Summer Trips

May 19, 2011

I have just one more day of giving final exams– next Wednesday– and then my summer begins.

Summer, for me, equals:

finishing current draft of novel (updates to come)

reading (my book list to come)

movies (what’s a summer without movies?)

making stuff (did I mention I’m going to take a class on how to use your sewing machine?)

travel (maybe?)

work– oops, nope! no work/teaching for me this summer! (good or bad thing?)

Here’s a good thing: poem, Summer Trips, by Jonathan Greene

Summer Trips

As a child sequestered in
the back seat on a long journey,
exiled in one’s own world,
a refuge. Deep sleep naps.
Ice-cream stand oases after
a long stretch of highway.

In the front seat: the troubles
of the world, treaties with
foreign nations, domestic squabbles
with aunts and uncles, at times
at a whisper, classified

A whole year of work
brings us this week at the beach.
The Devil’s bargain parents made,
a contract that renews every time,
weary after the nine-to-fives,
they unlock the front door.

“Summer Trips” by Jonathan Greene, from Distillations and Siphonings. (c) Broadstone Books, 2010. From The Writer’s Almanac.


May 1, 2011

Turned 42 on Friday (April 29th). Ooof. 42. What does that even mean?

My dad called me and left this message:

Hey Bobby. Just called to wish you a happy birthday. Gosh, how old are you now? Let’s see, you were born in 69. 1969, 79, 89, 99, 2009, 2011. Are you 42 years old? Wow. Gosh you’re older than I am. Sorry I missed you. Talk to you later. Love you. Dad.
On my birthday I bought a belt for myself at American Apparel and it turns out it’s a womens belt (though some would call it Unisex). Sigh.

But had a fun night. Turf club then out with the gang at Whistle Stop bar.

In other news:

I met and had dinner with writer Dorothy Allison last week! She was part of our college’s Literary Arts Festival and she was pretty damn awesome. Funny as hell and oh my, the story she read– 45 minutes long– moving, scary, sharp. She’s such a master of dialogue. I was completely consumed by the reading– wholly taken out of the dingy theater with it’s avocado walls and bright red seats. She is without a doubt one of the great writers of our generation.

Recently bought a new book for my pulp-film-novel collection.

It’s hardly pulpy but it is a movie-tie-in. And it satisfies my June Allyson fetish. For now.

Sal Mineo

April 11, 2011

I’ve been wanting to post more about my recent fascination with Zines and about how I’d like to produce some in the near future.

Here’s a cool Zine I found online a couple of months ago and then it took me a while to order it and now it’s finally come!

The publisher is Elk Zine and they have such terrific zines, and films.

This one is by writer and photographer Vince Aletti (he was one of the first critics to write about Disco music) and has a gorgeous photo of Rebel Without a Cause actor Sal Mineo on the cover and inside it’s made up of beefcake photos mostly only of guys from the shoulders up, which I find is kind of charming.

There’s a cool write-up about it at Book Du Jour with more photos.

Ah Sal Mineo. I imagine that so many young gay men who saw Rebel Without a Cause in the theater must have felt such a connection and recognition with him.

How the heart aches when Plato (Sal Mineo) says to Jim (James Dean):

If only you could’a been my dad. We could have breakfast in the morning.

Liz Taylor Says Goodbye

March 24, 2011

With all of the incredible tributes pouring in for Liz Taylor I thought I’d share mine:

I bought this original snapshot for about six dollars in a Chelsea antique store when I lived in NYC in about 2001.

It’s perfect. The eyes closed, lids heavy with lavender eye shadow. The Burton diamond on her hand, the huge earring, the curl on the side of her head.

Her majesty’s hand, waving goodbye.

Gold Everywhere

March 22, 2011

Here are some quick updates of this past week.

Finished Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff. I loved the information about Egypt and Cleo and Mark Antony, but I was missing dialogue (the book is serious nonfiction). Still, Schiff impressed me with her knowledge and Cleo impressed me with her sheer tenacity.

My office at home is looking like one of those NYC apartments where the reclusive tenant saves every newspaper, magazine, letter,  leaflet and flyer. I’m too embarrassed to post a picture of it.

I cut the tip of my middle finger off and it hurt. Ok, it wasn’t really the tip, more like the corner of the tip. But it still hurt. For a couple of days I had to wear one of those splint-thingies so that I wouldn’t bump it on anything, but it definitely made it seem pretty drastic (but if you know me, you know how melodramatic I get with just the sniffles). And then I had to learn how to type without using that finger, which a couple of days ago I finally mastered. But now the finger is healing better and I can pretty much use it, only I have to re-learn how to type with it. Arghh!

