Friday, September 27, 2013

"I Still Think, Maybe I'm Not Good At This": Graham Moore Outtakes

Cumberbatch As Alan Turing / Daily Mail 
Hello, Benedict Cumberbatch fans! Over on Buzzfeed I have an interview with Graham Moore, novelist and writer of "The Imitation Game," the Alan Turing biopic starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Here are some outtakes from my conversation with Graham in which we talk further about Benedict Cumberbatch, set etiquette and Benedict Cumberbatch. 

Benedict Cumberbatch! 

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Monty came to us a little broken. He'd been shuttled around from rescue to rescue so often that any time a car door opened, he'd mournfully shuffle towards it, tail dragging like a canine Eeyore.

He was missing one of his big lower teeth, never made a peep, and didn't really know how to play. You'd throw a ball for him and he'd just stare it and then look up at you with these big brown eyes. He didn't care about anyone who only gave him passing attention. You had to put in your time with Monty to get affection from him, and affection from him was simple: he wanted to hold hands.

He'd come sit by you, and just rest his paw on your foot, or your leg. He didn't want you to scratch him or shake it, or anything but just sit there and hold his hand and maybe talk to him. There's no other way to say it: that dog was noble. That dog was Atticus Finch.

Our other dog Cleo, younger and more sprightly is a fine dog, a sweet dog, but... She's just a dog. She's not a soul who just happens to be currently in a dog costume. You throw the ball, she fetches it. Then you have to yell at her for a couple of minutes until she finally fucking drops it.

It took nearly three years for Monty to understand what "playing" meant. The first time he took a loping stride towards a ball I chucked, I immediately reported it to my dad. Monty didn't do it again for months. Instead, I would bring another ball, which he would happily keep in his jaws, right where that big lower tooth should be, and sit by me, paw on my foot, while I chucked another ball for the puppy.

One day at the beach, I tossed a tennis ball down the way for Cleo, who immediately lost sight of the thing and started digging for it about 20 feet away from its position in plain view. Lo, Monty pulled himself up onto his aging hips and loped down the beach with clear purpose. He nabbed that ball without Cleo noticing, and started back.

It was "Chariots of Fire."

It was the Olympic torch relay.

He trotted back, tail up, chest out and looked right up at me.

Reader, I burst into tears and threw my arms around him.

He kept that ball in his mouth the rest of the day, and sat by me through lunch and dinner, one paw on my foot, the whole while long.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Past Perfect

It wasn't until he suggested a second pitcher that I realized something maybe was happening. Years of platonic dinners hadn't yet dimmed my crush, but I'd made peace and figured that discussions about Batman over burritos was nothing to complain about. He asked me if I was seeing anyone, and I said no, I asked the same in return and his face told me he was embarrassed before he'd even said anything.

He was sort of, occasionally seeing this girl, he said, but couldn't be serious about her, since she's in her early 20s and, he cringed, an intern at the same company. She's great, he said (and I believed him) but they were "definitely not B.F./G.F.." I remember that moment because I remember thinking that a man closer to 40 than 30 was describing his romantic status to me in such terms.

He suggested we go to a second bar, and we did and then he suggested we go outside and kiss and we did. I slept alone and bought flowers for the table the next day.

Nearly a week later when he wrote to say how horribly guilty he felt, especially because his girlfriend had a troubled past, I felt a peculiar, short pang. Then I remembered how a teacher told me once that sometimes, on winding roads, you can tell how you should steer the car forward by only looking in the rearview mirror. I should never try it though, she warned me, because it's too dangerous; I could really hurt myself.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Champagne Problems

At first I liked his big loud laugh, but what did me in was that he let me shake the cocktail shaker when I said how much I love the sound. (I was willing to overlook the au courant old-timey bartender suspenders. Brooklyn.)

Plus, he kept refilling my champagne which, I am sorry to admit, will eventually morph me into someone who thinks that the evening will come to include something along the lines of:

But because I am a shy person stuck in a loud body, and because I am, in general, bad at this sort of thing, I thought I would show my interest via the time-tested method of doodling on a coaster.


On one side, marked "No!" I  listed things such as: mint, spiders, emoticons, skirts you have to dry clean, e-books, people who take up more than one subway seat, etc.

On the "Yes!" side was my number, baseball, Sundays, the newspaper, Christmas, matching underwear, slide guitars, "Casablanca," avocados, and such.

I thanked him for the drinks, set the coaster down in front of him, and bolted, leaving it to my friend to confirm he had looked at it, smiled and tucked it away in his trousers.

