cloak

A funny thing happened when my dad died: I started becoming him. It was subtle at first. I began using words and phrases he favored - even ones that had always annoyed me. Then it was body language. I'd catch myself making gestures or even facial expressions that were very him. It amused me, and made me a little sad that there wasn't anyone else around who would recognize it, and be equally amused.

Then it got more serious. It's unavoidable that we internalize our parents' personalities to some degree, and I had always looked at the world through my father's (cynical, skeptical, but generally appreciative) eyes. But all of a sudden I realized I'd gone beyond just thinking about life with my dad's values in mind and had started reacting to it in ways that he would. Even in those instances where, at earlier points in my life, I would have acted completely differently - more like me. Holy shit, I thought. I'm turning into my father. 

Weirder still: I liked that it was happening. I felt strangely proud of it. Even when it was nothing to be particularly proud of. I loved my dad, he was an amazing person in so many ways and sometimes I miss him so much I can't breathe - but he could be such an asshole. Stubborn, negative, anti-social, inflexible, and critical. But when I felt those qualities bubbling up through me, rather than stuff them back down I thought No. It's okay to be like this. Dad was like this. And he was perfectly happy.

The thing being, though, that he wasn't always. Perfectly happy, that is. Or perfect. And of course I know that but to admit it, to voice it, is to recognize that I might have some work to do myself. I might have to examine these pieces of my father that I cherish if only for the fact that all pieces, now gone, are to be cherished, and say Hmm yeah, probably don't need to keep that one alive. Because that's what I'm doing, by acting like him: keeping him alive.

So here I have this very odd conflation of love and respect for my father and a desire to not manifest his worser traits. It feels wrong - to reject any part of him, now that he's gone. It feels unfair and pointless. Respect and celebrate the dead and all that. And it's painful, because what no one told me is that grief, if you want it to be, can be a magical cloak to guard you against ugly, hard realities. It can protect you from your past and it can protect you from your present. In my case it's protected me against having to acknowledge - remember, really - that my dad and I actually had a difficult relationship marked by many hurtful conflicts. By lionizing him, by keeping the grief cloak wrapped tight around me, I can lie to myself about...well, anything having to do with him.

But the dead don't seek our forgiveness, they don't care how we judge them, and they don't know anything about the lies we tell. Lucky fucking bastards.

weekend snippets

This is Friday afternoon's view from the sushi restaurant and bar on the 21st floor of a building a few blocks from where I live:

It took me a while to make it up to Takami, but I've been twice now, and I can attest to the foolishness of that delay. The place is great. Food's wonderful (perfect, bite-size crispy rice with tuna, melt-in-yer-mouth yellowtail, and their garlic edamame is like crack) and as you can see there's a pretty view of downtown from the deck.

But what really made those visits was going with New Neighbor Friend, who is like royalty up there. It's her Cheers, but writ tiny. Like, seven barstools tiny. NNF, incidentally, is pretty bomb-awesome. We've only hung out a few times so far but all signs point to her having a big, fat, open heart and lots of warmth for the people in her life. It's not hard to see why they literally cheer when she walks in. So yeah, Takami is kinda next level in her company, but the bartenders, regardless, are some of the nicest I've met ever, never mind in LA. Super friendly, engaging crew up there, A-plus, would and will return. Should you make it up there yourself, ask R.C. to make you a time and place shot. Fun, fun.

---

This is what Friday night looks like, when you drunkenly challenge your girl Kerrbear to a height-off, because for some reason you've been under the impression you're taller than her, when no, dumbass, you're clearly not:



And if the number of drinks on the table don't explain whatever it is her husband and I are doing in the pic above, well then I don't know. It looks like Christmas, but it's just La Cita. There are dive bars in DTLA and then there are dive bars. La Cita is the latter. And that's not a knock! I love the place. Spacious, dimly-lit patio and a trashtastic, sweaty dance floor in front of a stage that actually gets some pretty good acts. I saw a band called Psychic Friend there years ago that played this catchy-as-heck track:



The four of us had another long night culminating in a trip back to Pacific Dining Car, which gets my vote for Place Most Likely To Be Hiding Hungry, Cheating Celebrities, though I am usually too busy getting my Huevos Rancheros on to thoroughly investigate. If you go, ask to sit in the bar area (it's a little bit brighter, but much cozier).





