Secret Pop

Dec 18, 2009


I got a haircut a short while ago. I've got bangs and a blunt little bob.

As any woman will tell you, bangs are a big commitment. And I've never actually had them in my adult life. I guess it could have gone either way, but I'm reasonably happy with the outcome. But I've noticed that -- while I do get many compliments from friends and even strangers on the cut -- the bangs might be a complication. It might be one of those situations where there's something so ugly you can't help commenting on it, and the only way to be polite is to say you love it. Like a terrible sweater or a startling elective surgical procedure. I get a lot of "I could NEVER wear that look, but it looks good on YOU." My little sister said, "My face would look like a garlic with those bangs, but you're working it." My mom congratulated me on finding a way to cover up that unfortunate little bump on my forehead. A guy last night said, "I love your hair." And a few seconds later added, "Unless it's a wig."

Anyway, these aren't actually raves is my point. I'm fine with it. But I think it bears pointing out.

Dec 2, 2009

A Belt of Stars

The day never really began. It just lurched into a going state, and I went along.

The cold sneaks up on you. Next thing you know, you're sitting in a t-shirt, shivering, and you don't even have the good sense to reach for a sweater. You can be comfortably eased into discomfort. Like boiling a frog. And once you're there, there is always the risk that apathy will guide you to your own lazy end. You just sit still and wait for it, and eventually it comes. It's the most effortless thing in the world.

I began writing this entry almost a year ago. Jotted down a line from a song, because it meant something to me. Today it means something completely different, but it means something just the same. I take notes for a reason. Even if the reason doesn't reveal itself until you've long since given up. I tell myself I pay such close attention. I get lost in the details. And there is no honor in that.

You are my sweetest downfall.

Nov 29, 2009


For the past few years, owing to the unromantic reality of a crotchety and spam-suspicious mail server, I've not been able to send out what had become my customary Thanksgiving email. Well, I COULD have, but I've generally waited until there was too little time to properly create a mailing list or to figure out a back-up network solution or to come up with something to say, for that matter.

It gives the appearance of growing apart, but the appearance is unintended.

I took my younger sister to New York for four or five days just before the holiday. We did many things I've always intended to do when visiting there but haven't managed to do so far. It gave the month a different flavor. And a different perfume. Beulah, unfortunately, does not cherish the scent of chestnuts roasting on an open fire. She did however immensely enjoy the shop windows at Lord & Taylor. As did I. They were spectacular.

I'm in a familiar place in an unfamiliar time. I've been here before, but it was a younger me. A different me. And all the things I worried over were only the things that mattered then. And the things I worry over now seem trite. Even as they are paramount. Even as I know one day they will be as useless an investment as any financial choice I've made so far. It seems I need to worry. Without vexation, I have no idea what to do with my hands.

I'm sorry I missed the window, although I don't know that you should be. My Thanksgiving email would probably have been defiantly cheery and obsequiously glib. You didn't really miss anything. But I would have closed it with a slightly jarring moment of sincerity, I assume. I would have told you how thankful I am to share a bit of anything with you and that you have made my life richer in ways that only you could. If I had your correct email address.

Oct 5, 2009

Chasing a Spurious Starlight

Everything is far too familiar. Perhaps if I remember less, I wouldn't greet every experience with a sense of wry knowing. I've put away the childish inclination to hope things turn out better this time. I just conveniently expect them to disappoint, and they reliably do. And someone out there reads that and thinks, "Maybe she's read The Secret." P.S. I haven't.

This all sounds very cold. There is a plainspoken practicality in it. A less feeling take on a more feeling memory.

I don't forget the lessons of history, but I seem doomed to repeat it just the same. It's a pattern. Irrevocable. It's in the script.

This isn't a nostalgic interlude you can share with me. Even if you were there. Even if you are here. My throat is beginning to close around it. This cooling trend promises diminished resistance.

Today reminds me of a different you. And a me that worried what you saw when you looked at me. The puffy eyes of an allergic fall. The desire for a sleek comfort that proved persistently elusive. The space is the same, but the time is different. Less light used to come through the windows. Mornings felt more private. More precious. For all my rearranging, I fish a black blouse out of a drawer and it smells like me. Like anything else I've worn. Even if the last time I wore it was seven years ago. There are certain kinds of chemistry you can't change.

