Monday, June 10, 2013


These have been sitting in the hopper. I will get to 2013 by the year 2015, I'm pretty sure.

Brooklyn, Iowa City, Minnesota, Berkeley, and Portland—through the entire thread of my life in my twenties and early thirties I traveled with these weird funny cats Foot Foot and Seven. And in 2012 I nearly lost them both. An era in your life closes when the animals you got in your twenties start to die.

Seven went missing in early September. A friend who was watching her had taken her over to her mom's house, and Seven slipped out a torn screen door and disappeared. It had not rained for 80 days. There were false sightings at a high school, in a backyard, etc. Every night I watched the Multnomah County Animal Shelter's intake cam, which just makes you want to turn into this.

Two weeks went by. No rain. Hot sunny days. I thought of Seven, born in Brooklyn, street-tough, but pretty much a Real Housewife ever since her rescue, a sunbather and couch-sprawler, curvaceous and languid. For once, I thought, her rotund figure—her tag reads THE BASKETBALL WITH A HEART--might be her best hope.

When dark set in every night my gut would twist and my heart would start to pound. I'd lie in bed, unable to read or watch myself to sleep.

Fifteen days gone, and suddenly a photo popped up on my phone from Matilda: Is this her? Yes! I recognized her immediately. I began to weep with joy. Someone had seen a poster and recognized her. Seven had crossed busy Division Street (and survived!), and taken up residence in these people's backyard, for two weeks, under a statue of St. Francis of Assisi. (Exclamation points for miles.) It's almost enough to turn a person Catholic.

6. FOOT FOOT, 1998-2012
Three days after Seven had been found, a vet broke the sad news to me that my cat Foot Foot had developed a swift, sudden mouth cancer that wouldn't quit. She struggled to eat. I blew all my frequent flier miles on a flight to Portland, where she was staying with my irreplaceable friend Torrence, to get my last fix of Footy's singular, jubilant, maniacal snuggling, and put her to rest.

I was barely out of college when I adopted Foot Foot from an obsessive animal rescuer, or hoarder?, in a strange gated community at the tip of Coney Island. Two hundred-some cats lolled in cages stacked in every room of the house. I thought Seven wanted a companion. I wanted a Foot Foot.

I studied the caged cats. They were all fine. Any of them could come home with me, or none.  Maybe all humans have this egoistic fantasy that our animals choose us—that it's more than whim or available inventory that brings them into our lives. But I wanted something better than "sure, okay." I wanted to know. I ended up back at the front door, ready to go home and think about it more.

But down in the corner, in a shadowy cage on the floor, I spied a scrawny adolescent calico tabby, a patch of brightness rising to her feet among her gray sisters. "Can I see that one?" I asked. When the rescue guy handed her to me, the cat flung herself into the crook of my neck, nuzzled in, and began to lick me like a puppy, purring. I knew: She was Foot Foot.

Foot Foot stayed scrawny and small, forever a kitten. Her back legs were messed up--a loose kneecap or something--leaving her both knock-kneed and duck-footed, and she had an ever-teary eye where a duct was blocked. Her fur was bunny-soft. But what defined her was her near-pathological affection.

Above all else, Foot Foot loved love, to a nearly oppressive degree. Peel her off of you and she would return, again and again. She would thrust her head against your hand, writhing and purring, and clamp her paws around your wrist so you couldn't stop petting her. While sitting forward on a chair, perhaps while playing Catan or Scrabble in my kitchen, you may have felt the odd sensation of two small paws on your upper back and turned to find Foot Foot standing upright behind you like a tiny masseuse, though really she was plotting her course over your shoulder and into your arms.  If you ever took a bath in her presence, you would see Foot Foot traverse the rim of the tub, dab at the water, and set a paw upon your wet chest as she contemplated her impossible bind: there is the lap, but it is underwater.