---

This is Saturday afternoon's lookup from the area beside the library, behind the Hilton, brought to you by the dog who for some reason loves to wander around back there:






Yeah, that guy. There's hardly anyone up there on weekdays and weekends it's a ghost town. So that long stretch of open space is a good place to practice sit-stay-wait-come!, which, as you can see, his Winkiness has down. We are still working on no-no-don't-eat-the-pizza-crust-someone-left-on-the-ground.

---

This is McConnell's Fine Ice Cream in Grand Central Market, where I stopped Saturday night to pick up a pint of Salted Caramel Chip for dinner at Kross's:

The pint cost nine dollars. It was my first taste of McConnell's, where the line tends to be a discouraging several dozen people long. Now I understand both the cost and the line. If I was high I would probably pay $18. Maybe even $25. The stuff is fucking unreal.

Kross grilled burgers and corn on the roof while I supervised (read: played with the cats) and drank cherry cider. I'm at the stage where every day I'm expecting word that they're outtie, finally heading to SF. It's the awfullest torture, waiting for the axe to fall - which it will, sooner than later. In the meantime I'm just trying to feel grateful for what I get, and what I've gotten. Freakin' love those two to bits.

---

This is a stretch of abandoned bar at Peking Tavern, on Sunday night:

We caught some of The Oscars from a cozy booth against the wall, where I made an exception of my No Same Side Sitting (barf) rule, because Academy Awards. Rather Terence caught some which he helpfully narrated, because I am blind as shit. Though I did a right good job of locating the dumplings on the table!

Then had him take a selfie of us but hid my face, because logic.


Awards shows are not really my bag. Artists and performers of all genres certainly deserve recognition from their peers, but the excess and superficiality and hype kind of skeeve me out. Plus all I can think of when I see some young actress accepting an award is all the other ingenues everyone OMGLOVED but didn't think much about once Hollywood had chewed them up and spit them out. Also, this Twitter exchange between Andy Richter and Danny Zuker is pure win:






























I was happy Eddie Redmayne won, though. 

up down up down


with you

Sometimes I wear my shirt backwards and inside out.

That's okay, Mama. I still love napping with you.
Sometimes I don't see the cat right in front of my face, even when she has laser eyes.

That's okay, Chauc. I still love walking with you.

yet another fiery hot take on 50 shades

Every news outlet and its parent company is publishing the same piece, saying the same thing: 50 Shades of Grey isn't erotica; it's abuse. And I agree, because it's obvious (and here I'm referring to the book) that Anastasia isn't a true submissive. She's not into it. She's more scared than titillated. She sets limits which Christian fails to honor. All of this runs completely contrary to everything BDSM represents, and everything that makes it awesome.

When 50 Shades drifted onto my radar sometime in the last couple of years, I felt the same tingle of annoyance - of irrational possessiveness - I get when an unknown band I love blows up. Oh great. Secret's out. And yes, all the LOLs in the world at the idea that BDSM could be my, or anyone's, secret. But there you have it.

What bothered me was the fear that 50 Shades, the most widely-selling book of its kind in recent memory, had gotten it terribly wrong, where "it" was a subject I cared about. The fear that, in the wrong hands (and minds), that subject was going to be mishandled, and thus misrepresented to the millions of people suddenly exposed to it. Or, alternatively, that it would be so watered down as to be unpalatably boring. Turns out it was a little from column A and a little from column B. (Columns D and s were unavailable to comment; they were too busy having fun in much better books.)

So I am relieved by 50's embarrassing critical reception. Sure, it's sold and sold and sold. But virtually every reviewer, professional and amateur, is in agreement: the writing is wretched. And wretched writing doesn't move people, in good ways or bad. The outcry against (an inaccurate portrayal of) true BDSM that I feared never materialized, and instead people are crying out against what they've correctly identified as abuse. They are also seeing 50 Shades the literary endeavor clearly for what it is: pap. I also don't imagine that hordes of young lovers are flocking to their local Pleasure Chest to stock up on toys. Not that I would disapprove if they did. I am in great favor of such pursuits, every last consensual kink of them. But I'd hate for anyone's curiosity to be rooted in the sort of misguided, misogynist ideas put forth so ineloquently in 50 Shades. The only bad kink is nonconsensual kink, and that's exactly the kind E.L. James wrote. But don't take my word for it; she says so herself.

I started writing with the idea: when you meet someone who is into bdsm (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism, red.) and you are not up for it, what will happen? 

(Emphasis mine.)

