"We're Just Like My Ken and Barbie Dolls"

On Saturday night I saw the Gwen Stefani show at a packed Cricket Pavilion. The outdoor venue is notorious for being inhospitable to Phoenix summer concerts, but after Saturday afternoon's green-sky dust storm, things had cooled down a bit and the air was breezy and comfortable.

Gwen came out on stage and remarked on how amazing it was to see 20,000 people at her show. She started off with some fun songs from The Sweet Escape and folded in a few of her older hits like "Hollaback Girl" and "Rich Girl." She's good live, a true performer who clearly loves to be on stage and feeds off the audience's energy.

The show itself had good production value, inventive and interesting costuming, and talented back-up dancers. The Harajuku Girls are still around, but now she's got some hot male breakdancers in the mix, too. Gwen made a point of introducing each and every dancer and band member to the crowd, telling us where they were from to boot.

Highlights of the show included "What You Waiting For" and "Orange County Girl," which featured huge pictures of Gwen at all stages of her life on the monitors behind her. It was so interesting to see her grade school photos, her performing in the early days of No Doubt. I liked it.

But the best moment was when she ran through the pavilion to sing a stripped down version of "Cool" in the center of the seating area, surrounded by flabbergasted fans. She ran by me and was only four feet away! She's adorable.

What I most appreciate about her is that, after the show, she made everyone on stage come down and take a bow with her, then accepted a bouquet of flowers from the crowd—and then she sort of hung out on stage for a few minutes. As her handlers walked her off, she saw some guy holding up a t-shirt and a sharpie, so she stopped to sign it for him. It was hot.

In honor of this, Gwen is my Dreamboat of the Week this week, and I'll be celebrating her by listening to Tragic Kingdom over and over again. My favorites: "Sunday Morning," "Happy Now?" "Excuse Me Mr."


Clipboard Check

It's been a while!

Post a comment and, without editing (unless you could get divorced or fired for its contents), press CTRL-V in the comment box to empty the contents of your computer's clipboard.

I'll even go first.


It finally happened.

I just gave up and started writing fiction.

I took a three-day vacation from work, which was wonderful and overdue. A line popped into my head—a first line—and I started writing a story. I'm about halfway into it. It's going pretty well, I think.

Other vacation highlights: laying out by the pool and earning a very, very dark tan; cleaning my house; catching up on my TV shows; doing the Vancouver section of LOCUSPOINT.

Also, wasting several hours preparing for a presentation for class that I didn't get to give because we ran out of time.

And: retail therapy. Gap, Express, Nordstrom. Bought several work shirts, two pairs of hot pants (not "hot pants" but pants that are hot), some socks, a tie. Got some grown-up man cologne. Had a nice lunch.


Phoenix: City of Food

In the past two weeks I've had the pleasure of dining at one of our local restaurants twice. It's a family favorite called Trente-Cinq (Thirty-Five), a "Belgian Bistro" serving authentic Belgian cuisine, right down to the pommes frites.

My mom and grandmother are both from Belgium, so whenever my grandmother's in town, we end up eating there at least once. If you know anything about Belgium, you know it is a country sharply divided by language: half of the people speak French, the other half Flemish, and they'll do anything they can not to speak to each other. Every town has two names or pronunciations, one for each language—which can make visiting difficult for tourists.

My family is from the Flemish side; the owner of Trente-Cinq from the French. This makes for some awkward moments when grandma's there, but for the most part, the food is the real prize at the restaurant.

Over the past year, I've ordered or sampled much of the menu. My favorite dish is the Steak au Poivre, a filet mignon lathered in a green peppercorn sauce, but the Bouchée a la Reine—roasted chicken with puff pastry in a mushroom velouté sauce—is also very, very good. Last night I had the Filet du Porc, small pork tenderloins with roasted diced vegetables (mostly tomato and zucchini varieties, it seemed) in a creamy/herby sauce, and it was pretty good too. I've sampled another dish a dining companion ordered, the Tartiflette, a Belgian "comfort food" of Reblochon cheese baked over potatoes, apples, and bacon, and it was very good. My parents almost always get the mussels, a Beglian specialty, which I refuse to eat because I won't eat anything served to me in its own house. I think that's a good rule of thumb. Plus, yuck.

