Saturday, November 26, 2011


There's an old saying in the editorial business: If it's June, it must be Christmas. That's because monthly magazines work on their issues at least 4-6 months ahead of time. For me, if it's Thanksgiving, it's next year.

During the Thanksgiving weekend for the past few years, I have gotten my photo calendars done. One features traditional digital photographs (is that ironic?); the other is full of photos taken with my iPhone and the Hipstamatic App.1, 2

Choosing takes weeks, even without a full-time job. My Hipstamatic folder holds over 2,000 photos—and that's after discarding at least three-quarters of them. My real camera was neglected for a good part of the year; that calendar was easier.

Last year, strangers, friends, and wannabe lovers bought about 80 calendars. I sold them on my blog, on Etsy, in person (always a stash in my car), and at the Red Canoe3 (I'm doing their personal calendar this year, too!). Some lovely people (Monica, Lynne) bought them in bulk.

Aren't you a sucker for a good calendar? I used to buy at least six irresistible beauties (kitchen, office, three bedrooms, Marty's work, wherever) at Daedalus Books and put them everywhere. (Desk calendars are fab, too, though I rarely crack them open because of iCal, which now, sadly, syncs to life's every nook and cranny.)

Paper is brilliant—maybe even more so because its mother, the tree, is god. Books should have spines, not be wimpy and hide behind a screen, where they can't get into the bathtub with you. I like to write in books—underline the poetry, discuss with the author in the margins. I like when writers sign their books; I bought five a couple weeks ago got them signed. Steve Almond signed my own book—next to the signature of his man crush, Bob Schneider.

Oh! Joy! Notebook paper with college-ruled lines! Moleskines! Spiral-bound journals and colorful hardbound blank books from the dollar store! Stationery and notebooks from Levenger. Those black-covered, hardbound sketchbooks we used to need for art class. This is an ode to printing things out with the brightest, heaviest, freshest paper. My printer enjoys it all—three different kinds of photo paper, brochure paper, card stock, paper for labels, vellum and scrapbook papers and kraft paper—by the sheet and the roll.

My beautiful young friend, Grace Macfarlane, gave me 1,000 paper cranes, a confetti of memories of my grandfather, king of paper cranes.

This morning, I'm touching last year's calendar, flipping through the pages, hoping the new ones, calendars and year, hold as much promise. I want to fill the dates with things like Bob Schneider at 8x10, School of Rock FUNK show at Recher, Chuck Prophet!!!! at SoundStage, rather than reminders about CT scans and doctors' appointments and my father's number in the hospital.

I hope all of our calendars are full of good things: new babies, dogs' birthdays, dinner with friends, big birthday parties, music, love.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Calendar Orders
I have placed an order for 10 each, due to arrive by the second week of December. (Before ordering more, I want to make sure they are perfect.) If you'd like to put some on hold, please drop me a line at; specify how many you'd like of which calendar and where they should be sent when the time comes. Before I ship, I'll send you a request for payment via PayPal or that new company, Dwolla. Calendars are $15. Shipping is free for locals, if we can catch up somewhere; $2.50 domestic for the first, $1.00 each additional; $4.00 overseas for the first, $2.00 each additional. (I'm trying to be fair, but I really don't know the shipping cost yet.)

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

1 I hate using app as a word. I'm sorry I did it.

2 I love the Hipstamatic company. Not only do they make a delicious product (called an app), but they have excellent customer service. They make me proud to be a fan. If you have an iPhone, buy the app. It's 99 cents, for heaven's sake. If you don't, visit Hipstamart for some goodies, like that cool Black Keys t-shirt.

3 Get down to the Red Canoe—or the stores in your 'hood—today for Small Business Saturday. I won't lecture you about how you should be supporting the independent booksellers every day, but you should remember that the extra money you spend not getting a deal on that book goes directly back into your pocket by giving you a better quality of life and steady property values, not to mention a hug or a smile or both from the shop owner.

*The large signature on The Book is from Bob Schneider. The heart with SA + BS was drawn by Steve Almond, author and fellow fan of both Bob and BS. I can only hope the inscription below, "Lets here it for," is followed by "good grammer" and is meant as a joke. Truth be told, I'm afraid to look.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

canned applause

It's no surprise that boost is an anagram of boots. Every time I wear the Frida Kahlo boots, bought last winter during a period of mourning, I get a lift. I feel important.

I had a Coat with the same effect (cato?). Though I bought it at C-Mart, you’d never have known; it was made of the most voluptuous cherry-red fur, lined in satin, trimmed with shiny cerise buttons. The label said Saks. The collar stood at attention, and so did everyone I met while wearing The Coat. It kept me warm during Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, where a friend and I upgraded our own seats to Bill Bradley’s section—demurely giggling behind our fingertips and plopping down behind Kim Bassinger and Alec Baldwin, Kathleen Turner, and Jack Nicholson. Photographers cruised the aisles making note of the noteworthy, stopping, always, before me with a certain look that said, “I can’t make you out, but that Coat! You must be someone!”