There are a couple of fantastic, extremely thorough take-downs of 50 Shades on the web that, if you're interested, are smart, funny, and will satisfactorily quell any fears you have about missing out on something hot. Because I was definitely afraid I was missing out on something hot. Thankfully, people more patient than I went ahead and determined that no, we are not missing out on a damn thing. (Not the least because 50 Shades stops short, IMHO, of anything much further beyond Vanilla+.)

The Pervocracy looks at 50 Shades from the perspective of an active, feminist member of the BDSM community, and nails it again and again:

One of the many nasty things about this book is that it acknowledges that kinky women exist, but much like blonde women, they blend into a homogenous morass of not-quite-humanity. [Christian Grey]'s past submissives don't have any names or distinguishing features, they're just "the fifteen," and Ana and [Christian] always talk about them like there's something cheap and dirty about the fact that they might've actually enjoyed playing with him.

Jenny Trout has authored several romance novels herself; I have a feeling that what a lot of people were looking for would be much better found in her books. An excerpt from her take on 50 Shades:

Now, let’s move on to how fucked up it is that Christian is grossed out by the fact that Hyde likes rough sex. I get it, he’s supposed to be thinking, “My god, is that how I’ve been treating Ana? I’m such a fool! Tender and quiet lovemaking with a minimum of bodily contact from now on!” But it’s so, so stupid. The thing that makes Jack Hyde evil isn’t that he likes rough sex. It’s that he likes rough sex specifically to humiliate and manipulate women into doing what he wants them to do for him, without caring about obtaining enthusiastic consent, and that’s nothing like what Christian…

For the record, I would (maybe) include links to some of the good BDSM writing I cut my teeth on oh so many years ago. Alas, Usenet is no more, and the Altnet I frequented bears little resemblance to its modern iteration. There is one remaining extant web source of material that young Ellie spent many a night procrastinating frosh term papers on...but if you want to know what it is, you'll have to email me to ask, muahaha. I'll share, but first you've got to admit you're curious...

And with that I will shut up about the thing I wish everyone else would shut up about, too.

lion and bear

Her: It's like if they put a lion and a bear together in the zoo. They'd probably get along and even enjoy one another, but sooner or later the lion would wish the bear was a lion, and the bear would wish the lion was a bear.

We're a lion and a bear.

Him: Well I guess that makes me a bear who loves lions.

narcissist vision test

sighting!

Almost forgot! New Girl fans (who happen to be reading this in time, which, uh, are probably not many), look for Terence in tonight's episode. Unfortunately his lines were cut but you should see his smiling (or not? not sure lol) face in the wedding scene.

/brag sesh

UPDATE: okay, just heard from a TV-having girlfriend who watched, and apparently they even cut the funny bits they had him do? Boo. Still - New Girl!

ferndell

We found an awesome new spot to take Chaucer on Monday, near the Western Canyon entrance of Griffith Park. It's called Ferndell (though I'm calling it Fern Gully). Poor guy definitely deserved an adventure after being cooped up while we ran around town all weekend.

It's my new favorite city park (still a long list to get through). Lush, shady, with a winding path that runs along a creek with mini waterfalls, ponds, and lots of sniffable plantlife. The trails open up into a wider area for picnics and play. Lots of pups there; we even saw a couple of gorgeous black and white Borzois.

I'd give it a 4/10 on a scale of strenuousness for dogs. Chaucer's getting up there (he'll be eight this year), so he was huffing and puffing a bit as we jumped around on the creek beds. But the trails are generally flat with mild inclines, and I don't think any dog would have trouble keeping up.






That last pic is actually from Barnsdall Park, which we checked out as well. I don't particularly recommend it for dogs. Not much space, steep inclines, and mostly buildings. Feels more like a community college than a park.

laguna beach

Sunday, late morning. My caffeinated bounce around the kitchen as you walk in from the gym. Beach tote packed. "Let's gooooo."

Breakfast first. The weekend sleep-in staples: cashew milk, cold-brewed coffee, baguette with butter and cheese. You can take the boy out of France but not the French out of the boy.

Boring drive down. Then suddenly: beach fog so thick and dark the ocean seems to be on fire. It's burning off quickly though. Smoky grey patches hustling inland, as if aware they've overstayed their welcome.

Highway becomes town. Surf shops, hair salons, pet boutiques, seafood shacks. Should we stop here? No, keep going, we'll know when.