When I got to her in Portland last September, she had shrunk to a ragged twig of a cat, and her breath smelled like a sewer pipe, like the evil thing trying to kill her, but her fur was still chinchilla-soft. She nestled immediately into my neck as if I'd never left her. My Portland friends, the ones whom distance has only solidified in my life, gathered around me at Torrence's. We ordered from Pizza-A-Go-Go. Aubree brought over a six-pack of hard cider and a bourbon-salt-caramel ice cream from Salt & Straw. My former housemate and longtime cat-uncle Rita snuggled Foot Foot and sobbed. I slept with her for the last time, nestled in my arms all night. I listened to "Coney Island Baby" by Tom Waits, a song whose chorus I liked to sing to her.

The next day, Foot Foot sprawled in a patch of sunlight on the floor and Torrence's roommate Gillian played us a song she had written about her on the guitar ("Foot Foot runs; Foot Foot walks; Foot Foot never stops.") The pain must have been excruciating. But she purred. She soaked up the sun. She still wrapped her paws around my wrist and held my hand on her.

Torrence and I brought her to the vet that afternoon. I nuzzled my face into her neck and whispered to her and held her tiny soft paw until she was still. I could not look at her there on the table, I did not want that image in my mind; I let my last experience of her be just the feeling of her soft fur and her warmth. The sky above the parking lot was the purest blue.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


INCIDENTS from the Park Rapids Enterprise, December 19-23.

The Henrietta Township transfer station reported bike tracks in fresh snow going toward the impound lot, thinks it should be checked out;
A Lake Hattie Township caller reported a small plane that continues to circle at treetop level around his and his family’s homes;
A caller reported vehicle in the driveway with its horn blaring, gone on arrival, it was a family member;
A caller reported a vehicle that “keeps being in her drive,” unknown owner;
A Park Rapids caller stated the neighbor is drunk and has been knocking on doors;
A Nevis caller requested removal of a car from her property, it’s been there over three years;
A caller reported her daughter-in-law will not stop sending threatening text messages regarding her granddaughter;
A male wearing slippers was reported walking on CSAH 1, seems confused, officer gave him a ride home;
A White Oak Township caller complained of the neighbors revving engines and snowmobiles, “so loud they can hear it in their house and over the TV”;
A 911 caller reported he was told to leave a bar but he has “stuff” inside, people were yelling in the background;
A conservator of an estate in White Oak Township reported a trapper trespassing;
A truck was reported tearing up a church parking lot in Todd Township;
Calvary Lutheran reported a male coming to the church, watched kids rehearsal and started preaching to pastor and holding a cross, he said he was an evangelist and she was the devil, she asked him to leave, wants law enforcement aware;
A 911 caller reported an older sports car doing donuts on Main;
A cell phone caller reports he was hiking in Paul Bunyan Forest and is now lost;
An intoxicated female in Park Rapids requested transportation to Pine Manors;
Ten-plus callers reported “deer all over the road” in Lake Emma Township;
A caller reported hitting a “phone pad” in his yard;
Theft of a deer stand was reported in Lake Emma Township;
A $300 toy tractor was reported stolen in Henrietta Township;
A Park Rapids caller reported “theft of green pants from under her bed.”

How could I have let my subscription lapse in 2012?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


In no particular order.

1. My story "Escape and Reverse," a story of wrestling both literal and metaphorical, found a home in the Ploughshares Solo series. I wrote the first incarnation of this story back when I was in Iowa. I watched many Dan Gable instructional wrestling videos (VHS!)  from the public library in the course of writing it, and called upon the sensory memory of my own singular (well, single) wrestling victory at a Brooklyn lucha libre party Gavin and Gillian Russom took me to in 1997, where I threw myself into the task so vigorously I didn't even realize I had pinned my masked opponent until someone pried me off of her, euphorically oblivious with adrenaline. 
I suppose this is an opportunity to make a nostalgic comment about how this was back when Williamsburg was still full of cheap raw lofts and broke weirdos who would cobble together a room full of mattresses to hold a massive tag-team wrestling tournament, with no social internet to perform it for, just the moment itself, but I'm over the old shine of secondhand glory, I was just one of the millions who happened to be there at that time, I just showed up to the party other people led me to. 