The chef and owner, Lionel Geuskens, puts special care into his French fries, which any Belgian will tell you are as Belgian as Belgian waffles (which, incidentally, aren't a breakfast food—they're a dessert). The Fries come Pulp Fiction style with a side of mayo. Delicious.

But I'll admit that my favorite favorite thing to eat at Trente-Cinq is the dessert. I heard Lionel used to make desserts for Coup de Tartes, a local French restaurant, and I think this is one of his real strengths as a chef. The Tropezienne is so good you might as well die after eating it. The Tropezienne is two large triangles of brioche dough with thick vanilla cream inbetween them. It is unbelievable, sweet and delicious—nearly an entrée in and of itself. Also noteworthy are Lionel's mousses. The mousse dessert comes layered with white chocolate, white chocolate, and decadent dark Belgian chocolate, each of them a treat (although I love the dark the best).

Tonight I also sampled one of the Belgian beers on the menu, the Kriek, which was sweet and fruity with a rich red color and velvety texture. In the past, I've enjoyed some of the Belgian Stella Artois varieties. At Trente-Cinq, you can order your Stella mixed with Coke or Sprite. It sounds strange, but it's really worth a taste. I prefer the Sprite myself (called a Panache); it brings a nice citrus flavor to the beer, while the Coke sends the Stella toward a more Guiness-like flavor. This latter combination is called a "Mazout" and literally translates to "diesel fuel." You can also get it with grenadine (called a Tango) or creme de menthe (Perroquet), but I haven't been brave enough to try these yet.


On Kaja Silverman's Notion of "Suture" in Film Theory

Silverman writes, of suture, that the construction of the cinematic film as a physical object creates a kind of anxiety for the viewer. Because the image is bound on all sides by the periphery of the camera, the viewer's point of view is limited, reduced, fixed. And because the images are "stitched together" on the film stock into a series of images, a form of "suturing" is at play in constructing the narrative.

Suture brings sequence together.

But suture is more than just the way images are connected: it is the space between images that signifies too. Think, for example, of two scenes in a film that occur in different settings with different characters. The moment between them is blank, no connective tissue, no identifying markers.

The audience is thrust out of the narrative for a second, must contend with the questions of "Where am I?" "Who am I? What is going on?" Until the narrative provides its markers to give the audience a clue about where they have landed in the narrative.

If you've seen 21 Grams, a film edited completely out of sequence so that the narrative is thematic rather than situational, you understand the anxiety of suture.

The space between images is as significant as the images themselves because it spurs a response in the viewer. We don't experience "constant suturing" when the film is projected because the images flash by faster than the human eye can perceive them. But narrative sutures are obvious and jarring almost always.

In writing poetic sequences, it's important to consider the ways in which your audience, too, will experience suture. Good audiences/readers will invariably "fill in" those blank gaps between poems or sections to help them identify "what is happening when." For poetry, titles take on much of the narrative suturing responsibility for the reader—guideposts along the way—but they aren't always necessary. In a book like Claudia Rankine's Don't Let Me Be Lonely, suture is significant and overwhelming as she darts from topic to topic, but the theme of the book and its jump-cut narratives remain in tact. This is because the reader trusts her as a storyteller and commentator. The suturing is built into the book—the jumps are meaningful and understandable.


Syllogism with Its Heart in Two Pieces

Love is the origin of all grief.
Grief is the absence of hope.
Love leads to hopelessness.


From Jennifer Ouellette's The Physics of the Buffyverse

Buffy battles a Turok-han in "Bring On the Night"

"Yet there are aspects of vampire lore that resemble the symptoms of real diseases. Most notably, porphyria is a hereditary disease in which the body doesn't produce sufficient heme, an iron-rich pigment in the blood. Those who suffer from certain types of porphyria are highly sensitive to sunlight and may have reddish mouths, like the ancient Master vampire with "fruit-punch mouth" who was introduced in Season 1 of Buffy. Some historians suspect that a common folk rememdy for porphyria may have been to drink fresh blood, but if so, those efforts were wasted. The chemical enzymes in the blood that sufferers require can't survive the digestive process; they must go straight into the bloodstream via blood transfusions or injections.