Sidewalk breaks into green. Grass and a playground sidling up to the boardwalk. Blankets, sprawled-out limbs, dogs with Frisbies or lolling tongues. That chilled out beachfront vibe. Yesssss.

Metered parking on a winding side street. Souvenirs, candy stores, galleries. Five mom and pops for every corporate outpost.

Drinks first? Then exploring?

Don't have to look long. You find a place overlooking the water. Tiny swimmers in the distance, umbrellas all in shades of blue. No frills, standard grill fare, the server smart alecky and careless but we like him anyway. "We'll have the tequila quesadilla." Bits of blackberry pool at the bottom of my cocktail.


God, the sun. The haze has fled, and heat is sinking into my bones. Squinting without my sunglasses down at my phone, reviewing the dozen pics we've already taken.

Our table neighbors intrigue me. Sun bleached and Florida faded. Definitely tourists, definitely right coast. Her leg is slung across his lap, and he runs his hand lightly down her arm. His second marriage for sure, fifteen years on her easy.

Would the server mind taking their photo? Clearly he would, no time for that shit, busy busy busy, takes it facing the sun so they're in shadow.

Ellie to the rescue! No, I wouldn't mind at all. "Ugh, my phone's a piece of shit, sorry." Fumbling, tapping frustratedly at an unresponsive 4 that is clearly on its last leg. Finally gets the camera to load.


"I'm gonna take a few okay?" I fire away, multiple angles and distances. They look them over and she raves. "You're so good!"

Already digging in my bag for lipgloss, I pull out my Joby. "You're talking to a girl who brings her own tripod, okay?" They laugh; a tipsy grin from Terence. Half a beat later she volleys: "I wasn't quite sure what that was..."

Awesome, I love her. The four of us cracking up. She punches it: "We're all adults here." Bigger laughs. I say something about 50 Shades of Grey.

Second round of drinks. Just enough, exactly how toasty I wanted to be on the inside. California beaches only lose their chill in the deepest part of summer.


Changing tops in the bathroom, brand new open back rashguard I've been dying to wear. Excitement like opening day at the water park.

Hurrying down to the sand. You carefully rolling up your cargo pants, me itching to yank off my jeans and go splash.

Stretch the festival sheet out, less foot traffic over here. Weigh it down with our shoes. Put Spotify on. I'm already bounding down to the water.

Cold, fucking cold, no surprise there though. Just up to my knees then. Which means my thighs, accounting for waves.


The rashguard feels amazing. Slinky and smooth, warm against the breeze but none of the persistent sting of direct sun. Fuck yes.

I feel freer and more comfortable in my skin than I have at the beach in years. Hurdling waves, looking back like a kid. Did you see? Yes, you saw. Is that your phone? Are you recording me?

I run back up to you, then back down to the water almost immediately. This is great but it's making me want Mexico. The icy water is just a tease, the dark blue vaguely sinister. I want clear, bath-warm waves slapping gently at my legs. God, we need to go to Mexico.

I can't walk, I've forgotten how. Only running from now on. Rushing to you, not at all chilly just charged with happiness, flinging sand with my heels but no one's around, it's okay.


Lower myself onto you, push up style. Roll to the side. Pictures, more pictures. The light's so pretty, you're so pretty. Turn this way, get the solar flare, see? 

Relaxing. Then not, because I can't sit still. Come with me to the water! The cold hits you harder than it hits me and you groan. 

Messing with the tripod. Let's do a jumpstagram! A what? Hang on, I'll show you. I stabilize the legs carefully in the sand, twist the timer to start, then hurry to you at the water, calling out the number as I run.

"Seventeen! Sixteen! Fifteen! Fourteen! Thirteen! Twelve!..."


"What are we doing?" ("Eleven! Ten! Nine! Eight!...")

"Jump on 1! ...Five! Four! Three! Two!"

We hurl ourselves into the air, legs akimbo, almost unable to launch from laughing so hard. The timer is still beeping though so we jump again. Hopefully we got something good.

Oh holy shit did we ever.


(By the way are you thirty-seven or seven? Because I'm definitely nine.)

Winding down. So's the sun. Let's get fudge, I'm not leaving here without fudge.

Rinsing our feet only to get them sandy again right away. You've got to let them dry, rub the sand off then. Tiptoeing across pavement, partially dressed, still jazzed from the ocean but I'd better get some pants on. "The further you get from the water the more risque it is."

You mean my ass, peeking out of my bikini bottoms. I didn't realize until I changed in the bathroom, but I doubt I'd have cared much anyway.


