Thursday, November 1, 2012


The first time I listened to Einstein on the Beach, I was in the backseat of a car, headed east on the I-10 toward Phoenix, and I didn't know much about what I was hearing. It was nighttime in the desert, but I won't write about the stars. I had the sensation of being carried home by the music, all of those numbers pressed into my back. Pablo was steering. I was high.

Last Saturday night, I saw Einstein on the Beach performed in San Francisco. I'd always thought I'd live in that city by now, but I don't care about moving to San Francisco anymore. I left my seat only once during the four hour and 20 minute performance -- to pee and put on tights (the latter because my legs were cold). I was wearing a onesie, so I had to get fully undressed inside the stall to put on my leggings. It was a complicated process, and my knee-high boots didn't help. The bathroom smelled so strongly of shit, which reinforced my foot's aversion to the small, square tiles below that looked like teeth. I was high.

After the performance, I went to a bar where I ran into one of my oldest friends, a person I hadn't wanted to see. There is nothing bad between us, but sometimes it's difficult to be around people with whom you have so much history. He smoked and spoke between drags: "You look great you look great you look great you look great you look great. Do you have a boyfriend? Is he cute? How is work?" We both seemed uncomfortable, and let our friends do most of the talking. He kept looking at my chest, which I didn't understand because he is gay. I remembered how once, when we were much younger, he scolded me for not wearing a bra. He said I'd pay the price later. I wondered if he was checking.

Last night, I talked to John about our earliest memories. I told him how much I used to enjoy baths in the kitchen sink. I also remembered waking up inside my crib early in the morning, wanting to watch Sesame Street, but I wasn't allowed to leave my crib until my mom gave me permission. I remember standing up, gripping the bars, shaking the crib, shouting, "CAN I GET UP NOW? CAN I GET UP NOW?CAN I GET UP NOW? CAN I GET UP NOW?CAN I GET UP NOW? CAN I GET UP NOW?CAN I GET UP NOW? CAN I GET UP NOW?CAN I GET UP NOW? CAN I GET UP NOW?CAN I GET UP NOW? CAN I GET UP NOW?CAN I GET UP NOW? CAN I GET UP NOW?" until my mom said OK from the other room.

I don't know if I was really precocious, or just too old to be in a crib. Maybe my mom couldn't afford to buy me a bed, and this memory is much later than it seems, which is not unlikely.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

dying young

I don't have much to say lately.

I spent most of my 20s and early 30s in relationships that were characterized by uncertainty. My thoughts, writing, and conversation were often preoccupied with the State of My Relationship, i.e. was my partner too controlling? Too needy? Too cynical? Too materialistic? Too spoiled? Too hairy? Were we incompatible on a chemical level because after X years together, I still didn't like the way he smelled?

Was I trapped? Was I ready? Were we boring? Was I suffocating?

With John, I worry that he's going to die. Though he's in no particular danger of dying anytime soon,  it's frightening to imagine my life without him now, so I do my best to make sure that doesn't happen. I cook him lots of vegetables and leave out the yolks when I make eggs. I scold him when I smell smoke in his beard. I buy him yoga Groupons, and though I have not succeeded in getting him to class yet, I have a good feeling about tonight.

I worry that his cat, Henry, doesn't like me. The orange and white tabby shrinks from my touch. He regards me with suspicion, watching me from a careful distance, his doll eyes flashing from his shelf on our bookcase.  Sometimes, I coax him toward me with chunks of canned tuna. If Henry shows me any kindness, I consider it a small victory.

A few evenings a week, John and I ride our bikes together along the L.A. River. He's much faster than I am, so he usually rides ahead, but he'll always double-back when he spots a creeper lurking. We zip past the cruisers rustling in the bushes, the urban fisherman, the enamored teenagers, the graffiti. We brake for opossums and rats. The ride back through Griffith Park has stretches of complete darkness. I follow the beacon of his red flashing bike light until we reach familiar landmarks: the zoo, the golf course, the house we speculate belongs to Moby.

After a ride last week, we stopped for cocktails at a restaurant called Home.

"You look familiar," the manager said when he passed our stools at the bar. I thought he was going to ask if I played roller derby, but instead he asked: "Are you a teacher at GCC?"

Upon entering the restaurant, I had assumed the man was older than me, but studying him then, I realized he was probably years younger.

"Yes," I said.