Over time the most severe (and rarest) forms of porphyria can cause blistering, scarring, and thickening of the skin, and in extreme cases can lead to disfigurement. The lips and gums may become so taut that the teeth protrude like fangs, giving the sufferer an appearance strikingly similar to the Nosferatu of early horror films, or the Buffyverse's Turok-han, an ancient race of übervamps. In fact, the writers of Buffy are on record as saying that they originally conceived of vampirism as a progressive disease, and the Master's appearance reflected that. But the similiarities between vampirism and the symptoms of porphyria appear to be entirely coincidental. There have been only two hundred or so documented cases of the most extreme forms of porphyria, hardly enough to inspire the plethora of vampire legends around the world, and many of the cited vampiric attributes didn't appear in folklore until the nineteenth century.

We can find clues to explain vampires' extremem sensitivity to sunlight not just in the enzyme deficiencies that characterize porphyria and similar disorders, but also by looking at how the sun's rays cause human skin to tan and burn. The sun emits three forms of light: infrared light (heat), visible light, and ultraviolet (UV) light. It is the latter that is responsible for skin damage: prolonged exposure can damage and kill skin cells, which then release chemicals that activate the body's pain receptors. The reddening of sunburned skin is the result of increased blood flow to the damaged areas in order to remove the dead cells. The energy from UV light also stimulates the production of a pigment known as melanin, which causes the skin to darken, or tan. Melanin actually absorbs UV radiation in sunlight, protecting skin cells from further damage."

I realize by posting this and admitting that this is the book at the top of the heap on my bedside table (currently covering Claudia Emerson's Late Wife) that I'm tipping my nerd hand down—way down. But for someone who struggled to understand any science beyond chemistry, this book is probably the easiest (and most fun) course in science I've ever gotten to take.

There are a dearth of scholarly books exploring various aspects of Buffy—philosophy, philology, ontology, rhetoric, feminism, space, etc. They're worth a read if you enjoy the show.


All About All About Eve

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of going to see the classic All About Eve at Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix. It was a wonderful evening for such an event, although it got a little cold (yes, it gets cold here, Sara!), but there is nothing better than enjoying a film while laying on a blanket in the grass with about 200 gay men chugging cocktails.

All About Eve is the story of the ambitious Eve Harrington, who befriends theatre star Margo Channing at the height of Margo's career, coming to her first as a shy, starstruck girl with a checkered past. Margo, in a supreme act of hubris, invites Eve into her home and into her life, setting the gears in motion for the drama (and hilarity) that ensue.

What's wonderful about this film is twofold: first, Bette Davis, with whom I share my birthday, gives a tour de force performance as Margo. A forty-year-old actress playing 24-year-old parts, Margo is feeling especially old. Her younger boyfriend is less a comfort and more a worry to her, and she drinks heavily. Davis's Margo is brilliant because she is equal parts unapologetic diva and insecure hysteric; Davis remembers to show Margo's vulnerability but does so not as a weakness, but as a kind of revelation. Margo's diva nature is external, is cultivated by those around her, while her inner life makes her into a well-rounded human being.

The other thing to celebrate here is the writing and dialogue. This film is full of amazing lines, most of them Margo's, full of wit and rancor. You'll recognize "Buckle your seat belts, boys, it's going to be a bumpy ride," but the context of this line and its actual delivery transcend the trope it has become. Equally entertaining are the voiceover remarks provided by theatre critic Addision DeWitt, the foppy bachelor who flits around these women of the theatre with both disgust and complete adoration.

You'll recognize elements of the plot in films that followed, everything from Single White Female to The Devil Wears Prada. All About Eve stands at the top of the heap, though, transcending time and remaining and important classic film.


Kenneth Cole Update

I've been wearing my Kenneth Cole shoes for about two months now.

I want you to know they are the most comfortable pair of dress shoes I've ever owned.

I wear them to work all the time. I have to do a lot of walking, working on a campus, and they never make my feet sore. They are the perfect size and shape for my feet, with a wide toe box to accommodate my oddly squared-off toes, and although they aren't "cushiony" the way sneakers are, they seem molded to my feet now.