Jeans, sweater, jacket, even my infinity scarf that I'm glad for, despite being on the beach. I'm cozy and dry and ready to wander. We ditch the bag in the car.

Popping in and out of shops. Barrels of saltwater taffy but no, my heart's set on fudge. Pop Rocks! We have to get some. Pouring in mouthfuls on the sidewalk outside, comparing the noise. I win, I dumped the whole pack. They snap and crack as I wedge them between the tips of my canines. I've done this before.

We find a two-story cluster of tiny hut-shaped stores, all closed, but the bridges and walkways are open. "It's like an Ewok Village." The church across the street chimes the hour: 6pm.


Food, we need real food. Dodging strollers and dog leashes, a hungry crowd on the prowl like us. Every restaurant a forty minute wait.

You want a burger, so I Google: "best burger in Laguna Beach". The only promising option is the drive-up joint we passed coming into town. Cheap but good if reviews are to be believed.

But you're reluctant to leave, stubbornly hitting up every hostess at every place we walk by. Hour wait or more at most places. "Come on baby, let's go back."

"No, I don't want to go home." "You don't want today to end, huh?" I tease. "No." Yeah, me neither. We needed this.


I thought the sun was done with me but it isn't. Comes gleaming over the tops of cars, a fiery streak I'm impatient to get close to. Beach sunset. Beach sunset! Hurry the fuck up, stoplight!

Your leg is bothering you, so you'll catch up. You take a picture of me taking a picture of the ocean, pink and yellow sorbet smears. We attempt a selfie together. Too dark.

Up the road, another cluster of shops. They remind me of Seaport Village. Galleries with ugly, surrealistic and pop art. Too much color, it competes with what's already outside.

Not much light left though. And then it's gone.


Slowly making our way back to the car. A narrow offshoot from the street leads to a secluded overlook. Totally dark, makeout central, but another couple's beat us there. We check out the view, listen to a wave or two, then retreat.

Stop in another candy shop, just to gaze at the truffles. "Fudge is my absolute most favorite dessert ever," I announce, thinking of the way my mother made it, putting shallow trays in the fridge to set overnight. It would all be gone within a day. I should find a recipe. I wish I could find hers.

At the car. I'm hitting a wall. So full. Are we really stopping for burgers? But you didn't have fudge. 

Husky Boy it's called, like something straight out of Tucson's main drag.


A burger each, fries, a soda and a root beer float. Overload, toxic, wonderful. At some point I ditch half the bun and fold the patty on itself like a slice of pizza. Still can't finish it.

We're giggling about something I'll forget when I write this up. What was it? Will you remember?

I'm quaffing my Sprite, I've never been so thirsty. Fudge. 

And now we really have to leave this place. I'd offer to drive but my night vision's crap and I've hit an even bigger wall. I don't want to fall asleep while you drive, so selfish, but baby...


Half asleep. KCRW. Head propped on my fist, fighting, fighting. Henry Rollins show. Okay, yes, this will keep me awake.

We talk music. Your music. Traffic is dense and fast. I hate driving at night. Keep us safe, I can't keep my eyes open. 


Ah, there. Familiar towers rise into view. I live there. Right there. I can read the letters on the tops of the buildings. There's the one whose elevators Chaucy loves. There's the one Terence used to work in. There's the one we park in the basement of. Hurry up, buildings, get closer, I am sun-sleepy like a child after Disneyland. 

My god baby, you might have to carry me upstairs. I am done for. But there's still the puppy to be walked. He'll scramble for his Piggy when he hears the door, pressing it into our hands, pushing his head at us for pets and love. 

He's going to smell the sand and the salt and oh yes, the burgers. He's going to know the sort of day we had.

thoughtful minutes

I'm not a big fan of Prove Your Love Day. I don't like heart-shaped tchotchkes, chocolate samplers, or red roses. Gifts given under the gun of consumerist pressure don't feel particularly special. That said, I still like going out on February 14th. I recognize that we've been manipulated by marketers into it, but I can't help enjoying the sense of cultural participation. Matchy-matchy couples, pink champagne, and an agreement to throw our romantic best into the middle of winter. Because even though we know we should do it every day, on this day we're especially earnest in our desire to show care and affection. Good intentions sometimes just get lost in the details.

