bargaining phase" with God. I cross my fingers, close my eyes and wince as I press the button The roof thrusts back and sticks.

It's all over. I reach for my wallet, my AAA card. I'm not ready to accept defeat, but I can't hang out in a storage warehouse all day. I press down on the convertible roof button one more time with my left hand as I fumble for my cell phone in my purse with my right. I hear a hum, then a triple-beep. I turn my head (just for effect, image it in slow motion) and the convertible roof has, miraculously, sealed.

"I FIXED it!" I holler over to Tat Girl and Robin. They nod. I jet outta there, late to meet Kevin in Golden Gate Park Comedy Day in the Park. It goes straight to voicemail, so he's probably on stage. Ironically I pass Home Depot. Compulsively, I pull over (just for a minute) to get...lights and stuff.

An overly-helpful orange aproned guy looks at me kind of weird. "Is something wrong?" I ask. "You're staring." He shifts. "Nah, but you..." he motions to my head, "There's like dirt on your forehead." I wipe my brow with the back of my hand.

I'm surprisingly unphased. "That's just grease," I say, blowing my girly reputation in one fell swoop. "I was working on my car."

Home Depot Alias

As kids, Remi and I had this toy called "Lift and Load." It had a dump truck, a crane, a gas pump, bricks, wood slabs, and the little plastic guys that would come by in the trucks to ring the bell and pick up their faux deliveries. My mom didn't like us spending too much time with Barbies because "real women just don't look like that." I was a little confused about the perma-tan lines and perma-tippie toes.

I'd probably be dangerously girly if I HAD spent some time with Barbies. Last night my roommate says, "You wore that to Safeway? We aren't used to living with girls." I asked Renee what she meant, because there's four girls living here. "Yeah, but you're the only girl. We wear sweats and flip flops."

So then why, if I'm the only girl, is it my favorite thing to check out the plants, wood, tiling and paint chips at Home Depot?

Every time they ask my friend Grange's name at Starbucks, she tells them Julie. "Oh, really Julie?" I say sarcastically. She's serious, though. "These people don't need to know my name. What, everyone wants to be my friend now?" Um, maybe I watched too much Romper Room as a kid, but...yes?

But maybe she has a point. There could be some benefit in having an alias. Especially at Home Depot where they are all up in your business and all you really want to do is check things out, because you aren't even sure what your business is yet.