Thursday, August 24, 2006

Baby, Meet Bathwater.

When I was enrolled at Washington University, and not that happy about it, I apparently acted like I was going there for the rest of my life. I made it into kind of a disaster mentally; then I went to St. Louis, made the best of it and got good grades; applied to Penn and transferred after my freshman year.

My mom often raises this as an example of how I tend to be a tad hyperbolic in my view of things, a trait very much in evidence in yesterday's post. It's true that I need a change, and it's true that I don't like sitting around all day. But of course I could focus on finding a better environment instead of uniformly rejecting all forms of office work.

It might seem advisable to temper my disaster-style thinking, except that it's served me well on occasion. It got me out of one school and into another that I loved, and it got me finally to leave New York and go back to D.C., where I was very happy to be (and where my office really was kind of nice). Discontent can be useful, on occasion. So we'll see where it pushes me next.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I Read a Book.

I had not planned to read Killing Yourself to Live, by Chuck Klosterman. A promotional copy of it ended up lying around my residence and I picked it up. It was so entertaining and readable that I actually ended up finishing it, a feat that is rarer these days than I'd like to admit.

Klosterman writes for Spin and Esquire magazines, and who knows where else. He is one of the rare writers who can actually ramble significantly off-topic and keep you with him, partly because of his skill at declaring things that seem very true even if they're patently questionable (such as "Sexuality is 15 percent real and 85 percent illusion"). Pop culture, music and human relations are his domain. It's not surprising that he's made such a career out of magazine writing.

What's surprising is that Klosterman managed to publish and sell this book even though it has very little to do with the premise on which it's based. Killing is ostensibly the nonfictional tale of Klosterman going to visit various locations of various rock stars' deaths; it's actually about that and Klosterman's love life, random encounters, drug experiences and a bunch of other stuff. In other words, it's about nothing.

It's an exercise in ego, with very little restraint. And I ate the whole thing! Now, I feel kind of guilty, and a little annoyed... but I also enjoyed myself. It makes me think about Hal Niedzviecki.

Some months ago, I noticed in my Flavorpill newsletter that Hal was going to be in town, reading from his book. My first reaction was, "Hey. I went to high school with that guy." My second reaction was, "Hal Niedzviecki got a fucking book deal?"

Now, Hal was on the same literary magazine with me at Winston Churchill High School. I think he was in a different class, but to be honest I really can't remember. I can't remember anything about his writing, either, or what he did for the magazine. The only things I recall about Hal were that he had glasses and kinda poufy hair and that he seemed like an affable guy.

Hal's book is called Hello, I'm Special: How Individuality Became the New Conformity. This is from the description on his Web site: "In chronicling his singular encounters as an editor and pop culture explorer, his meditations touch on everything from religion to Karaoke, from declining birth rates to Celebrity Worship Syndrome, from Mississauga's famed Backyard Wrestling Federation to Friday night Sabbath in Atlanta, Georgia."

Ignore the dangling modifier and kamikaze capitalization here and note that Hal is basically a self-styled Canadian Chuck Klosterman, and that apparently it's possible to call oneself a "pop culture explorer" with an entirely straight face and get away with it.

My reaction may sound like sour grapes, and that's because it is. My whole life I've wanted a book deal. But no one has ever called me up and said, "Gee, Christina, we really love your writing. Can we publish it on paper, in bound form, and pay you to do so?" I suppose I could try to do what Hal and Chuck must have done, the old "get an agent" and "fashion a book proposal" route. But that would mean risking failure, something I'm unwilling to do.

When I lived in New York, my friend Jackson and I used to sit in bars and talk about writing. Jackson wrote short stories. I would read them, and give him feedback over whiskey sours. His work was usually in the noir and/or sci-fi vein, and he had a keen mind for plot. He would try to describe how easy Hollywood conventions are, and encouraged me to create outlines of stories that I wanted to write. I would argue that literary fiction shouldn't be so formulaic -- I wanted to write something organic, something that evolved as it went along. Accordingly, I do not have one piece of finished fiction to my credit to this day, and Jackson has written (and possibly published) several stories.