I never heard from him, didn't go back to the bar for 6 months, and vowed never to be dumb enough to think it would be a good idea to use a coaster to flirt with someone. Because, honestly! 

Tuesday, July 02, 2013


We got up early to clear away bottles while the fog still sat low on the waves. A couple of days' worth of bowls of guacamole and ash needed to be rinsed and set aside, the recycling put out by the bougainvillea. I made a neat stack of old paperbacks while the old coffeemaker cheerfully did its job. I glanced at the  box of freshly-pressed elegant stationary, "Thank You For Your Sympathy."

When it was me, I hadn't used any of the cheap, floral cards the funeral home had given me. I didn't thank anyone for their sympathy.

We put on sweaters and carried our coffees out onto the rock. The tide was high.

"I don't think we're going to be be back here for a long time," she said.

We drank our coffee with almond milk and I thought about my mother's name, dimming slowly until it finally goes out; her last death.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

This Must Be The Place: Malibu

There is a time in Los Angeles called the Gloom. After a hopeful May and before July comes on like a parched guest, there is June with its overcast skies that never crack open into rain. June gloom, July fry, it goes. I love the Gloom for its topographical magic trick: it brings foggy Malibu mornings to the whole city.

Joan Didion called it "the most idiosyncratic of beach communities, twenty-seven miles of coastline with no hotel, no passable restaurant, nothing to attract the traveler's dollars." Of course there are hotels now and some good restaurants mixed into the usual smattering of not-very-good ones.

But it is not hard to imagine Joan still there, on the deck with her husband and daughter, with her packing lists and headaches. 

I can't escape Joan. She was there in Sacramento, a fellow Native Daughter, she was there in New York, at Conde Nast, no less. She stood by, silent, when I packed up my "fifty yards of yellow theatrical silk" and left the east behind me.
"That was the year... when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every mistake, every word, all of it."*
She stood by, silent: This is how girls think of Joan, small Joan with her cigarettes and paper dresses. We, not just Californians, think that she is not an author we read, but a someone, something who happened to us. In her valentine "California Girls," from the one-off Girl Crush zine by Jenna Wortham and Thessaly La Force, Zan Romanoff wrote
"[...] She manages to speak to speak to a particular breed of misfits. You know at least one of us: well dressed if a little prim, quiet, a book in every handbag, and a pen for good measure. We can mistake frumpiness for elegance, we are wary to the point of cynicism. We savor solitude, but do not particularly like to be alone. We found her, and now, we find each other [...]" 
We found her and her thoughtful sangfroid, her ability to explain to us better what we already knew but could not crack. Things like how Malibu exists between glamour and homeliness, escape and sadness.

"[...]Malibu tends to astonish and disappoint those who have never before seen it, and yet its very name remains, in the imagination of people all over the world, a kind of shorthand for the easy life."**


Didion lived in Malibu from 1971 to 1978, on the outskirts of a Los Angeles still shuddering from the Manson murders. She returned to New York years ago, but I like to think of her here, in a cliff house, weathering nights of foggy lullabyes with a jaundiced eye towards the canyons where fire can spark at any moment.

The 70s Malibu of rosemary hedges and rattlesnakes gave way to the 80s, when the business was flush with new money brought by VHS sales. A generation of executives, actors and agents bought property along the PCH, second houses, a vacation getaway only an hour (in good traffic) from Beverly Hills. It was somewhere to spend July while the rest of Los Angeles baked. For a certain set, times were good.

Until they weren't.

Malibu is dotted with phones that stopped ringing. Deals fell through, movies failed to open, and business managers more than skimmed from the larder. Secondary homes have become houses, an anachronistic village: White-Knuckle Malibu. There will be a '89 Miata with a torn roof in the driveway and a single Emmy in the window, perched on a glossy grand piano.

Maybe the copper roof is fading, the sandy white wall-to-wall carpeting should probably be replaced, but the Emmy in the window is dusted every day. The old guard keep going to the old restaurants, ordering the same breakfasts.  They refuse to be swept out to sea even as the majority of the beaches themselves are washing away to expose rotting slat board foundations.


I do not understand the Atlantic. A summer in South Carolina introduced me to beaches where you could ride your bike across the sand out to the water, hot as a bathtub. The Pacific has no such frivolity.