And they weren't too expensive, either, considering the amount of mileage I get out of them. They were only $89.00 at the Kenneth Cole Outlet store in the sad mall. It might be the most I've paid for a pair of shoes, but I'm glad I did. I'm going to go back—I have a little crush on this pair of black loafers. They have a silver bar across the tongue that I like. And: square toes.

My black dress shoes are from 1999. I bought them right before I got my first job, to wear on job interviews. Before that, my most expensive pair of shoes cost approximately $29. The black shoes are Guess?, and they've done good by me for almost 8 years. But it might be time to diversify, bring in a new player. Someday I would like to own more nice shoes.

My biggest shoe disappointment was a few weeks ago when I spontaneously wore my black Converse One Stars to the Tracy Longley-Cook show. My back was killing me and my heels hurt. I was sad. I love Converse shoes. But I think it's either Kenneth Cole or Dr. Scholls for me from now on.


Phoenix Pride

Portrait of me as the Unabomber. It was so COLD!

I got to ride the mechanical bull, something I've wanted to do my whole life. I lasted 48 seconds. The guy really cranked up the bucking near the end. They said, Keep your eyes on the bull's head and I did. Then I literally flew up and off.

Not pictured: me, off the bull, on my back, legs in the air: only my shoe is visible.

EDIT: When I took a shower today, I discoverd that my inner thighs are both bruised and tender from clenching the bull so hard.

I don't know if that will make me more or less popular.


I am the last safe thought he had.

My poem "I Am the Boy Who Is Tied Down" has been accepted for MiPo. It's the concluding poem of the M.S. section of RISK. A few other pieces from the book have been accepted elsewhere, so I'm happy it's (slowly) getting out there.

I'm rebuilding the second section. I'm wondering if maybe some of my poems from The End of Metaphor or Living Things fit there. I want to take chances.

I think I'm putting my money where my mouth is.


On the Shortbus

I bought the John Cameron Mitchell film Shortbus recently based on some recommendations from friends who'd seen it and thought it amazing. I love Hedwig and the Angry Inch, too, so I thought I'd like this one.

Well, when I was shopping online for the DVD, I saw there was an unrated version, so I thought, "Well, why not? I'm an adult, after all."

The DVD came in the mail yesterday, and I very nearly mean that as the double entendre it sounds like.

Case in point.

The story of the film concerns several late twenties/early thirties folks struggling with various issues. Sofia, a "couples counseler" (neé sex therapist), has never had an orgasm. Her husband, Rob, watches internet porn. Sofia counsels gay couple Jamie and James on whether or not they should have an open relationship because, as Jamie reveals, "I need to love everybody." James doesn't know who he loves. Dominatrix Severin is a hard-edged goth-punk chick with an axe to grind a name she's afraid to be called. Ceth is looking for love, and a mysterious voyeur across the way has been documenting Jamie and James's lives for several years.

All these characters commingle at a private sex club called "Shortbus," where anything and anyone goes...whichever way they want. The world of Shortbus is a buffet of naked bodies, orgasm faces, and frank conversation, all presided over by drag queen Justin Bond, who ministers to this flock with a sense of reckless abandon and hope.

But what's interesting about Shortbus is that it's less about sex—although there's tons of it, and in more varieties than you knew existed—and all about catharsis. Each character has become numb, paralyzed, trapped in him or herself. As Justin Bond explains, everyone comes to New York after 9/11 because they're empty. These characters aren't empty—they're blocked. They all have something they need to get out, and soon.

Mitchell captures the lost souls he perceives to populate a post-terrorism New York City with both tenderness and consternation. Why can't Sofia just come already? Why can't Severin just move on? These are important questions, timely questions, age-appropriate questions, too, it seems. Trapped in time, the many bodies of Shortbus are seeking one true thing—connection—and although the metaphor is now trope and overdone, Mitchell's blatant, in-your-face approach to it takes no prisoners


I'm 30 Years Old, But I Cut My Hair Short to Look Younger

I've been getting really positive feedback about the four sections of the long poem "Safe" that were excerpted in the current Hayden's Ferry Review—people are even emailing me to tell me how powerful the pieces are, which hasn't happened before. I have to admit I'm glad.