The most challenging part of our bike ride is the last five minutes -- the climb to the top of a very steep hill. We zigzag our bikes to the summit, then collapse together in our driveway. Huffing and puffing, we stow our bikes in our two-car garage and trudge up the steps toward the porch light. Once inside, we'll watch TV. Or maybe he'll pick up his laptop, and I'll read a book in bed -- something light about the Rwandan genocide -- and I'll look up from the page, noticing my world simultaneously expanding as it contracts.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

These Days

Somewhere along the Trail of 100 Giants last weekend, I walked atop a fallen sequoia until I came to the place where its trunk was severed. A few moments earlier, Dustin had leapt across the divide, landing safely on the other side of the tree. I looked down into the carpet of dead leaves that separated the tree's two halves. In the distance, I heard my friends alternately calling "Jump!" and "Don't jump!" I felt unsafe, and before I could ask, John was at my side, his arms outstretched, offering to help me down from the tree. I let him place his hands on my hips as I dismounted.

Adriana followed, and when she came to the split, she jumped high and then plummeted, disappearing behind the great trunk, onto the forest floor. Stupidly, I asked our friends, "Is she OK?" From our vantage point, no one could see where or how she'd landed. "I don't know," said Liam, and he went running in her direction. Before he could make it, we heard her disembodied voice call out, defeated, "I'm fine."

When I was a kid, I was always mistaken for much younger. Skinny and comically short, I was in the front row for every class photo and never allowed to ride the rides at amusement parks with my friends. I'd stare up at the wooden clown with his extended arm, the word bubble blown from his lips announcing, "You must be this tall to ride," and scowl. When my stepmother tried to register me for summer camp, the counselor asked, "What are you -- 8, 9, 10?" I was 12 -- a few months from 13 -- and livid. Adults tried to reassure me, "Don't worry -- you'll appreciate it when you get older," but I couldn't imagine such a time.

I remember being 21 and trying to get into a club in Seattle. The bouncer denied me entrance, emphatic that my ID was phony. It wasn't.

This sort of thing didn't happen so much once I hit my nebulous mid- to late-20s, but lately I've noticed an uptick. Having a chest x-ray last week for a cough I can't seem to shake, the technician did a double take at the sight of my chart. "Thirty-three?" he said. "I thought you were 23."


"I'm not kidding," he said, looking puzzled.

On the phone with my mother recently, she inquired about John's age.

"He's 34, about to turn 35."

"He ain't no kid," she pronounced.

"Mom," I had to remind her, "I'm 33."

I don't think I look so young, and if you study me, there are signs. Like the inside of a tree trunk, the rings around my neck tell a story.

Walking all over New York City last month in inappropriate footwear gave me a case of tendinitis I've been trying to ignore (tendinitis: common affliction of the older athlete).  Years of derby conditioned me to defy pain, but I can no longer pretend that I'm not limping in the aftermath of the thrice-weekly runs through my neighborhood, past all the blooming flowers I can't name because I've never bothered to find out what they're called.

After years of clinging to some romantic need for the wind in my hair, I have finally acquiesced and started wearing a bicycle helmet.

Ed's father died last month, his mother the previous year.

"I don't know if you heard," he texted me, "but I'm an orphan."

I had heard -- news of one's exes has its way of getting back to you -- but I hadn't been in touch. A phone call seemed intrusive, but a text too impersonal. I thought of sending a card, but I no longer knew his address, and to ask for it would have revealed my intent. The obvious choice, email, didn't occur to me until too late. So I did nothing and felt bad about it, contemplating our summers in Maine with his family and the funny bond between exes.

Studying the wedding photos on the blog of another ex, Tony, I was struck by the conspicuous absence of his father.

Ed's relationship with his parents bewildered me when we were a couple. He had a barely restrained hostility toward them for which I could never determine the root. His home was unbroken, they supported him through college and grad school and into his first years of screenwriting until he saw some success. They weren't conservative. What was the problem? I'd often wonder.

In his grief, or perhaps the years following our breakup, the old anger must have evaporated because his texts had contained an unexpected sense of loss.

"I just want my dad back," he wrote.

It surprised me even though we all should know better.

Friday, March 16, 2012

sweating the small stuff

Some things we like to talk about that no one wants to hear:

1) Dreams (the kind that happen while you sleep, i.e. "I had the craziest dream last night. There was this dog on a skateboard who was actually my dad. I'm pretty sure he was wearing a monocle and there was a parrot on his shoulder...")