For all the postcard volley ball games and Beach Boy songs, the water is rarely anything over frigid. California kids are used to peeing in wetsuits or crouching down in the water to force acclimation when you can't be bothered to pull one on. You come in from the water when your lips turn blue. The farther north you drive up the coast, the deeper, colder and more vicious the Pacific gets, but Malibu is a muted, lulled landscape. It is so close and so far.

It's a luxury to count the salted mustiness of a Malibu beach house that's been shuttered for months on end as a smell of your childhood.  Ditto, if you remember copper roofs with green patinas, slightly damp salmon pink sofas, and the cracked spines of Stephen King and Tom Wolfe hardcovers. The parties stocked with gin and girls who clearly came to work, the smell of dry wetsuits and board butter. While the blazingly hot summers of Sacramento stand out in my childhood memories, so do overcast Malibu mornings spent raking seaweed and drinking green tea.

I do not understand the Atlantic, with its nor'easters and hurricanes. I only understand the Pacific, with its deep, cold water and its Gloom.

Previously, This Must be the Place: Malta 

* "Goodbye to All That," Slouching Towards Bethlehem

** "Quiet Days In Malibu," The White Album

Friday, May 24, 2013

Spring Has Sprung

Over on that site thing, I have put together a playlist of some songs I have been listening to an awful lot this spring. Here are some silly nothings in regards to said songs.

1. "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" - Neutral Milk Hotel 

This song reminds me of Vassar and my lovely freshman year roommate,  now accomplished poet Elizabeth Gross. She put this song a mix she made for me, "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes," and I was reminded of it when my internet absolutely lost its marbles when this band announced it would be reuniting soon enough. But, really, "And one day we will die / and our ashes will fly/ from an areoplane over the sky / But for now we are young/ Let us lay in the sun/ and count all the beautiful things we can see."  I mean... 

2. "Holy" - Frightened Rabbit 
I like any song where I'm fairly sure there's a Hamlet joke. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Boys and Girls


What must it be like to be a boy, 
to speak with your father's voice, pouring out
your thick, strong throat. 
I am envious!

I would spend dreamy autumnal days,
tracking back all the things I ever said,
the golden cord of a father language.
Ancient, sacred father words!

A language spoken at a feast of fathers, 
proud and able men who had been waiting for me
to learn their bold tongue. 

What must it be like to have a grandfather!
to know the words
of the songs of your father's father, heady and thumping.
Feasting songs!

Songs of victory and devotion,
of ruination and soulful father mourning,
sung out clear over the golden father table. 


Gobble down the memories of fathers
and enjoy the happy, full feeling they afford you!

(If I could learn the silvery, waning
language of mothers
and speak it as mine did,
like hers before her, I would.)

(But I have no ear for tongues.)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Stories We Tell Ourselves

The boys arrived after we'd all been swimming, I think. High school nights were mostly spent at this house up in the hills, where my friend's parents would look the other way as long as no one drove and grades stayed markedly above average.

They had disturbed all the five or six large dogs who had been dozing happily when they rolled up with their luxury SUV, music blaring loudly. I immediately disliked them and immediately felt guilty that I'd judged them for being idiotic and rude.

As drinks were being poured, I noticed a nice box of chocolates on the counter which hadn't been there a moment before.

"Oh, how nice!" I said to my friend. "Ugh, I really am an asshole."

"What are you talking about?" she asked, breaking up an ice tray.

"Those guys came in, and I instantly thought they were meat head degenerates, but look, they brought us these nice chocolates! That's so, I don't know, polite."

My friend laughed, and said she'd pulled them out from her cupboard while I was trying, unsuccessfully, to shake hands and introduce myself.

After they left, my friend discovered that the boys had stolen all of her very ill mother's pain medications. We made pancakes the next morning and danced in the kitchen to Ella.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


I can't remember what sort of party it was, but I remember it was pouring rain. A hot, heavy summer rain since the season hadn't changed yet. It was still stifling enough that some kids were sleeping overnight in the library, the only building on campus with serious air conditioning.

Inside, there was some sort of ridiculous drama. I liked a boy, the first and last boy who wore button downs and khakis I'd ever liked. He was tall and very quiet, and it was easier to think about him than my mom, back in California, sick.

I stepped outside with my drink, dodging couples. Across the way I saw an older woman walking along side her dog. It was old, very old, shuffling with a painful gait. Even from a distance I could see the multiple large tumors bubbling up along his back and down its legs and its many pink bald spots.

The woman walked slowly beside her dog in the downpour, holding her umbrella out over it, in no rush. The loud music came back to me and I felt stupid for being so young. 