I was a cherry dot in a Time Magazine centerfold.

Looking important goes a long way toward feeling important. People say if you fake a smile when you're but a pimple on the ass of knowledge, you’ll eventually feel sunny. So it is with The Boots.

I wore them yesterday. I already wore an air of importance; after all, I'd been asked to be on a panel of food writer1 at a conference where Steve Almond was the keynote speaker. When I arrived, a woman held the door for me and referenced The Boots in a loving manner. “I wore them,” I told her, “so that people would compliment me all day long.”

And they did. Everyone—men, women, gods—bowed before my fancy footwear. After the conference, The Boots drove me to the mall and clopped the entire length of the fourth floor, from Crate & Barrel to Nordstrom. People stopped their conversations to gawk. Jaws dropped. Eyes followed The Boots to their vanishing point. I could feel the pull of longing from every young girl in low rise jeans and pierced navel, every old biddy in warmup suit.

The night before the conference, my daughter, husband, and I saw guitar miracle Joe Bonamassa. During the show, Serena had to pee. She'd held it in as long as she could, and, frankly, so had I, but I needed to make her feel responsible for our missing a Bonamassa feat. While we were washing our hands, I explained my rule of audience departure and return: we must head down the aisle between songs. First, it's rude to walk out in the middle of a song. It's like saying, "Sorry, Joe; that tune's piss poor, and I'm piss rich."

But the real reason is this: as you waltz back to your seat, you can pretend all those cheers are for you.

At the Writers' Conference yesterday, I caught up with my old pal Rick Peabody, editor of Gargoyle. A friend once gave him a box of applause. Every so often, he opens the lid and takes a bow.

Few of us ever get to experience the thunder of a thousand cheers. Rock stars. Ball players. The pope. Most of us, if we get any kind of applause at all, get a golf clap. A thank-you clap. Polite hands of mild gratitude. I don't know that I could handle it anyway. I imagine it's like seeing God after a lifetime of disbelief.

I would cry, maybe vomit, and then I'd stop breathing.

1Almost: Henry Hong got locked out and arrived fifteen minutes late.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

you're the tops

Topping my list of writing devices is The List. Lists are bare-bones instructions, yet they are also the meat. They are written with an affectionate detachment. They mean everything—and nothing. They are shallow, yet they come from deep within your soul.

In my favorite books are lists of kinds of apples and kinds of orchids, and there is poetry in the arrangement. You keep reading because it sounds like music. My favorite list appears in my number two favorite song of all time:
a bag of dead kittens and mufflers and engines
an army of rats and Colt 45
bottles and tires and shipwrecks and trashcans
a porcelain Jesus, your old Christmas trees

—"It's Only Money, Tyrone," by Marah

I recently donated fifty bucks to WTMD. I try to do it every year, even though the radio doesn’t turn me on much. But this year, I tuned in during the station’s fund drive—and its Top 500 Songs of All Time countdown. I gave because I wanted to belong to the club that voted for the Buzzcocks (“Ever Fallen In Love,” #195), even though I’d have to belong to the club that voted for “Free Bird,” too.

But nostalgia is a powerful love maker. There’s a familiarity and warmth that has you singing along with #149, smiling—if you’re of a certain age, of course. The age of our collective consciousness changes the game. It’s why you find songs by Adele and the Black Keys and Mumford and Sons and My Morning Jacket on that list, despite their having zero traction. These songs are someone’s favorites at the moment. How does yesterday’s hit overthrow the song you’ve loved for a whole life? “The Boys are Back in Town,” for instance. “Bennie and the Jets.”

My husband wants to know why we make lists of favorites at all. Who cares but the list maker? We all do! Lists are how you find a compatible mate or friend. Lists remind us who we were, who we have become, and who we still are. They bring back the summer of “Sarah Smile,” when Andrea Palefsky and I fell in love with the same boy on the beach. They remind us of the summer we pretended to love “Kashmir” for a boy—and found we really loved the song but not the boy.

My lists don’t change much. Sometimes my top four films rotate positions, but they are, always, Bladerunner, American Beauty, Lost in Translation, and Fight Club (the newest). Sometimes #5 is Garden State. Sometimes it’s Big Fish. It might even be The Runaways.

Of my top five songs, four did not make it.
5. “Bennie and the Jets,” Elton John
4. “Young Americans,” David Bowie
3. “The Boys are Back in Town,” Thin Lizzy
2. “It’s Only Money, Tyrone,” Marah

My number one song of all time rarely changes. I am, apparently, right.

And while two of my top three musicians did not make the list (to hear him is to love him), the third—the one who makes my monkey dance, the one who put the ram in my rama-lama-ding-dong, was the monkey in the middle, caught at #276.

My friend Kim drove us an hour away to watch him play for only an hour on Saturday night. We talked to him after the show, just as we did the last time—a year ago—and found him, once again, good and kind and interesting. He was also interested. He remembered me and The Book, asked about my recent work.

So—you know. Chuck Prophet "put the bomp in the bomp-shooby-dooby-bomp." He did. He's number one.