I learned a lot writing that story. My sixth-grade social studies curriculum ("Minnesota: Land of Sky-Blue Waters") was dog-eared and ended around the 1950s so I hadn't really known what became of the Iron Range, except that it had shrunk in population and generated exceptionally tough Pee Wee hockey players. I loved watching those videos and reading wrestler message boards and calling my brother for insider info on the high school boys' locker room and reading about the crushing work (literally) of taconite mining. That's one of the most pleasurable things about writing anything, fiction or non: the research. You come out of it with way more knowledge than even makes it into the story.

You can find it in Amazon's Kindle Singles store for ninety-nine cents. You don't need a Kindle to read it, anything digital will do. 

2. I also wrote this essay for Airplane Reading back in February, about the strange yet sort of amazing time in my life when I used to fly every week from Portland to Stanford. "Take Flight."

3. Also I contributed an essay to UNBORED: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun, which came out in November. This book, I must say, is fantastic. Even on a purely physical level, it's large and solid and printed on good paper and the design and drawings are terrific. And the content too is so great. It's all about making your own fun and your own life instead of consuming and following. If I were a kid, I would love it. As an adult, I love it. 

Here's the Powell's link, where it's currently a staff favorite and so 30% off, but if you look at Amazon you can also see some screen shots that include the essay I wrote, "Rock Out," based on my many years of volunteering at the Rock'n'Roll Camp for Girls.

The website for the book has tons of good stuff too, like Gary Panter's drawing tips. (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, that one.)


Tuesday, May 22, 2012


The other night I sat down at my desk. I used to always write at night, often very late, but the last few years I've taken to writing early in the morning and going to bed before midnight. Lately, though, I've returned to my nocturnal ways. And it works. 

Writing at night: all those hours before you in the dark. Nothing in the way. And the room dark, and outside dark, and just the spotlight of the lamp and the screen, the desk a small stage. I light a candle every time and start the music (I'll listen to the same album hundreds of times when I'm writing, usually something instrumental like Sigur Ros or Amiina or Kammerflimmer Kollektief, lately it's been Yo La Tengo's They Shoot, We Score.) My notebooks around me. The little flame flickering. Just like I always have, from Brooklyn to Iowa City to Portland to Berkeley to Portland to Oberlin to Virginia. It is the most familiar thing in the world, this small pretty space in the dark. And more than anything else I know it feels like home.


Monday, May 21, 2012


Pawing through a 2005 notebook I come across notes from a Stegner workshop.
Says John L'Heureux: BEGIN at a point where life has been lived in a certain way up to now, but something is about to change it—close enough to the denouement as possible, far enough back to gather up all the events and changes and explain why they're this way.
Then it says underneath (RE: NOVELS.) Which I'm not sure is about that or the next note. Either way: this is helpful to me right now.

Oh JLX, I do miss you. The man also pluralized "spouse" as "spice."

Monday, February 27, 2012


This "Downton Abbey" thing. I'm watching with 50 percent interest and 50 percent sense of obligation to keep up with the conversation and 50 percent for Maggie Smith. I love epic television shows, especially to watch in bed, and especially those without too much head-stomping and woman-assaulting (those months of "The Sopranos," "The Wire," and "Boardwalk Empire" were a nightmare factory.) And I loved "Big Love," so, you know, I can get sucked into the melodrama of socially restrictive, kind-of-incestuous white people trying to hoard their questionably gained fortunes. I want to believe. I really do. But this is the show everyone is twittering about?


Drink every time Cora does the head-bowed eyes-tilted up lips-closed smile. This is one of her two expressions, the other one being when she forgets and actually raises her head like a normal person and looks concerned. Probably surprised at the view.

Drink every time the Earl has an outburst of righteous rage as he once again makes an ethically obvious decision. It's like the President at the climax of an American action movie, every time. Except on a tiny, sputtering English scale.

Drink every time you see Matthew's mouth poised partially open, his tongue hovering shyly just inside like a little pink fish. (Once you notice, this happens hideously often.)

Drink every time someone says "ma-MA" or "pa-PA." Then shoot me.

I think watching the hopelessly addictive "Manor House" some years back may have skewed me hard. It's the PBS reality show set in an Edwardian manor in the same period. After you watch the poor staff working 16-hour-days to the point of total physical and nervous breakdown, while the upstairs family say things like "I've never felt so cared for in my life" and take to calling their tween son "Master Jaunty" (seriously),  the shine really goes off the landed gentry. 