Thursday, May 09, 2013


It wasn't my horse.

We would all try to ride in the early mornings. Sacramento summers mean afternoons of 105 degrees, and the barn was out amid rice paddies and the air port -- no shade to be found any where.  Before the shows in Pebble Beach we would take our horses out to the watery fields to help them get used to splashing around in the water, in the hopes they'd take to the beach easier.

The watering truck had just finished its first circuit of the day, dampening the already arid sand of the arena and the tractor was headed in to drag it with metal spikes to groom the sand neat for surer footing.

We were at a standstill as I was adjusting the girth, the leather belly tack which secures the saddle. When the tractor raised its front bucket with a loud clank, he reared up, screaming. Turning, he threw me into the dirt. I landed on my left side, my arms up over my head, trying to roll away from his descending hooves. He clipped my kneecap instead of crushing it completely.

I pulled myself up and went after him. His eyes rolled and he was worked up in a foamy white lather.

After a long lesson, when he'd finally calmed and been hosed down and put away, I sat down by the tack room. I unzipped my leather chaps, untucked my breeches from my well-worn boots and rolled them up.  The black started mid-way up my shin. Not purple. Not dark blue. Black. Licorice black.

It extended up over my knee, swollen up like a softball, halfway up my thigh. When I touched it, I couldn't feel it. I was completely numb.

The rice paddies are gone now, and so is the barn. They built tract homes over everything, and they sit on the flat land of the valley, nearly all empty. At night they turn the lights on for no one. 

Thursday, May 02, 2013


I was very young and I'd just watched "Fantasia" and the thrill of watching "Night on Bald Mountain," which my mother would have never let me watch had she  been there was still in my mind when we were driving home in the rain. Squinting through the rain-spattered windshield, the red brake lights ahead of us reminded me of the writhing flames and little demons from Disney's animated short.

"They look like the devil," I said, pointing.

She turned to me, her face paling. "What?"

"The red lights, they look like devils."

Panicked, my mother rerouted us.

The Preacher's apartment was sparse and cheap, like all apartments of the recently divorced or sober. He gave me a soda and peanut butter crackers. I was left alone for an hour to watch television. I could hear the usual muttering that meant my mother was praying. After a while, they came back into the living room with its black pleather sofa.

"We're going to pray on you," the man explained, and I didn't say no. They put their hands on me, and prayed to banish the servants of Satan. I wondered if he had any more peanut butter crackers and when we would go home.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Further Thoughts On Chris D'Arienzo and O.P.P.

When Buzzfeed came to me asking if I had any ideas for them, I immediately pitched them a running series of interviews with creative people on their processes.

Like the Post Project, one of the ways I've been hacking away at The Horrible It is to really luxuriate in the concept of process. In my mind, process is the infrastructure on which you build discipline. Young artists look for a voice, professional artists look for their process.

Now it seems obvious to me that The Horrible It was inevitable: I was given a time frame in which to execute something and I started with absolutely no process. I had no tools. I was done before I even started.

So now that I have a sense of what my process is, I am endless fascinated by other people's process. (O.P.P., if you will.)

Talking with Chris, the creator of the Broadway hit Rock of Ages, I was really struck by how quick he was to laugh and how obviously happy he is.

When he described to me how he was shut out of the film adaptation of the project, it was clear that while he wasn't short-changing how upsetting and frustrating that experience was at the time, he had reached a place where it was the creative process that mattered more to him than anything else: he just wants to make art. I think it's that clarity of vision and the valuing of process over product that gives Chris his zen-like joy in creativity. I admire it and him.

You can read my interview with Chris here

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Couple

I was more than tipsy. While I don't need much liquid courage in a karaoke bar where you have your own room to share with your friends, if I was going to sing George Michael's "Freedom" in a large bar straight out of season 2 of "The Wire," I was going to need more than one beer. 

The couple had been sucking at each other's headspaces pretty much since I walked into the bar. Not in that romantic, intimate way where there's a little part of me that envied them, but in that way that's just obnoxious. Yes, please, dry hump directly in front of the ladies restroom. Oh, for sure, don't worry, I was secretly hoping you'd knock my drink over. 

So I wasn't all that surprised when, at 3 in the morning in Brooklyn, when I'd flagged down a cab, the couple ran down to the corner and stole the cab.

I clenched my fists and shouted out, "You are horrible people! HORRIBLE! And you know it! Tonight, in the dark, when you're clinging to each other and pretending that you don't feel desperately lonely, my voice will echo out, and you will know it in the marrow of your bones, yes, you are horrible people. IN THE MARROW OF YOUR BONES!" 