While I was in the Emergency room Ted brought me Nicole Krauss’ Great House to read. I absolutely loved The History of Love and have been wanting to read this. It doesn’t disappoint. I read about 50 pages in, but I’m also reading another book so I may have to put the Great House aside until then.

Speaking of books…though I’m not finding, or rather making, the time to write as much as I should (I think that I somehow didn’t get the gene for discipline…), the little bits, spurts of writing that I’m doing I’m pretty pleased with. I’m loving working on two characters that I’d only been sketching out, or had only been on the periphery so far– the young female English High School Teacher with the secret stash of lipsticks in her desk drawer at school and the Shivwit Indian boy, Limpie, whose POV is told entirely through an essay he’s writing. It’s funny how developing these characters more and letting them lead me on this journey has sparked such new energy in me.

Ted‘s out of town for a week visiting his mom and then our new niece, and the cats, Betsy and Jack, are so neurotic (i’m fine though, thanks for asking)! They are completely underfoot. Betsy sits with me while watching TV, her head resting in my lap.

On another note, I’m obsessed with this website Instructables–have you seen it?– from which you can learn how to do anything from how to tie a tie, how to kiss, to other more craft-oriented tips such as  book-making, how to knit, make mosaics, origami, and my recent obsession: how to make linocuts.

I really really would love to have a letterpress machine, but this linocut thing looks a bit simpler (and less expensive). See the samples of what you can do below.

Many of the how-to’s have step-by-step photos and videos. Check them out, search for how to make or do just about anything.

Watched the last episode of TCM’s Moguls and Moviestars— the epic documentary series about the rise and fall of the movie studio system. It was completely fascinating. I couldn’t help but feel for the movie stars and studio heads when the studios started crumbling around them; not to mention the footage of the old studio land that was sold off.

Went to a fantastic reading Friday night at The Ink Spot. James Meetze (in the picture) read from his book of poems DAYGLO of which Rae Armantrout says “James Meetze is, in some sense, a ‘landscape poet,’ except his landscape includes ‘FA-18 Hornets’ that ‘boom above the freeway / as eucalyptus leaves rustle.’ He has a feel for his hometown, which is also mine. In fact, San Diego, with its ahistorical ‘Dayglo’ pastels, best glimpsed in passing from a freeway, is where we all live now, somehow, or soon will.”

Ryan Murphy (a friend from grad school!) says “Dayglo is a conscious artifact…”

Indeed, his poems took me back to my days growing up here. The beaches, the sunsets, the valleys and malls. But also they look at Southern California, and San Diego especially, through the eyes of someone who left here and then came back. They speak about beauty and warmth, of Eucalyptus trees, freeways and fluorescent lights, but also separation, isolation, regret, disappointment.

I’m particularly taken with the first two lines of the poem “To Make You Surfer”:

In all the movies about California youth,

we are made to believe in gold everywhere.

I was published in Entertainment Weekly!

March 10, 2011

Ok, that’s a little misleading…a couple of weeks ago I had a letter to the editor published in the print edition Entertainment Weekly, but hey, it’s a publication, right? A few people emailed me to say they had seen it. Click below to see/read it.

Rob in EW

My letter was regarding a fantastic review they gave Mark Richard for his new book, House of Prayer No. 2, A Writer’s Journey Home, a memoir.Richard’s been compared to Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and I feel like he could be a distant brother to the late, great Barry Hannah (Airships is his masterpiece).

If you’ve never read Mark Richard please please search him out, especially the book I mention in the letter, Charity, which features, in my opinion, one of his best stories, “The Birds For Christmas.”

We wanted “The Birds” for Christmas. We had seen the commercials for it on the television donated thirdhand by the Merchant Seamen’s and Sailors’ Rest Home, a big black-and-white Zenith of cracked plastic and no knobs, a dime stuck in the channel selector. You could adjust the picture and have no sound, or hi-fi sound and no picture. We just wanted the picture. We wanted to see “The Birds.”

You can read the whole story on Boldtype.

House of Prayer No. 2 also has a fantastic cover by artist Michael J. Windsor


February 11, 2011

I’ve been wanting to show off one of the gifts I gave Ted for Christmas. I found this beautiful white deer at Mixture, a store in downtown San Diego that has all kinds of nifty things. It’s displayed and sold as a jewelry holder, but Ted doesn’t wear any jewelry except our wedding rings so we use it to hold our keys, or change, or Ted’s phone at night.

Ted doesn’t think it looks like a deer but I do. Doesn’t it? Or maybe it does have a little bit of a cat look to it.

Here’s a gorgeous poem by Joy Harjo, called Deer Dancer. Oh, those lines.