But other than that, I'm having a hard time excerpting pieces from the rest of the book. The first section—where "Safe" is—is really the only section built out of discrete poems in an overarching sequence. The second section is a film essay and lyric narrative (hard to excerpt) and the third section is a complete and total narrative in prose poems.

I'm thinking about adding thoughts like "At this point in the story..." as author's notes for those pieces, but it seems cheesy. Or altering titles for individual sections. I don't know. Very lost right now, very lost.

But, still. I sent portions of "Safe" and the film essay in for my grant and it won. Encouragement is coming from all sides. Acceptance, hopefully, to follow.


Bearing Still

Last night I went to the opening reception for photographer Tracy Longley-Cook's show "Bearing Still." Tracy graciously provided me with the cover image for Living Things, her photo "Cedar Waxwing." We first met several years ago when we worked on ASU's Visual Text Project, a collaboration between ASU's MFA programs in visual arts and creative writing. In our project, Tracy photographed doll furniture at a range that destroyed concepts of scale, and I provided the object's inner monologue in poems. "Dollhouse Triptych," featuring a chair, curtains, and a teapot, turned out beautifully.

It was amazing to see a collection of Tracy's work. She works with an 8" x 10" camera, taking enormous negatives, and her primary concern in this show was explorations of the natural world and the subconscious world. In one room, Tracy blew up several photos featuring a character she calls "The Scientist" (herself) as she works mostly with trees and vegetation, living, dead, and dormant. For these images, Tracy printed the photographs on a translucent paper and then backlit them for presentation, giving everything an eerie, sepia or gray glow.

The other room of the show featured two projects: a series of codex-like boxes with actual plants and plant elements pressed into wax on one side and glass etchings of plant diagrams on the other. It took me a while to realize that the codeces had square cuts on one panel in the back, and with the light shining from above, you could view another plant element through this square hole. They were beautiful, strange, almost Victorian.

The last set of prints were mounted on wood and then coated in a wax and resin mixture that gave each photograph a kind of blurriness as well as what Tracy called a "skin." These photos seemed to mainly explore shape, line, pattern. My favorite print of the show featured The Scientist holding up a forked branch into an overwhelming visual field of storm clouds.

It was a fantastic show!


Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy

On Friday night I caught the opening performance of Stray Cat Theatre's production of Fata Attraction: A Greek Tragedy. A spoof of the 1987 film of roughly the same name, the quick play (clocking in at just over an hour) tears through all the high points of the original—steamy elevator sex, the suicide attempt, the boiled bunny—and brings their subtext into the text in hilarious and inventive ways. One really significant aspect of the production is its use of a four-person (two men/two women in business suits) Greek chorus, who come on stage between scenes to give commentary derived from tragedies, ladies' etiquette books, and other scraps of strange (and funny) texts.

The characters in the play are referred to by the names of the actors who played them, often their full names—Glenn Close, Anne Archer, Michael Douglas, etc. Ellen, the child of the philanderer, was played by a six-foot+ man. All of the performances were great send ups, but Alicia Sutton as Anne Archer and Cynthia Rena as Glenn Close probably got to have the most fun with their meaty parts. "I am a WORKING WOMAN, Michael," Glenn Close seethes at several non-sequitous points throughout the play.

Even the chorus pull double duty, often standing in as props or flies on the wall during the scenes. One chorus member served as the Answering Machine (standing in the house holding the phone and beeping, then making rewinding noises with her mouth as the message sped backwards) AND later stood in the corner of the kitchen blowing through a straw into a little jug of water to make the sounds of the bunny boiling on the stove. These little touches—along with hilarious costume choices for each cast member—brought so much to the script.

The play also included a five or ten minute "dream" ballet in which the chorus members took on each of the primary performer's roles and resummarized the plot in dance, complete with a huge devil-eyed bunny who chased many of the dancers around the stage. I'm not sure this was part of the original script, but it added so much.

I laughed my ass off throughout the production. I thought it was a smart parody of the "scheming woman" genre of filmmaking and it got me thinking about other films like Working Girl that do similar things to the role of women in the workplace. But that's an essay for another time. For now, if you're in Phoenix, go see this play.