2) Happy romantic relationships

3) Nebulous health problems (to be clear: "so I have this weird rash on my earlobe that only flares up when the temperature is between 69-72 degrees and the moon is waning" vs. "I have cancer").

Since I rarely remember my dreams, numbers two and three are the pertinent ones here, which are part of the reason things have been so quiet at the Hollywood Librarian. The boring truth is that I don't have anything interesting to say.

On two separate occasions last Sunday, I started talking about the thing I know better than to talk about with casual acquaintances: my throat. Both times, it was unsolicited. As the words dropped from my sickly maw, the voice in my head begged me to shut the fuck up, and eventually my mouth took the hint. But it's hard not to talk about the one thing you spend too much time thinking about.

Now it's your turn, dear reader. So I have this problem with my throat....

I first noticed it back in November. At that time, it was a small lesion or patch, which would occasionally feel irritated. Since I've been back from Costa Rica, other lesions have appeared, mostly on my soft palate. These come and go. I've also developed what looks like a throat rash -- tiny red bumps -- on my soft palate and uvula, but also occasionally on the the roof of my mouth. Sometimes small clear blisters form. I experience cycles of healing and flare-ups though the rash is constant. Sometimes it hurts and sometimes it doesn't, but it's always there. In the months I've been living with this, I haven't been able to pinpoint a trigger, and it's driving me batty.

One ENT told me that it's probably a virus and it will probably go away eventually.


"I see these things sometimes. It should run its course."

"How long will that take?"

"Months?" he said with a shrug.

It's already been months, and it doesn't seem to be improving. Yesterday, wanting a second opinion, I saw another ENT, who told me to stop using Listerine. He also offered this advice:

"How often do you look into your mouth?


"Why don't we cut that back to twice a month?"

I've spent a lot of my time Googling symptoms rather than reading or writing or doing anything productive or creative. It's not constructive, and I realize that stress can exacerbate a condition like this. There are far worse afflictions than a chronic sore throat, but I'm hung up on the idea that this is my body's way of telling me something isn't right here, and maybe it's linked to some of my other malfunctions, and why can't a doctor connect the dots already?

Instead of reading books at night, I've spent too much time in front of the bathroom mirror, examining my throat with my repurposed booklight. It illuminates the constellations of tiny bumps and blisters. I track their movements, searching for signs and symbols, trying to divine some meaning from it all. And I feel fortunate that I get to curl up next to someone who listens to all the daily developments in my throat and pretends, admirably, not to be bored.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday, January 13, 2012

no habla espanol

I ran away to Costa Rica to avoid Christmas, but that’s not really why I went to Costa Rica. I went to learn Spanish, but we all know you can’t learn Spanish in two weeks -- and certainly not in a town like Montezuma where everyone speaks English, and its service professionals have little patience for a gringa-ass like mine practicing its Spanish in restaurants where a sandwich costs $12, and yes, they take American dollars. What I really wanted to do was read and write for two weeks in front of the ocean, uninterrupted, which is what I did (except for those four hours of Spanish every day and the hour and a half of yoga every night, and all of the fire-dancing I was required to watch as a temporary denizen of this town ruled by the Poi People, who -- around 9 p.m. each night -- crawl from the ocean and into the streets with their flame-retardant, underworldy elfin garb, fire sticks a-twirling).

What I really wanted was time to figure some things out.

I packed my seriously heavy copy of Swann's Way and downloaded John Jeremiah Sullivan's
Pulphead to my Kindle (dear everyone: go read Pulphead now). I didn’t crack the Proust, but was instead pulled toward a battered copy of the Rings of Saturn, found in my one-bookstore-town’s one bookstore. Too much multi-tasking meant I didn't get through either, but Sebald and Sullivan made excellent traveling companions on a trip about figuring stuff out.

I wrote every day until my hand cramped and could tell you 30 stories and give you a few epiphanies. Maybe I’ll get around to putting some of them here, but I'll probably save most of it.

The thing I struggle most with in writing, and why I can’t commit myself to getting serious about it, is that I’m a slave to the first person. I write best about myself, or with myself as narrator, and I’m kind of ashamed that fiction is so hard for me. It’s like I’m constantly punching myself in the head, telling myself to get over myself already. It feels self-important -- what makes my POV so interesting anyway?