Also it probably doesn't help that right before "Downton" I watched season one of "Homeland." Say what you will about its politics (I have a whole abandoned post that attempts to but I gave up), that show was so debilitatingly exciting that anything afterward was doomed to feel limp and banal. I quaked through the finale. Before that, it was two seasons of "Treme," a show full of pleasure and unruliness and ramshackle joy.

Speaking of which: is there any pleasure in Downton Abbey? I am hard pressed to think of a situation where people actually seem to enjoy themselves for more than a moment. (Maybe Edith driving the tractor.) It is all genteel false smiles, or small suppressed private smiles, and the rare wicked smirk. How anyone's Anglophilia survives the show intact is beyond me.

I mean, I like it. I'll keep watching it in bed until PBS takes away the free stream. The widespread fervor just confuses me.

Monday, February 20, 2012


I prefer to go to movies knowing as little as possible about their plots, preferably nothing, so I went into Mosquita y Mari with only a few keywords I'd scanned from the local film festival program--teenage girls, Los Angeles, Chicana, queer. I liked the sound of it but what is more predictable than an indie-film coming-of-age story? I came expecting it to be decent, flawed, another sympathetic sigh of a lesbian movie.

Instead, it was just good, good, good, all the way through, the kind of movie that fills your chest so the weight lasts for hours afterward. The film is about two fifteen-year-old girls in the Huntington Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. They go to high school, they study together, they find an abandoned chop shop that becomes their secret hangout, they pile onto a dirt bike, they share headphones, they wear tight black jeans every day, and they fall into an intense friendship. I have never seen a film that captured this kind of teen girl friendship so perfectly, the love and fascination and tension and jealousy of it.

The word "gay" never appears. None of the same old tropes of queer coming-of-age stories are recycled here. Instead a whole complex world, personal and cultural, engulfs you. I don't want to say anything about the plot or even post the trailer here because it contains some of my favorite moments in the film which are so subtle. But go see it. It is pitch-perfect in its nuance and understated intensity.

Monday, January 9, 2012


I am infatuated with the name of Restore our Future, who make attack ads for Mitt Romney. Restore our Future! This phrase is fantastic (literally) on so many levels:

1. How can you restore something that has not existed yet? I love the idea of the future as this object we built some time back--decades ago, presumably, if it has deteriorated to the point of requiring restoration, like a Victorian house or vintage automobile or Renaissance painting. The future is old, people. Needs a good touchup.

2. To restore a future, we would have to have had it first. And then it wouldn't be a future anymore, would it? It would be a present or a past.

3. Although in a way, the future is a real thing as much as conceptual art is. We all construct it every day, individually and collectively, as a people and as affinity groups and as a nation. The future is an idea that has been used as a tool for us and against us for a very long time, depending on which "us" one is at which time. "Our future" has been used to to establish college funds and medical research, and "our future" has been used to nearly exterminate the Native Americans. For something that does not yet--and never will--tangibly exist, "the future" has a profound influence on decisions that affect the present.

4. Which "our"? Which future? There have been so many.

5. But maybe that deliberate ambiguity speaks subliminally to the my more than the our. How many of us would like to restore our own future? How many people would love to go back and polish up their idea of what their life would turn out to be, to have everything still possible, to brighten and retouch that vision as if it had not aged a day but was still new, still now? What this imperative asks for is to give me back my idea of what life was going to be like. It's a bitter demand. It's rallying cry full of disappointment and indignant nostalgia.

Hilariously, one of the largest donors to Restore our Future is a guy who made his millions betting on the collapse of the housing industry. Also, the chairman of New Balance, noted.

I live in Williamsburg, Virginia, a town that fervently and aggressively wiped out an enormous portion of its physical present and future in the 1930s by reverting (recolonizing?) much of the town to the year 1774. Evacuated of its residents, cleared of all 19th- and 20th-century structures except reconstructions, Colonial Williamsburg™ guards a past that is constantly rubbing awkwardly against the present and battling the future (as time weathers paint and erodes brick and renders the longtime Thomas Jefferson reenactor increasingly anachronistic as he ages away from a plausibly 1774-aged Jefferson and into the next bygone century)--but I'll write that essay elsewhere.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


 Happy (estimated) birthday to my sweet Emmett, born circa January 2006 somewhere around Tillamook, Oregon. I took him home "to foster him" on September 8, 2006, when he was eight months old. In the rescue business they call this a "foster failure." 