Deer Dancer
by Joy Harjo
Nearly everyone had left that bar in the middle of winter except the
hardcore.  It was the coldest night of the year, every place shut down, but
not us.  Of course we noticed when she came in.  We were Indian ruins.  She
was the end of beauty.  No one knew her, the stranger whose tribe we
recognized, her family related to deer, if that's who she was, a people
accustomed to hearing songs in pine trees, and making them hearts.

The woman inside the woman who was to dance naked in the bar of misfits
blew deer magic.  Henry jack, who could not survive a sober day, thought she
was Buffalo Calf Woman come back, passed out, his head by the toilet.  All
night he dreamed a dream he could not say.  The next day he borrowed
money, went home, and sent back the money I lent.  Now that's a miracle.
Some people see vision in a burned tortilla, some in the face of a woman.

This is the bar of broken survivors, the club of the shotgun, knife wound, of
poison by culture.  We who were taught not to stare drank our beer.  The
players gossiped down their cues.  Someone put a quarter in the jukebox to
relive despair.  Richard's wife dove to kill her.  We had to keep her
still, while Richard secretly bought the beauty a drink.

How do I say it?  In this language there are no words for how the real world
collapses.  I could say it in my own and the sacred mounds would come into
focus, but I couldn't take it in this dingy envelope.  So I look at the stars in
this strange city, frozen to the back of the sky, the only promises that ever
make sense.

My brother-in-law hung out with white people, went to law school with a
perfect record, quit.  Says you can keep your laws, your words.  And
practiced law on the street with his hands.  He jimmied to the proverbial
dream girl, the face of the moon, while the players racked a new game.
He bragged to us, he told her magic words and that when she broke,
  became human.
But we all heard his voice crack:

What's a girl like you doing in a place like this?

That's what I'd like to know, what are we all doing in a place like this?

You would know she could hear only what she wanted to; don't we all?  Left
the drink of betrayal Richard bought her, at the bar.  What was she on?  We all
wanted some.  Put a quarter in the juke.  We all take risks stepping into thin
air.  Our ceremonies didn't predict this.  or we expected more.

I had to tell you this, for the baby inside the girl sealed up with a lick of
hope and swimming into the praise of nations.  This is not a rooming house, but
a dream of winter falls and the deer who portrayed the relatives of
strangers.  The way back is deer breath on icy windows.

The next dance none of us predicted.  She borrowed a chair for the stairway
to heaven and stood on a table of names.  And danced in the room of children
without shoes.

You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille With four hungry children and a
crop in the field.

And then she took off her clothes.  She shook loose memory, waltzed with the
empty lover we'd all become.

She was the myth slipped down through dreamtime.  The promise of feast we
all knew was coming.  The deer who crossed through knots of a curse to find
us.  She was no slouch, and neither were we, watching.

The music ended.  And so does the story.  I wasn't there.  But I imagined her
like this, not a stained red dress with tape on her heels but the deer who
entered our dream in white dawn, breathed mist into pine trees, her fawn a
blessing of meat, the ancestors who never left.

..all of these books?

January 30, 2011

A few weeks ago LA Times book critic David L. Ulin gave a talk at San Diego Writers, Ink (at their venue, that is– The Ink Spot) and he was fantastic. He was in conversation with San Diego’s Arthur Salm, who is also pretty great. (by the by, Mr. Ulin is also quite the Silver Fox– if you’re into that Anderson Cooper kind of thing).

Ok, enough objectification.

The night was so literary! One of the best events we’ve had at the Ink Spot and surely one that affected all who attended. Ulin was there, courtesy of the PEN Center USA and the always wonderful Amy Wallen,  to plug his new book, The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time, but he gave us much more than that. The book began as an original essay by Ulin from the LA Times 2009.

Says Ulin:

Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being. We possess the books we read, animating the waiting stillness of their language, but they possess us also, filling us with thoughts and observations, asking us to make them part of ourselves.

Here’s another thing that Ulin said at the event that really resonated with me. Rather, it was more of a suggestion:

He explained that reading a book for 20- 30 min. before bed isn’t enough-– one should dedicate a good couple of hours every few days, or a few hours on the weekend, say a Saturday, to really read a book.

What a concept!

Most of my reading is propped up on my pillow at 11:30 pm (much like the lovely James Franco in the picture to the left). Me and Ted touching elbows as we read our books. But by the time we go to bed i’m so tired I can usually only get in about 15-30 minutes of reading before my head starts nodding. There are exceptions, I mean I have been known to read for an hour or more at bedtime but that’s usually because I’ve had too much coffee during the day.

I’d really like to take his advice though, and set aside a couple of hours to read each weekend (cuz lord knows I can’t do it during the week with my schedule). But how luxurious! Right? Reading a book for three hours on a Saturday. Who does that? Do you? It sounds wonderful.