Sep 29, 2009

The Opposite of a Secret

There was an old lady crossing the street in front of me on my way in to work today. She was wearing a crazy denim get-up, with crocheted pieces added to it. I'm assuming she made them herself. And a big floppy knit hat that looked like a modern re-envisioning of Whistler's mother's kerchief. And she was pumping one arm vigorously as she strode across the street. Her slouch implied a certain hippie joie de vivre. She had a water bottle holster slung over her shoulder and a big handbag syncopating bounces on her hip as she walked. I'm assuming she was headed to Pavilions. I'm assuming she had shopping to do. I'm assuming a lot of things.

Over the weekend, my dad said to me, "You love living in Los Angeles, don't you." And I thought (and said), "Yes, actually." It's one of those things that people who live here get asked. And they have to make the decision whether or not to follow the answer up with a bunch of explanations. "I know there are a lot of shallow people, but..." "I know it's dirty in places, but..." "I know it's hard to feel like you're somebody, but..."

I do love living in Los Angeles. Both in spite of and because of all its peculiarities. The only Los Angeleno instinct I continually strive to unlearn is assuming I can figure everything out in a glance. Summing people up is something I do, usually for the blithe amusement of my friends. But I'm also prone to look at a person -- say, an old lady crossing the street -- and think I could tell you everything about him or her with breathtaking accuracy. And, of course, like all such casual experts, I seldom ask how someone looking at me might similarly sum me up. I seldom even catch myself wondering it. Living in Los Angeles trains you to walk about knowing everyone is looking at you and ignoring you at the same time. When I enter a room, people turn and look right at me in a manner far more forward than you see happening anywhere else. Except maybe for Europe. They look at you and you can see them asking, "Is that someone?" And you just as quickly see them decide, "No. It isn't."

I have never craved fame. At least not the sort that involved visual recognition. Ironically, I only crave the kind of fame advertised in the lyrics of the theme to the movie and television show and then movie again Fame. I would be content to have people remember my name. But to have them see me walk into a room and feel the need to tell someone or to feel the need to approach me for any reason, no thank you. I'm instead working on very slowly earning my reputation through excessive tipping on a server by server basis.

You can live anywhere, and there are certain immutable parts of yourself that will persist. But it's just plain impossible to be so stubborn or so stalwart that you don't eventually let some of your surroundings seep in. You become a part of the place, and it becomes a part of you. It took me a number of years to actually realize that I live in Los Angeles. At first, I spent so much of my time back and forth to San Diego that it still felt like San Diego was my home. And if someone asked me where I live, I'd often accidentally say San Diego. But eventually, you've spent enough time in a place that you know how to get from here to there and you know where to get the best whatever it is, and you take that place in and it becomes yours. And you begin to belong to it as much as it begins to belong to you. And in the case of this city, you get the added benefit of very frequently getting to see it portrayed in film and television, if that matters at all to you.

I'm not suggesting you should move here if you're not already in the neighborhood, by the way. It's hard enough finding a decent apartment. I don't need to fight over it with you. I'm sure you're very happy in whatever place you live, and I don't in any way feel the need to challenge you on it. Please enjoy the rising and setting of the sun as it appears in [Your City], [Your State], and with my compliments.

I transcribed a poem a few years back. You can read it if you like. The bit I am thinking of today is in the voice of the city, and it goes:

Bring me your muscle and spirit and brain --
Here to my glory-strewn, ruin-strewn plain!

I don't always think of Los Angeles in an anthropomorphized fashion. But when I hear her voice, I don't try to drown it out. Sure as the spring is the food of the sea.

Sep 28, 2009

Exploring the Savage Mind

In my lack of desire to see if anything else was on, I sat through three re-airings of the same episode of Mad Men. It reminds me of the days when my parents' big old console record player would automatically kick back the needle at the end of a record and start playing it all over again. The intervals were shorter, and there was less of a sense of completeness, as you would only be listening to the same half of a thing again and again. I would usually leave a record playing when I was reading something with many pages or when I was trying to write something that mattered. When we lived in Guam, my father's big wooden desk -- the one where the writing surface folds up on a hinge to reveal a beautiful bas-relief of Japanese ladies carved in shiny, opalescent stones -- was set in his study, in front of a great window. Floor to ceiling as all the windows in that house were. This one looked out on the palm tree on our front lawn and the steep grassy slope at whose base our house sat. I would languish at that desk and gaze out that window without purpose for days on end. Particularly on those days during the summer when my older sister and my mother were traveling to the National Spelling Bee, and I was at home studying dictionaries in the hopes that the next year I would get to make the same trip. So I spent a lot of days in my dad's study, alone with the record player and the reel-to-reel. I mostly listened to showtunes (Grease and Fiddler on the Roof were the first records I ever bought), a collection of Jewish music called Spirit of a People, and a compilation of Telemann and Vivaldi called The Splendor of Brass.