It's easier to feel less jealous of Jackson -- or of, say, Cathy Yuspa, a Churchill alum who became a successful Hollywood writer -- because these people are actually working on plots and dialogue, and I have never tried much to excel at that. It's the Chucks and Hals and David Sedarises that get me, because they give the impression that they just sat down one day and blurted out whatever they happened to be thinking at the time, and next thing you know they're on book tours and doing interviews for major media outlets.

I mean, I can blurt random thoughts out too, I do it all the time! Sure, Chuck and David are more talented than I am, but that's beside the point. (I didn't think this through before writing it, so I'm not sure what the point is.)

Considering the fact that people have even managed to publish books about how many books there are in the world, maybe it's time to lower my book proposal standards. Maybe, as pb dot c suggests, I should shoot for UncMo: A Novel. I have other proposal ideas floating around, too. Stay tuned for Hey, Some Things About Health Food Stores: My Year of Shopping in the Organic Age and Jigga Who? My Batttle to Keep Up with Pop Culture in My Mid-Thirties. Other ideas welcome.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Aging Gracefully.

This blog celebrates its one-year birthday today, with an apple martini and a check in the mirror for new wrinkles. Here is how it began, if I may quote from the introduction:

For me, when it comes to the creation and/or perception of socially painful situations, there's simply one thing to do: hold on to them, burnish them, and involuntarily relive them from time to time over the next several hours, days, weeks, or years. I guess this comes naturally to someone whose earliest conscious memories involve wetting herself at points well past potty-training age.

Is there any way to exorcise it all? Probably not, but I can share the discomfort with you. Isn't that what the Internet is all about?

Here's to many more uncomfortable moments. And maybe, as tha pb dot c suggests, a few comfortable ones. Opinions on the matter are welcome.

The title of this post is meant to be ironic. If you get mistaken as the "new intern" on your first day of your job when you are actually 33 at the time, that is not "aging gracefully." That is called "a failure to evolve."

In any case, I have informed my employers at said job that I am going my own way, after two years there. The bosses had very kindly allowed me to keep my D.C.-based job as I moved out to San Francisco, even though it was a concept that, in reality, appealed to no one, except for my insecure bank account.

The question is, what to do now. I tell people I'm going to freelance, and that I want to write more. This is true. I imply that I actually know what I'm doing. This is not true.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

International Kitty of Mystery.

I have never been keen on the prospect of owning or living with a cat. Generally speaking, cats leave me alternately nervous and annoyed. Anything with claws and sharp teeth and an ill-developed sense of loyalty is something I'd rather leave outside.

That's why it was weird to move in with Dusty last March. Neither of us wanted it this way, but we were sharing someone, and it was unavoidable. We pretended to ignore each other, each of us obviously feeling that a ridiculous compromise was being made somehow, and that surely this situation wouldn't last.

Eventually, he learned to accept me as an occasional substitute for his primary owner, usurping my lap and begging me for food. I learned to accept the eradication of cat hair as my new goal in life, and slowly began to take more than a passing interest in Dusty's welfare.

I would sometimes jokingly complain that Dusty does absolutely nothing around the house, and the defense was usually this: "He's fuzzy 24 hours a day. He wakes up and he's fuzzy, and all day he's fuzzy and when we go to bed he's fuzzy. He never stops being fuzzy."

Hard to argue with that one.

So we had achieved a nice stasis, but I didn't realize the extent of my affection for Dusty until I noticed one evening (with surprising swiftness) that he had disappeared. At first it seemed maybe he was chilling in a hiding place somewhere in the apartment -- but by dinnertime, the cat was nowhere to be found and it had been too long. We looked. We called. We peered out the windows, into the dark backyards behind our building. He was gone, leaving only puffs of hair in his wake.

It was around this time that I also noticed two cats -- one in the window next door and one in the yard below us -- were both staring intently at us, as we stared intently outside trying to locate Dusty. The yard cat was especially ominous: He sat, stock still and luminous in the moonlight, just... staring. It created the sense that Dusty had been kidnapped, and these cats had something to do with it.

It doesn't make me proud to admit that there was a time when this scenario would have been my dream come true: freedom from cat offal, and no blood on my hands. "How old is Dusty?" I had asked at the beginning of our acquaintance. The answer had been disappointing. "He's six -- he's going to be around for a loonnng time."