So we went to Santa Monica on Saturday night, to a restaurant I'd mentioned wanting to try. We knew nothing about it other than the fact that it's always busy when we walk by. Recommendation enough, right? Wrong. Had we Yelped, we might have known better. We did not Yelp. Our reward for this mistake was an overpriced, mediocre dinner served by an apathetic waiter (pretty sure prix fixe is Southern Californian for "go fuck yourselves, diners"). Behold my mound of dry, bland linguine, topped by a skimpy handful of sad lobster chunks:

"Excuse me sir, but you look awfully cheery for a guy about to drop a couple bills on some rubbery crustacean."

(Sad Lobster Chunks is going to KILL at Coachella, by the way. Most fire debut album of the year.)

Even though we were cracking jokes, I know Terence was disappointed. When the food is bad, the person who picked the restaurant sometimes feels responsible, and he'd put thought into surprising me. Also, we were exhausted from '80's night. We didn't even have enough energy to stroll the pier after dinner.

So the big V was a bit of a womp-womp.

What is not a big womp-womp, however, are the other 364 days with that guy up dere, who does his best to make me feel loved - and to make me laugh - on every one of them.

Anecdotal: A few weeks ago Chaucer had Shrek ear, which is when one of his ears accidentally flops over itself in a little coil. I don't know how he does it, and I can never replicate it, but it's the best:


I sent Terence a video of it, and he sent one back that necessitated my making a Vine account just so I could share it at some point. So then I made this:


(His response was a million times better than an LOL, and man do I love making him LOL.)

Exchanges like this - videos or WordSwags or whatever - seem silly, but they're a kind of language we speak. An easy and creative way to say I'm thinking of you and I want you to know. I want to make you smile. And they've become a sort of insurance policy against the pressure of a shitty prix fixe dinner. 

The point of my rambling (which is aimed squarely, if publicly, at my Valentine) is to say I'm grateful for the other three hundred and sixty four, and the thoughtful minutes that go into them. I'd probably love him even if Post-Ititis claimed both his ears. 

/gush

---

I hope everyone felt loved on Saturday, be it by your significant other, significant friends/family, or just your significant self.

time machine

We decided at the last minute on Friday to do the '80s party at The Fonda Theater. The out of town friends I've gone with in the past weren't able to come, so it was just us two. Terence cobbled together an '80s ish ensemble accessorized with sunglasses and hairstyling the creepiness of which amused us immensely. Meanwhile I steamed into submission the eighty yards of lace and tulle that constitute my Madon'ta getup. Then we hopped on a surprisingly empty train to go get footloose amongst the taffeta, pumps, and popped collars of a few hundred other New Wave-loving hosers, jocks, and nerds. Jury's still out on which camp we're in.

Terrifying
Terrifying-er
These events are hilarious if only for much the crowd is "on". You can't help but feel like you're in some mass performance piece. Everyone is doing The Robot or the Axl Rose snake dance, and being super deadpan about it. Like, no irony here folks. This is some serious shit. The Eighties will be respected, goddamnit. 

As they should be. As they should be.



The band was fantastic, totally over the top goofy, and really the whole effort is worth it for me just to hear Your Love live - even if it is just a cover. There are no great life lessons to be gleaned from an '80s party, though I did have a moment at the end of the night, slow dancing to Journey, when I found myself rather astonished by a feeling of unity. Like, We all know these songs as well as we know the Pledge of Allegiance. And they all mean something different to us, something special enough to embarrass ourselves into participating in the ultimate throwback Thursday, all in an effort to reconnect with some younger version of ourselves - some version connected with this music.  

Terrifying-est
Overthinking and cheesy for sure, but there really is something magical about it, if you're willing to give yourself over to the past for a few drunken hours. 

It's the closest you can get to a time machine, anyway, on a Friday night in Hollywood, California.

game

Three women in a trendy Los Angeles bar are playing a game. The point of the game is to make the other two women feel invisible. This can be achieved through any means necessary, and there is only one rule: never directly acknowledge the existence of the other women.

The players don't speak to one another. There is no explicit agreement to engage in the game, which begins spontaneously and will only be played in the company of men. Indeed, the secondary objective of the game is to gain the attention of those men. Scoring is subjective, but the women know when they've won points. They've been playing the game for years. They're very good at it.

Witness Round One:

Two of the women are seated with their dates across from one another at a U-shaped bar. The third has just walked in, and joins a small group that stands near the well.

Woman One sips her cocktail and, in between flirtatious exchanges with her date, surreptitiously assesses the other female patrons. She mentally dismisses nearly all of them as non-threatening. Two of the women, however, have registered on her radar, and she straightens in her bar stool. 