But here are a couple of things I figured out: John Jeremiah Sullivan is a great first-person essayist and my roommate was a total weirdo. She was so strange that I devoted pages of my journal to her without realizing I was doing it. And what a great thing that was for me: the privilege that time affords, the ability to pay attention, to notice, to get out of my own head a bit.

"I feel so alive here," was the roommate's constant refrain. She said it at least once a day, half to me, half to herself. And then she would sigh. She sighed a lot: tiny Chinese-American sighs, the repression escaping in bursts through her pretty mouth.

The roommate was dreading her return to the states, and as the date approached, her affirmations of life were followed by the occasional, "I don't want to go back."

I, on the other hand, felt ready. Most of my vacations are followed by a week of crippling depression -- the Hollywood sign becoming a shadowy, ominous thing hanging over my head -- but I had a feeling this time would be different. It was. The trip strengthened my resolve to read more, write more, work on my Spanish, and be more present. I was feeling good about this, motivated.

Apart from being arguably present, I haven't done much of these things since my return.

For example: I want to revise the essay I wrote before I left, and try to submit it somewhere. The problem is that it's so sad, and I'm not. Every time I look at the thing, it's such a buzzkill that I put it back into the metaphorical drawer. Unfortunately (for my productivity), I met someone before I left for Costa Rica, and I’ve been very distracted since my return. He made me black-eyed peas and collard greens on New Year's Day, and we haven't spent much time apart since.

And that's all I'm going to say about that because reading about another person’s new-relationship-euphoria is boring.

Instead, I will tell you about my roommate, who, on our last night in Montezuma, danced for the first time on the back lawn of the town's only bar. The music was terrible, a genre I dubbed "Thump-Thump Latin Grind Fuck," and it creeped from the bar's dance floor onto the grass, infecting our bare feet. We danced in a circle -- me and my far-flung classmates, some of whom I'd grown to love in those two weeks. Back home in my insular Holly-world, I can't imagine our paths ever crossing -- and I'm not talking about the geographical distance that separates us. The bar's DJ insisted on reminding us where we were every minute or so, cutting through the music to shout the Spanish equivalent of "Give it up, Montezumaaaaaaa!"

The tropical mist swirled around our ankles like cauldron smoke while the mosquitoes were held at bay by a force field of Deet, our toxic Costa Rican perfume. The roommate's dancing was a thing to behold: a jerking marionette at war with her puppeteer. Her arms flailing, her head thrown back, she faced the moon defiantly, but with closed eyes. I watched and wondered what she was thinking.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


One of my favorite holiday traditions has become my friends' JJ and Marisol's annual caroling party. Sunday night was the second year I participated, and it was magical. This year's theme was Sock Puppets. Our merry crew took to the streets of Angelino Heights, which teems with beautiful Victorian homes. Our sock-covered hands belted out holiday classics like "Frosty the Snowman" and "Come on Feel the Noise," accompanied by an acoustic guitar. We were invited into a few homes and rewarded with cookies (and in one case, a fistful of joints).

My sock puppet was hella hungover on Monday

I'm not a scrooge. I can get behind secular holiday traditions -- spending time with loved ones, preparing/eating rich food, the spirit of generosity, etc. What I'm not down with is the rampant consumerism, which punches me in the gut a little harder each year. How many Starbucks gift cards, scented candles, ugly scarves and functionless thingamabobs does a person need? This year, I'm bowing out. I'm not buying a single gift, and those who might be inclined to buy me something are under instructions not to bother.

What I'm also not down with is another Phoenix Christmas. I'd rather visit my mom under different circumstances. It's just she and my brother and we don't have any traditions to speak of. She usually works on Christmas anyway. So, a few months ago, I made an executive decision to do what I wanted to with my holiday off-time. I'm spending 12 days in Costa Rica, learning Spanish and practicing yoga. Adios, muchachos.

Mom wasn't thrilled about my holiday travel plans, but to compensate, I offered to buy her the French Bulldog she's been dreaming about for months. Apparently, this dog is a suitable stand-in for me. She lit up as soon as I made the offer, and Costa Rica hasn't been mentioned since. Win-win.

Next year, I'm dreaming of a Thai Christmas. I wonder what animal I will have to sacrifice for that one.