I couldn't have failed better.

I don't know what else to say except thank you, Emmett, for being the perfect road trip buddy, polite party guest (and host), woods wanderer, and reading armrest. You changed my life. I'm so glad you're in it.

I don't blame you for not wanting to fetch. It's stupid to keep bringing something back to a person who just throws it away again. 
Happy sixth, little friend. Please stick around for another dozen if you can.

Friday, December 30, 2011


Went to the Walker Art Center yesterday. My favorite thing in there right now is a video piece called “Flooded McDonald’s” by Superflex. It's part of the John Waters-curated exhibit "Absentee Landlord." (Brilliant.)

The film is exactly what the title says. An empty McDonald’s looks like it’s been abandoned mid-day. The camera lingers on each thing in the room: Meals both fully intact and half-eaten, a container of glistening french fries, trays of refuse, an empty cup on its side on a seat, a chair, a tall Ronald statue, a full coffeepot. All these objects become characters in the film.

Then water begins to rush in beneath the crack of the door. It’s thrilling to watch it pour in, clear and fast. It fills the room quickly. The first things it picks up are crumpled wrappers on the floor.

As the place fills, things start to move. The rising water animates everything. Ronald rises to his feet and begins to bob. Eventually the cup on the seat gets lifted. Ronald tips over. The food is liberated from its tabletop inertia and joins in the flow, traveling to corners of the restaurant it shouldn’t be. The chair. The coffeepot is suspended so just its lip remains above the surface, floating along still full of coffee. The swinging doors of the trash cans begin to flap in and out. There’s a merriness here as everything falls from its place, displays collapse and all the bright litter is animated. Little kids in the room giggled.

Flooded McDonald's from Superflex on Vimeo.

But as the place continues to fill, the water goes from clear to dirty. It darkens, clouds, fills with bits of trash. French fries drift by, ghostly cups, the chair a tilted shipwreck. The water reaches the big electric M on the wall and it blinks a few times, buzzes, goes out. Eventually it rises to the backlit menus and those too go dark. By the end of the movie the screen is a hazy brownout, water to the top of the field of vision.

It’s like watching death, I whispered to my companion, who said, I was just thinking that.

Also, it’s like America.

That alone was worth the admission. I also liked Mike Kelley’s framed carpet and map of his junior high, and the Glenn Ligon coloring-book painting, and this dolphin oracle you could ask questions by typing them on a keyboard. After you hit return, an ellipsis appears, and then the dolphin squeaks and chirps and writhes a little while its subtitled answer materializes. It is terribly charming.

The answer to "Are you messing with me, dolphin?"
The much-hyped graphic design exhibit exhausted me in about two minutes. About ten years ago I developed serious design fatigue. I had worked at a design magazine run by a megalomaniac tyrant who had us all on 70-hour work weeks. I was eating too many Twizzlers out of my desk drawer and getting skinny, severely underpaid and overworked, and I got so sick of Good Design. I mean, I love good design. But I tired of the fetishization of it. (See also: the hilariously/cruelly named Design Within Reach.) This exhibit was a tornado of type and logo, and it was crammed into a few big rooms where every surface seemed to swim with letters, but not in a beautiful or harmonious or interestingly-clashing way; it was like walking into a world of internet sidebars. Most of it was advertising. That’s the problem with graphic design. Almost all of it exists to sell you something. The embedded museum shop was indistinguishable from the exhibit.

But speaking of Facebook, this breakdown of the eight elements of status updates was in one of the newspapers on display.

Last stop before heading back north was Birchbark Books, which is owned by Louise Erdrich and is now one of my favorite bookstores anywhere, beautifully selected and appointed and staffed by an extremely relaxed dog named Dharma.

It's one of those stores where the selection is perfect instead of vast. And there are handwritten recommendations by Louise Erdrich all over. Doesn't get much better than that.