I remember the heft of that desk. If I'd tried to move the whole thing, it would have reminded me of my impotence. But the writing surface was on a hinge, so that big slab of wood could easily be lifted by me. The only thing I feared was fully closing it, because I always worried that I would catch my fingers when it shut. I don't know what kind of wood it was, but I think of cedar when I remember its smell. And I don't know why I refer to it in the past tense, as it's sitting in my parents' formal dining room at this very moment.

I didn't learn every word in the dictionary during those summer days. And I didn't write anything important. And I didn't read as much as I could have. But I learned there were certain halves of albums that were my favorites, and I would play those with prejudice.

And if you can look at an excerpt in place of the whole, you can see things worth cheering for without being burdened by the details. You can wish for less and thank for more. You can forgive and forget. You can grow nostalgic without inevitably falling into melancholy. And you can tell yourself it's better than looking at things more truthfully, because not all things must be examined truthfully and directly in order to be properly appreciated. In fact, looking at a solar eclipse without the aid of a camera-obscura will burn your retinas blind. And knowing everything about everything will hurt more than knowing nearly nothing about most things, because knowing carries with it the obligation of recognition and ignorance is more likely to make you popular.

I strive for symmetry even when I don't prefer the look of it. I hate running out of shampoo when there's plenty of conditioner left. I like hot dogs to fit the bun. But I was able to ignore the symmetrical imperative when playing records in my dad's study. I was able to distract myself with the demands of all the words I wanted to learn and read and write and say and all the blank notebook pages I expected to fill.

If I allow myself, I can identify which side of the Mad Men record I would rather play. But it would seem tawdry and for all the wrong reasons.

Sep 27, 2009

Day for Night

I feel as if there has been a void in the part of my brain that used to scramble to write down the little bits of inspiration that every day held. I've faulted micro-blogging and social networking for that to some degree, and that seems reasonable. I distill my momentary impressions into brief little bursts and post them with such immediacy that the tangential expressions that used to come from writing down this or that never have a chance to flower. I've thrown a blanket over the creative halo.

And there's also room for the gingerly admission that when certain categories in my life flourish, the writing withers. It's not necessarily because I'm so productive or such a failure or because I'm so happy or so sad. There's just a specific little mix that occurs from time to time -- often for months or years at a time -- that quiets my fingers. I've never been so courageous or so brash that I didn't always worry how things might appear. I am careful not to tread on toes or the feelings that figuratively reside in them. I am careful not to undermine relationships or professional affiliations or perceptions that might be important in the looking back. And that means that the more I work and the more people I know, the fewer things I am free to say. At least in the prison of my own sense of propriety.

It taxes me. If only in my sense of having dropped the torch. What many fires might have been lit had I just worked on my upper arm strength a bit more. And how tired I grow of having to hide behind song lyrics.

When I was a little girl, I loved being inside a tent or a fort or a box big enough for a human of my size. I am a middle child, and I never had much time to myself or space of my own. And there was something precious about an assigned seat or bunk bed. I'm sure I'd have lain contentedly within the confines of a chalk outline if it had been drawn just for me.

There is a difference between reveling in a sweet secret and hiding from what has already been revealed. You can zip up the tent so no one will know you're in there. But that won't keep that family of raccoons from noisily helping themselves to the remainder of your Kettle Chips. They like that sort of thing. And what do you know about camping anyway. Come to think of it, this tent is air-conditioned and what a surprisingly beautiful shade of green marble surrounding the bath! Is that a Kohler tub? I knew it.

I'm tired of diamonds that turn out to be sand and emeralds that turn out to be glass. There's a third part to that statement, but I didn't write it down before I'd managed to forget it.

Jul 29, 2009

In-Flight Ramblings

Trapped in the center seat of the center aisle with a non-working audio jack on a flight from New York to San Diego, this afternoon was as good a time as any to break the silence. So here it is.