Woman Two is aware of Woman One and has been for several minutes. She's angled her body slightly sideways in her seat, forcing the man beside her to turn as well lest he appear uninterested. In doing so, Woman One slips completely from his view. Point, Woman Two. She dips her head, and her long, thick hair swings forward - a silky blond curtain to shut interlopers out. Point, Woman Two.

Woman One receives this message and accepts the challenge. Though the room is cold, she sheds her coat, slowly sliding out one bare shoulder at a time. Her provocative movements have caught the eye of the bartender and of her date, who feels a small surge of excitement laced with pride. Point, Woman One. Her coat hung, she casually reaches up to gather her hair, twisting it in her fingers before letting it fall. The action puts her beautifully toned arms on full display. Point, Woman One.

Woman Three is at a disadvantage. She's standing, not elevated in a bar seat like the others, so her body is mostly hidden from view. But she is exceedingly pretty and knows it. When one of her companions makes a joke, she laughs loudly enough to garner glances from several male strangers. Point, Woman Three. She leverages the attention, leaning unnecessarily low over the bar to order her martini. She giggles at something the bartender says before swinging upright again with calculated playfulness. Point, Woman Three.

PPRL: Rabbit Is Rich, by John Updike (winner, 1981)

The good thing about Rabbit Is Rich is that it excited the writerly part of my brain in a way it's never been excited before. There's a forty page section in the middle of the book that I feel confident in declaring the best forty pages of fiction I have ever read. That's not hyperbole. Writing so taut, so seamless that it's like a wall where every brick was meticulously chosen and sealed with the exact right amount of mortar. A talent clearly at the very top of his game. Laugh at me: I actually cried when I was telling Terence about a few of my favorite passages. Granted I was a bit hormonal that day, but for real, the sheer craftmanship of this book moved me like nothing I've ever experienced in literature. I want to find a list of Updike's favorite authors (poets in particular) because I need to know how he learned to think like he did.

The bad thing about Rabbit Is Rich is that I'm scared I never will. Think like he did, I mean. It's given me a wretched case of What's the fucking point?? writer's block. I'm throttled by my own sense of inspiration and wonder. For fuck's sake, there is anal sex in this book. And it still won the Pulitzer Prize. That's how magnificent the writing is. 

Ugh, anyway, we soldier on in our mediocrity, amiright? (Speak for yourself, Ellie, wtf?) I would barely know where to start with this novel had I an actual classroom to torture with my fangirling, but I think the most interesting discussions fall under one of three main headings (though with plenty of overlap): Harry + Money, Harry + Women, and Harry + Harry.

Harry + Money

Forget country club memberships, gold and silver coins, and trips to the Caribbean; Harry's wealth affords him non-tangibles that are more integral to his sense of self than anything he can buy. Arrogance, hubris, cynicism, (male, white) privilege... How is Harry's perception of his personal power accurate, and how it is flawed?

Discuss Harry's enthusiasm for Consumer Reports. Does Harry feel empowered by it? Unnerved? How do his fears about the economy, about material wealth and financial solvency factor in?

Harry + Women

Harry is spectacularly sexist, jawdroppingly patronizing, disturbingly predatory, and intolerably condescending towards women. And yet it's impossible to hate him. How does Updike accomplish this?

Explore the subtext and metaphor of the (simultaneously triumphant and pathetic) Kruggerand sex scene between Harry and Janice. In what ways is his wife an extension of Harry's wealth?

The other women in the novel (Ruth, Cindy, Thelma, Melanie, Pru, etc) also manifest as a kind of currency in Harry's life. In what ways do they compliment or challenge his ego?

Harry + Harry

Harry is preoccupied with death, and the dead as a whole in particular. Some quotes:

He is treading on [the dead], they are resilient, they are cheering him on, his lungs are burning, his heart hurts, he is a membrane removed from the hosts below, their filaments caress his ankles, he loves the earth, he will never make their mistake and die.

Now the dead are so many he feels for the living around him the camaraderie of survivors.

Why does he feel compelled to "keep track" of the dead, of who's joining their ranks and why? How do the dead serve him? How do they threaten him?

Compare Harry's treatment of his progeny - the rejection of his son vs. the obsession with his possible daughter. How does the legacy of family relate to Harry's beliefs about himself?  

dtla color

Downtown can seem oppressive sometimes, especially in the middle of the day when sunlight whitewashes everything to a drab sort of stoniness. All the interesting angles get lost in the haze, and even the prettiest buildings look like pale imitations of one another.