Now that I'd gotten used to the little hairball, I found myself worried and unhappy, even more so when we heard terrifying catfight sounds at 5:00 the morning after Dusty disappeared. Was he injured? What if he got picked up by someone else? Would he ever come home?

Our investigations turned toward the Pork Store. The Pork Store is a restaurant that, despite its coarse name, is wildly popular here in San Francisco. Up until now, the only noticeable things about living near the Pork Store were the line on the street at breakfast time on weekends, and hearing the phrase "Nelson!! More biscuits please!!" shouted incessantly into the air shaft outside our bathroom window.

I banged on the door after closing time the day after Dusty disappeared, since the catfight sounds had emanated from the cafe's backyard. The famous Nelson let me in. I resisted the urge to ask him for biscuits and explained about the cat. He thought I was crazy, but let me look.

For such a little restaurant, the Pork Store had a suprisingly extensive laybrinth behind it. I walked around a corner, through two small rooms and up some stairs before I got to the backyard, which was strewn with debris and weeds. I braced myself for a Dusty carcass, but found none. There were two other alleyways, but they were too quiet and creepy for me to venture down. "Dusty?" I called. No answer.

We spent another lonely night with no clicking claws on the floor.

The next morning I got a call at work. A second visit to the Pork Store had proved fruitful. Dusty had been found sitting under some stairs in one of the back alleys, meowing and unharmed. He was eventually coaxed back home.

We will never know what compelled our usually unadventurous friend to desert us, or how exactly he made it downstairs. The most likely way was out the bathroom window and down the garbage chute. The fact that he pulled off a move so bold, and managed to survive it, gave me a newfound respect for him. It made me wonder if... if I ever knew Dusty at all. How well can we ever know the creatures we live with?

He doesn't seem all that psyched to be home, and it's hard not to feel a bit slighted. "Isn't it better to be here? With food and a litter box and a clean blanket?" I asked him. He just twitched his tail and gave me an aloof glance. I guess the Pork Store really is popular.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

All Natural.

Yesterday, I made my first visit to Rainbow Grocery, the legendary crunchfest in San Francisco.

Best quote heard while in the store: "Well, we have organic pinot noir, but no, we don't have sulfite-free."

Scariest product purchased: GT's Organic Raw Kombucha. I have no idea what's in this stuff but it practically talks to you when you drink it. You know that story by Stephen King, "The Langoliers," about the tiny ferocious gremlins that eat away the past? I think they live inside this beverage. It is munching up all the bad things inside of me right now. The devil is screaming.

Gross generalization: The shoppers at natural food stores never look any healthier than anyone else, do they? In fact, they almost look worse. It seems to me your average Safeway shopper just looks happier and healthier.

No one at the register gave us dirty looks when we used paper bags instead of hemp totes to carry out our items, but it did remind me of something that happened recently at my neighborhood grocery. It was a U.M. for everyone.

It seemed to be a routine exchange at first. A woman stood ahead of me in line and as the cashier rung up her purchases, the grocer came up and offered her cherries, which apparently she'd been asking for but unable to find.

"Oh no. I don't want your packaging. You think I want your packaging?" she said. The cherries were in a latticed plastic bag. The woman turned away from them as if someone had tried to get away with offering her a sack of angry bees.

She went on as the poor man went to restock the cherries, still within earshot. "I don't waste packaging. You know I don't waste packaging. That's why I bring my own shopping bags in here."

The grocer was thoroughly confused. "But, how am I supposed to sell the cherries? What are people supposed to put them in?"

"You sell them in bulk! It's a waste of packaging! Why don't you sell them in bulk?" the woman said. She appeared to be completely normal, but obviously some switch had been tripped off. I was too fascinated to be annoyed at the checkout delay. I had never heard anyone say "packaging" this many times in two minutes.

The grocer and customer went for a few more rounds, gesticulating at each other with exasperation. "I'm just saying there are other options!" she cried, leaving the store while the befuddled man shook his head.

The cashier rolled her eyes at me and smiled. We all went on our merry, packaged way.

The woman was crazy, but there's no one more susceptible than I am to environmental guilting. I can't use a plastic bag now without thinking of her. "Don't give me your packaging! I don't want your packaging!"