The other anecdote (among many) that I loved but I can’t remember if it was Arthur Salm or David Ulin who told it was this little story:

A [fairly well known] writer [I can’t remember his name!] had a visitor to his house and the visitor, looking at all of the books on his shelves, of which there were hundreds and hundreds, asked this writer, “Oh my, have you read all of these books?”

To which the writer replied, “Of course I haven’t read all of these books! Who would want to live in a house with books you’ve already read?”

I can’t tell you how many times people have asked Ted and myself this same question!

*Photo courtesy of the Guardian UK’s Writer’s Rooms series.

Devouring the Future

January 20, 2011

Did you happen to read the piece in the January 3rd NewYorker on Joan Crawford?

It was called “Escape Artist: The Case for Joan Crawford” and was written by David Denby. I like how the subtitle in the table of contents said: The Joan Crawford Problem. The piece is mostly a review of Donald Spoto’s new book about Crawford, but it’s also a nifty, convenient way for Denby to wax harshly (ok, and with some sympathy) on the broad-shouldered mega-star. He also discusses Faye Dunaway (mostly how “Mommie Dearest” did her in).

I read this while riding the elliptical at the gym (yes, back to the gym). There is this huge photo of Joan from “Mildred Pierce” (I first typed this as Milderd…mildewed?) and I have to admit I looked around to my left and right while doing my cardio to see if anyone could see what I was reading. Then I remembered: oh yeah, I go to a gay gym… or an almost gay gym, so it was probably not noticed at all.

Anyway, the only reason I’m writing about this is for one line. Well, there were lots of good lines from Denby in the piece, and it was actually pretty fascinating reading, lots of good tidbits, like the fact that she was born Lucille Le Sueur in San Antonio, Texas.  But I really loved this description of Joan, especially the last line:

[When she was 18] What prompted the two men to pull her out of a line of dancers? She was only five feet three, she had freckles, a mop of reddish hair, and broad, square shoulders, and she was a little heavy (a hundred and forty pounds) for her size. But they must have seen– they probably couldn’t have missed–an insatiable hunger. If you look at pictures of her at any age, the whites of her eyes show not just above the irises but below them, too. Her eyes are so wide open that she seems to be devouring the future.

Gotta love it.

One-liners: Cleopatra

January 17, 2011

Did you watch the Golden Globes last night? I’m a sucker for awards shows, though I don’t watch all of them, mostly, of course, the Oscars, the Emmys, Golden Globes, and Grammys (and sometimes MTV Music Awards).

I thought that Ricky Gervais started sort of slow but then he picked up momentum with some REALLY harsh zingers, one-liners. There’s speculation that these one-liners might have gotten him into trouble, though I doubt it. But boy were there some uncomfortably funny moments.

Speaking of one-liners, there are some terrific zingers in the book Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff, which i’m not reading as fast as I was before–i’m only halfway through the 300 page book. I love the book, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes the information in it (of which there is A LOT) is overwhelming. Still, love this line  which begins the section on Mark Antony (the picture is of James Purefoy, who played MA in the miniseries Rome):

Sometimes it indeed seemed as if there were only ten women in Rome. And in Cicero’s view, Mark Antony had slept with every one of them.

Here’s another, this time actually a quote from Cicero himself, but it’s not as salacious as the previous (in fact it’s quite nice):

“…for as reason is the glory of man, so the lamp of reason is eloquence.”

Stacy Schiff is so smart. She packs the books with this information but she also makes these people and these places so very real–with these wonderful quips. About graffiti, which she explains has been around since before Cleopatra’s time (BC!), she writes:

Even in Cleopatra’s day there was such a thing as ancient history; somehow the world was older then, thick with legend, swathed in superstition. At her side Caesar could have marveled at twenty-eight centuries of architecture. Already visitors had burgled– and scrawled graffiti over– the tombs in the Valley of the Kings.*

*The most common graffito: “I saw, and I was amazed.”

Cleo was apparently not a light packer when she traveled:

She traveled too both as an institution and an individual, with physicians and philosophers, eunuchs, advisers, seamstresses, cooks, and with a full staff for Caesarion [her son]. With her went sumptuous gifts: jars of Nile water, shimmering fabrics, cinnamon, tapestries, alabaster pots of fragrance, gold beakers, mosaics, leopards.

Leopards! (Remember that car game? I’m going on a picnic and I’m taking…)

And, her sister, Arsinoe, was a bitch!

In her [Cleo’s] exile [aka her travels with the leopards], Arsinoe, Cleopatra’s younger sister, persisted in her designs on the throne. Reprisong her coup of four years earlier, Arsinoe marshalled enough support in Ephesus to have herself proclaimed queen of Egypt.

I love these little tidbits!