But at dusk and at dawn, shadows and sunbeams play with those same angles, forcing them into relief for an hour or two before the flatness of midday - or the blankness of night - starts creeping in. Bright colors bounce off windows, and the streets feel multidimensional and full of possibility.

This is when Chaucer and I like to walk, and when I like to run. This is some of what we see when we do:





the island, part 1 1/2

(continued from here

The girl was less afraid than curious; there was scant moonlight by which to see it, but she surveyed the tree line anyway. Nothing and no one appeared. She sniffed the air but was unsure whether the smoke she smelled was fresh or just the ghost of her own campfire. Minutes passed as the girl listened and waited, though for what she did not know. Eventually sleep overtook her, and she melted into colorful dreams that carried her deep into a flat, grey morning.

She searched for hours. The girl delved further into the jungle than she ever had before, expecting at every step to meet the strangers she'd heard in the night. She met no one. She found no trace. With daylight thinning, she had no choice but to return to her beach. Exhausted by her fruitless quest, she collapsed soon after dinner, pushing from her mind many unanswered questions.

A voice broke through the fog of her slumber. Indistinct, male, gentle but insisting. The girl struggled, still pinned under the weight of so much sleep. Unsure where she was - when she was.

Come join us, he said.

pixieset

Things I've not missed about Instagram:
  • the enormous time suck and exhausting effort of trying to keep up with it
  • agonizing over posts (is this too many of Chaucer? of Terence? is everyone bored of my lookups?)
  • racking my brain to come up with clever captions
  • submitting cherished personal moments for approval/dismissal in the form of "likes" (I fucking hate "likes" and believe they are a symbol of everything that's wrong with the world today)
  • playing shitty, zero sum self- and life-comparison games 
  • possibly being a cause for others to play shitty, zero sum self- and life-comparison games
  • the inanity of comments (my own included!)
  • an un-shutoff-able comment system that by its very nature obligates people to participate in an endless circle jerk of compliments*
  • hostile lurkers (people who interacted with other accounts but just silently crept on mine)
  • dramazzz
Things I've missed about Instagram:
  • joking around with some very fun and funny people
  • seeing good times and loved ones reflected back at me in happy little squares
  • having all those happy little squares in one place for easy sharing (GFY Google+)
Luckily I remain in (loose) email contact with most of my old IG buds. And those with whom I don't have been exceptionally sweet about letting me know they understand why I left, and don't hate me for being a fickle spaz where social media is concerned. So that solves the first point. And a possible solution for the others: a "Notstagram" account on Pixieset. It's got a simple, clean web layout comparable to Instagram's:



It's also optimized for mobile (easily swipe through pics), and it's free up to 3GB! You can only upload from your desktop, but once you do, rearranging photos and managing multiple collections (including private, password-protected ones) is a snap. Seems pretty cool so far in case you, too, are looking for an alternative.

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* To be verrry clear, I'm not talking about any of my old IG buds. I'm talking about the super shallow interactions you unavoidably get sucked into on Instagram. The bullshit reciprocity contract of "like-backs" and empty, meaningless comments. It's inescapable if you've got a public account and don't want to be a complete asshole.

Incidentally, that's also one of the reasons I keep blog comments disabled. I would hate for anyone to ever feel obligated to comment on my posts. And I can imagine that in some cases, were I to post something extremely personal, some of you lovely, loving people would feel like you should chime in with a word of support. Or if I posted a piece that was obviously more carefully written than others, some of you would rightly suspect I'd be keen to get compliments on it. Even selfies - I'd never want anyone to feel like they had to say OMG ELLIE YOU'RE PURRRTTTY or whatever. I know some of you cats pretty well by now, from emails and whatnot. So much so that at this point, it would almost be weird if you didn't comment on my posts, were commenting an option. It'd be like being ignored by a friend or something. And that's way too much pressure for both of us.

I like the idea of my blog being a place where readers and friends and readerfriends can come and go freely - and totally anonymously. You can take me or leave me, and hopefully you never feel pressured to participate further than just peeking in as little or as much as you'd like. I also imagine that at some point, you'll move on. I'm just not that interesting - I know that. And in the same way that I'm being spared the sadness of wondering where some longtime commenter went, you're being spared the guilt of having disappeared without explanation. Symbiotic mystery FTW.