My friends will vouch that this is exactly what happened. 

Another cab came by about five minutes later. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Sticker Price

There's a sort of car window decal that is very popular here in Los Angeles. For every member of a family, there's a little stick figure -- a dad, a mom, some kids, a baby sometimes, occasionally a pet. Some of them have family member's names under their cartoon avatar.

Maybe it's just my twisted way of thinking, or maybe it's because I've lost family members, but every time I see one of these decals, almost always on the back of a beat up minivan, I wonder what the family would do if someone died.

Would it be more painful to pick a day to go out to the driveway with an old knife and scrape away a smiling stick figure, or to try to ignore it every time you put away groceries and loaded up the bikes?

How sad it would be after so many months, when you're sleeping again, and food has taste again and you're thinking about maybe going to that movie you meant to see, to have that dumb sticker remind you that they're gone. And how sad it would be to realize that you'd started to not notice their absence. 

Thanks for Noticing Me.

 In Scotland I lived with a very nice girl who had rosy cheeks and wore Eeyore sweatshirts. She always made me a cup of tea and she'd boiled the kettle and up until that year, she'd never left the country. The only thing I asked my parents to send from America was peanut butter but both she and our other roommate always declined to try it. She wasn't fond of foreign food, she apologetically explained.

We were eating dinner. I had a copy of Chaucer by my plate, and I was wrangling keeping my page and something called "pasta bake" when she said, "Ach, Liz. It's so sad."

When I asked her to explain, she sighed and said, "That you're going to hell."

We'd discussed her strong evangelicalism and my atheism, and I could tell it troubled her, as if I'd confessed that I hadn't been to see a doctor in a long time, or that I had no savings account. She asked me if I was scared to die, and I said, yes, I supposed so, but not because of hell. Why not, she asked. Because, I explained, I don't believe in that either.

"Just because you don't believe in it doesn't mean you're not going there," she said, and stood up from the table because it was my turn to clean the dishes, even though I didn't believe in them.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Post Project

If you're so unlucky as to follow me on twitter, you may have noticed that I've been babbling about something called the Post Project. As more people have been getting mail from me, I've been getting more questions about what the hell I'm doing, so I figure I might as well attempt to explain it -- to myself more than anyone else.

I've written before on how I believe love only flourishes when it is given away like it'll never run out. "Love wastefully," I was told. The crux of this philosophy came from the best writing advice I ever got. It was from Paul Rusell, my professor at Vassar, whose books are lovely. Anyway, writing and loving are not so different, it turns out.

I'd been skipped ahead in the creative writing track at school and while my first couple of stories had gone over well, I eventually found myself "blocked." From my position here, years later and on the far end of a life-altering block which I call The Horrible It  (...more on that later...) I can look back and realize that I didn't know from blocked, but at the time it felt wretched. Every idea I had seem to wither the moment I tried to follow it.

Finally I went up to see Paul, who had a thick grey beard, pronounced poem "poh-eeehm" and had an office jam-packed with plants. I confessed that I couldn't write, which had never happened to me and  that I didn't know what to do. I think I may have even teared up, which strikes me a pretty hilarious now. It must have struck Paul as pretty hilarious at the time. He asked me if I had any ideas at all, and I replied that I did, but not for short stories, only for a novel.

That's when he told me, in not so many words, that I was killing myself in very small increments. If I tried to hoard my ideas for "the big book," I wouldn't be able to to finish so much as a paragraph. "It's like the loaves and fishes," he told me. "You have to give it away like you'll never run out, because then you never will."

I'm not quite ready to go into The Horrible It which has pretty much defined the past four years of my life, but I will say that I'm nearly free of its utterly damning and stifling shadow, thanks to some very heavy emotional lifting and a complete determination to give it away like I'll never run out.

The Post Project is my effort to continue giving something away without any expectation of return. It is also my way of trying to constantly be in a state of creation rather than consumption.

A lot can be gained from watching a good movie or a good television show, but I find that if I am doing something at the same time -- doodling, picking at my guitar, or making a post card to send someone, it feels like I am not merely sitting and soaking up someone else's art. Creativity is (has?) a force of inertia, and one of the ways I've gotten past The Horrible It is to really seize any chance to make something new rather than be happy and complacent either consuming or, worse and more Horrible, criticizing someone else's art.

Plus, who doesn't like getting mail?

Would you like mail? Send me a mailing address!