Comic-Con was a familiar yet unfamiliar revisitation of the places and (yes) pablum I make space for year over year. Rob and I even did an interview for ESPN late in the night of Comic-Con's final day. We both made numerous pithy observations about what makes Comic-Con quintessentially CON -- and what might conceivably be done to preserve and even revitalize what is in danger of being lost -- in an hour-and-a-half long phone conversation that yielded a threadbare clump of less-than-verbatim quotations in the final article, through no fault apparently of the reporter. But still. They didn't even use the photos of me in costume I spent an hour trying to send. Maybe that disappointment is precisely what Comic-Con yields for me today. For years, there was so little expectation associated with my annual trips to the San Diego Convention Center. But at some point -- perhaps when I began laying out serious coin to stay at the Marriott Marina and exerting considerable effort to rally the enthusiasm of my friends and family -- I began to feel this BURDEN. And if the experience was ever less than...well, I noted it. And for a few years now, it really has been. Even this year, it's hard not to glare accusingly at the marketing materials. I have literally adopted the position that if I am not actually ON a panel or the close friend of someone else on one, I don't even bother trying to get in. It's not that I'm uncommitted. It's that the whole business has become this clusterfuck of bad crowd management and an impossibly unsatisfactory user experience. Comic-Con needs to hire those Disney engineers that design and manage the line dynamics. Because for some reason, I resent that experience less. I get into line after having seen a full-disclosure estimate of the time it will take me to hop aboard a gondola, and there is an implicit understanding that this is an acceptable exchange of services. I'm willing to wait. But at Comic-Con, there is no estimate. No reasonable expectation of satisfaction. No promise of a repeat performance. No enchanting fantastical environment. No textured walls to run your hands over as you breeze past. No easter eggs.

There's literally no incentive to wait. (Ironically, a similar indictment could be made of me and my blogging dereliction.)

My favorite thing in the five days I was there was the dependable late night reunions in the lobby bar of the Marriott. Where we dissected our experiences and justified our disillusionment. Where we were well looked-after by a server named Cinnamon. Where we ordered our fill and always felt welcome. It was Steve Melching who astutely pointed out that the arrival of celebrities to the Comic-Con line-up was what seems to have ruined the whole thing. The people who queue up for these Hall H presentations aren't (to a one) excited to see the creators preview their offerings or to hear about the magic behind the mask. They're there hoping to catch a glimpse of Robert Pattinson. Full disclosure, I just typed "catch a clap of Robert Pattinson" at first. I don't know what that means. I'm just saying.

And that's the seminal disconnect today. Comic-Con used to be the place where you would get to rub elbows a bit with your heroes and creative geniuses. And there was a noble appreciation of the actual creative arts. And a well-placed reverence for the men and women who write and draw and conceive the fantastical characters, environments, and scenarios that Hollywood has co-opted into the money-making machine of studio movie-making. Don't get me wrong. I'm so grateful that Warner Brothers exists. I'm so grateful that well-heeled, well-funded enterprises recognize and revere the value of science fiction, fantasy, and comic book superheroes. I'm so glad I can be transported to these worlds I have loved by purchasing a ticket to an Arclight screening. But at the same time, I wish there was some persistent recognition that the phenomenon of Comic-Con is more about the dedication of the fanbase than it is about the endorsement of the studios. And the teen girls that rally around an opportunity to see their heartthrob are all well and good. But they're missing the big picture. Those actors -- cute as they may be -- aren't, for the most part, responsible for the product they adore. It's writers and directors and musicians and visual effects people and the whole lot. Just seeing Gerard Butler last year at the RocknRolla panel brought that succinctly home. Gerard Butler was above it. An ACTOR looking out on a sea of weirdos. This wasn't an audience in whose bosom he wanted to find himself. Ever. This was, instead, a freaky, funky (in the olfactory sense), socially inept army who came across frightening if only for their numbers and like-mindedness. These were people he was clearly afraid would love him to death. He needn't fear me in that respect. I can assure you.

But he was wrong. Because, in my experience, the true Comic-Con faithful are the most respectful, most self-effacing, most personal space-respecting sort. They might come up and thank you for the entertainment you have provided. They might ask you to allow them to take a picture. They might blush. But these are not the paparazzi. And they won't ask you to sign the interior wall of their uteruses with a Sharpie they will happily provide. And they won't assume that once you lock eyes with them, the whole of the future will reorient itself to adjust to their personal fantasy, heretofore only ever lived out in the company of a lip-print-laden glossy poster hanging above their bed, coincidentally fashioned in the likeness of the Starship Enterprise. The NCC-1701A, since you asked. And if anyone in the world is more anxious to preserve the sanctity of fandom, it's the attendee badgeholders at Comic-Con. Who spend thousands of dollars to attend. Who endure thankless, sweaty discomfort wearing their various helmets and wings and body armor. It's those die-hard devotees who recognize the divide between the fan and the fawned-upon more than anyone. These are fans who aren't hoping that a short skirt or a willing twinkle in their eye will give them a pre-shame glimpse of the color of a celebrity's pants-lining. They're not hoping to be noticed or to be befriended. They're not expecting their lives to be changed. They're purely there to appreciate. And as their ranks have been infiltrated by the scoop-hungry bloggers and the scout-minded studio execs and the panty-less skanks, it seems the landscape has been blurred. Like one of Bert's sidewalk paintings in Mary Poppins after the rains came.

