Girl Crush: Jennifer Egan

I was behind the game on Jennifer Egan, and became familiar with her only after she won the Pulitzer Prize for A Visit From the Goon Squad. A Visit From the Goon Squad is a series of interlocking stories, and I’ve heard some complain that in the end the chapters did not come together neatly enough for them. But for me, this book was perfect. I loved that there was no bow to tie it all up. Sometimes, life’s a mess. In real life, we really do lose track of people who once meant so much to us. The characters were loosely connected through space and time, and sometimes we saw what the world looked like through their eyes and sometimes we saw how they looked through other people’s eyes. I find it endlessly fascinating to think about how we perceive ourselves versus the way others perceive us. How vast or narrow that gap can be.

I loved the book because it was:
A. Different than anything I’ve ever read.  It continued to surprise me, right up to the last page.
B. Well-written.
C. Both entertaining and profound. It covered the gamut of emotions. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always true. All of the characters (and there were a lot of them) felt so real to me.

 Anyway. Jennifer Egan is on my mind because I just read her story Black Box in the Science Fiction issue of the New Yorker. It’s indeed science fiction–strange and haunting. But it’s also a very human story , (how much can we sacrifice before we sacrifice too much?)  I was reading it in our extraordinarily comfortable La-z-Boy and got sleepy toward the end, so I took a nap right afterward. I had a dream that I was in the story, the main character, on this mysterious, frightening mission in the Mediterranean surrounded by violent criminals, (perhaps Egan’s use of the second person convinced me that it was actually me.)

Randomly enough, a friend emailed me the link to the story today, and told me that it was originally composed on a twitter feed, which is so dang cool. No wonder each sentence is so careful. Each is a story unto itself.

Being alone with a violent and ruthless
man, surrounded by water, can make the
shore seem very far away.

In a great three part interview with Slate Magazine, Egan says that she tries to create a new challenge for herself with each book. Once, she wrote from the perspective of a prisoner and tried to do away with all lyrical language. Now, she’s writing historical fiction. In a reading that Elissa Bassist (great writer, a woman I knew back when I was involved with the SF lit scene) went to, Egan explained that for Goon Squad:

She set three rules:

1. Every chapter must have a different protagonist.
2. Every chapter must have a different theme and feel.
3. Each chapter must stand alone.

I love this idea of inventing a new framework for each piece. Of committing completely to it. How thrilling for a writer. Each piece a brand new adventure for her to write, and for us to read. I love how she’s willing to toy with format, (one chapter of Goon Squad is a girl’s powerpoint ‘journal.’)  I love that I never know what to expect from her, but that I can be sure that I will be delighted, intrigued, and always satisfied.

Spoken Word Festival, my new girl crush, and Spring. Sweet Lovely Spring.

Hi Friends!  I spent all last week volunteering for the Calgary Spoken Word Festival and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. I’ll say straight away that I’m not a usual attender of Spoken Word events. I’ve seen a few artists and always thought it was kind of cool but I’ve never sought them out.

I love all aspects of this poster but I think my favorite part is the little red polka dotted shirt. 
The hat is also pretty great.

Well, I’ve got time on my hands and I saw a call for volunteers so I thought, Why the heck not?  I signed up for four events and the volunteer manager practically gave me a kiss she was so grateful. But as is usual when you give something of yourself away, you usually get it back in spades.

For those of you who don’t know Spoken Word is essentially poetry spoken aloud. But that’s just the simple explanation. There are infinite takes on the art form. I heard poems about Sasquatches and pudding, poems about activism and femininity and growing up as a gay poet in a Catholic Filipino household. I saw poets recite while standing on their heads, while twirling like a whirling dervish, in French and English. There were some who used keyboards, some who used guitars, some who sang, who beat-boxed, who looped their hypnotic voice as a foundation for their poetry. I attended a total of five events and I never got tired of it.


A poem by Chris Gilpin about the Sasquatch. One of my favorites.

Two of the events I attended were for groups of middle and high school kids. I gotta say it super neat to see teenagers engage with poetry.  They were hooting and hollering and laughing at dirty jokes. Spoken Word can be edgy or silly; it’s always thought provoking, and it spoke to the kids as adults. Yes, poetry is cool!

It was at one of these school events that I saw Rachna Vohra perform “Cover Girl.” There are a thousand lines I could quote from this, but I’ll let you see it for yourselves.

This poem made me want to jump up and down and scream “Yes!” The fact that it was performed before 12, 13, 14, and 15 year old girls made me want to run up to Rachna, hug her, and somehow time machine the performance back to my own insecure awkward dying to be skinny-and-pretty teenage self.  Rachna’s not only talented and stunningly beautiful, she’s also incredibly nice, and my new girl crush.

In the midst of these Spoken Word happenings, spring suddenly arrived. The sun–a warm sun–came out, I slipped into a tank top, and Dan and I are both sporting tiny sunburns this week.  We strolled aimlessly through the city, had noontime beers and lunch on a patio, a marching band passed us by in full Scottish regalia replete with bagpipes and swords. We walked by an accordion player and street string ensemble, cello, guitar and banjo.

It’s been years since I lived in a place with real seasons. The Bay Area does have seasons, but they’re slighter. This is so dramatic. The way the gulls are suddenly in sky, bird songs lilting over a warm breeze, the once desolate parks now packed with children screeching and laughing on the playground, dogs bouncing after balls, runners, bikers, people sprawled out on blankets.

Somewhere between the tiny green buds on the trees, the inspiring poets, and the unhurried time with my husband, contentment settled over me. I’ve been so worried about Life and Big Things happening, that I sort of forgot that the Little Things are just as good. A Saturday morning walk with a cup of coffee when the world is still quiet. A garden ready for seeds. A day with no plans. An unexpected instrument. Holding hands in the sun.

Another one of my new favorite Spoken Word artists, 
Brendan McCleod, is a member of this band, The Fugitives.

I promise not to forget. The little things. The big things. And everything in between.

Welcome Sweet Lovely Spring.

Girl Crush: Merrill Garbus

Yesterday, the tUnE-yArDs tweeted their new video for My Country.

The tUnE-yArDs are so awesome just thinking about them makes my heart thump harder in my chest. Their album Who Kill is a powerful thing, and they are even mightier live. Merrill can sing like a warrior. I’d say their music is not always easy to like (Dan says it makes him anxious) but I feel like it’s daring me not to like it, and then throwing its hands in the air and saying I don’t give a f*ck what you think! this is what I am and I love the tUnE-yArDs for making no apologies.

Their music is like a call for freedom and expression–and they are not always pretty about it. I find that refreshing.

The video is so defiant–from the fierce looks on the kids’ faces to the warpaint smeared over their noses. Just try and stop us! they seem pound out on the drums. I’ve always loved this song (once submitted it for Song of the Month) and the video raised it to the level of empowering battle cry. As Merrill reclaims the lyrics from My Country Tis of Thee, she sings about living in a country that is anything but a Sweet Land of Liberty.

“How come I cannot see my future within your arms?…
…I never told you what to do
but then you put me in some box.”

So Merrill takes her own words and turns them on their heads. Kids trapped in boxes, and yet shouting, banging, dancing, sticking their tongues out at us. They create their own world in that box. And it’s colorful and strange and beautiful, isn’t it? Of course at the end, they shake themselves free, pick up their heart and walk out the door. Merrill seems to want to challenge us all to do the same. After all, The worst thing about living a lie is just wondering when they’ll find out.

(another one of her this-is-who-we-are-we-don’t-care-what-you-think videos. I love the aesthetic she’s created.)