My iPod playlist of choice at the moment is a collection of film music based on a mixtape I once made. I've now gotten to the opening titles of The Reivers. It's a John Williams composition, and it's brilliant and uplifting. The first time I remember hearing it, it was John Williams conducting the L.A. Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl with Ossie Davis narrating. And I made a note to myself to go buy that soundtrack. And I did it. And I can tell you that, as huge a fan as I am of John Williams, if I were to see him on the street, the chances that I would even disturb him are slight. Beyond that, the chances that I would hope to attract him or fantasize about a night in the future when we might share an intimate dinner (maybe Italian?) are basically nil. That isn't the kind of fantasy I entertain. There's no sexual urgency in my worship. If I love your work, I love your work. And I maintain the steadfast expectation that I might not necessarily like you so much. You don't have to be cute. You don't even have to be clean. Your work stands alone. This is the mindset of so many of the Comic-Con faithful, I find. And whether that comes from having grown up as ugly outcasts, I don't know. And I'm not setting myself apart in that comment, in case it was unclear. My fantasies generally never extend beyond hoping to strike up a stimulating e-mail penpalship with those I admire. And even that I treat as a pipe dream. On occasion, I have found myself in that state of benign disbelief that I am now friends with someone I once placed in an untouchable personal pantheon of genius. And that's definitely a dream. But that doesn't mean I've ever found myself being an out-and-out weirdo. Nor would I. Even if I was meeting Marc Shaiman.

So, Comic-Con this year was fun on many levels. Disappointing on many others. I learned that the thrill of being on the list for this party or that is misplaced. I don't care about the parties. Unless I'm going to run into my friends. And I could just as easily arrange to run into them at a convenient, comfortable place of our choosing. No amount of open bar is worth the harangue of skeevy people and their skeevier expectations and being made to feel that the actors of Stargate are more deserving of the edge of the concrete planter I've been sitting on than I am.

I was having a cigarette outside the hotel with Danforth, and we were talking about the lack of impetus to try and evangelize people about Star Trek. And a lanky long-haired young man in a cape came up and said, "I overheard you talking about Star Trek. Mind if I join in?" That, coupled with the moment on the elevator when a fox-headed Jedi subtly effected the Jedi mind trick before the opening elevator doors, represents the very essence of Comic-Con to me. A welcoming of the often unwelcome. A committed performance of dedicated fantasy. An assumption that the people in the elevator will get it when you say, "Hey. That Jedi just did this [pantomime Jedi mind trick] when the elevator doors opened." And they will. And they did.

I'm disappointed I didn't see or do more. As evidenced by my one panel reference above being from last year. The convention hall actually seemed less crowded for most of the show. The exception being Sunday, which also happened to be the day I was dressed in my U.F.O. Moonbase Operative costume. I managed to move about on the floor with very little panic for the most part. But I didn't even bother to plan to go to the panels I would have wanted to see. I went to see a couple of panels Rob was either moderating or participating in. And I attended the panel on which I was an actual panelist. But that's what allowed me to breeze in after everyone else was seated. And I have a faint recollection of Comic-Cons past when I could do that -- panelist or no -- at nearly every panel on the events schedule. I doubt that even relocating the Con to Los Angeles or Anaheim or Las Vegas will make that possible. All that will do is make the becostumed attendees that much funkier (again, we're talking about smell here). And wait till a couple of Bladerunner Replicants get mugged in Downtown Los Angeles. The end of the innocence has long since been marked. If the future of the comic arts is as bleak as the future of the biggest, most wonderful celebration of them, I can only hope the Y: The Last Man movie comes out before it all goes to shit.

I don't know if I'll ever be married. But if I'm ever on the receiving end of a wedding dance, I hope it will be Let Me Roll It by Paul McCartney.