Dear Diary: Mermaid Musicale

Thinking about, reading, feeling, experiencing several things at once, always, but noticing it especially today.

Reading about Baroness Elsa, noticing how she is so often described olfactorily, as pungent and repellent but also animal and intensely desirable. How WCW “loved” her so much he punched her in the face. Thinking how when I learned about dada in my teens she was never included. Like how I never learned about Mina Loy in college, even though at SFSU.

Noticing that on the very well-edited new remix of the Studio 360 radio show on the flarf phenomenon, my name doesn’t get mentioned, although there are a couple of my lines in the mix. I’m not huffy about that, but just sayin’. That’s OK, after I die someone will do a big university press book about me like I’m some kind of avant-garde “rediscovery.”

In fact, of the women of flarf, only Sharon’s name is mentioned on the show. Just sayin’.

The Baroness painted her nails at a time when only I guess underclass women painted their nails, if anyone did. In maybe subconscious mimicry of that, I painted my nails this morning, roughly the color of the background of this blog, and realized after the first coat that I was thinking of the Baroness. Now thinking consciously that I should endeavor also to make my outfits a little less boring, at least as a tribute to her, although the winter in this city does a lot to deflate sartorial inventiveness. Tomato can bra, anyone? Bald head tinted with iodine?

(Gary comes in to say, “I’m helping you out, sweetie, I put away the book about Baroness Elsa and put a book by William Carlos Williams on the table instead.” Laughs, “Just kidding.”)

Lately I am more interested in technology than clothes, and that worries me a bit. New camera, new netbook, new hard disk, and even coming soon an analog2digital converter. I am morphing, in middle age, from odalisque to dork. A dork with hot flashes! I did try on a beautiful faux-50s rose print dress at H & M yesterday, thinking in terms of spring, but the fit wasn’t right. That means, of course, that my sewing instinct is kicking in again, and there will be custom-made rose-print items for Nada in spring 2009.

Reading bits from Song of the Dodo and Keats and Embarrassment. Yesterday watched Abby Child’s On The Downlow (loved it!) and part of the Shaw Bros. Hong Kong Rhapsody, which I’d seen before. A-go-go contest, anyone?

Quotidian life so much about weathering irritation: with oneself, with other people. Not letting me get off the train. The horrible ugly fucking grim damp dark cold subway train. And this restless feeling of why aren’t parties better? Why are there no leaves on the trees? Annoyed, in general, by shallowness: I want vertiginous resonance. And of course I want time, I want to possess, squeeze, envelop, exude, and caress time.

Shall I wear my trousers rolled? Get botox? (I’m only half-kidding.) I am the goddamn mermaids singing to my selves, a whole goddamn mermaid musicale, but a fat lotta good it does me!

Japan revisited

Last week Nick asked,

I know you returned to Japan not long ago for a visit. Since you lived there for 11 years, do you feel like commenting on how Japan has changed- and maybe on how it has stayed the same?

I noticed on my last two visits there that Japan, already techno-sleek, was getting even techno-sleeker. On the train, it seemed that everyone was writing a cellphone novel. More trains are equipped with screens showing commercials, news flashes, weather reports, etiquette reminders (a lot of these in Japan!), etc.

I heard from friends that Tokyo in particular had gotten much druggier. Drugs were not widely available at the time I lived there, although everyone worshipped alcohol, of course. It seemed that drugs had become a problem among students, as well.

Sociologically, it seems that there are fewer women foreigners working as teachers, as jobs are harder to find and/or not so remunerative, and the men who have stayed are married to Japanese women and have been there a long time.

What else? It’s easier now for non-Japanese speakers to navigate the train system, as train announcements and signage are now in English as well.

There has been a kind of gentrification in the old neighborhood I used to work in, Kanda, which was once mostly for salarymen and now has a profusion of new restaurants among the gritty workaday downtown atmosphere. You can sit at one of the modern pubs (nomiya) and place your order on a little tabletop computer. The food is divinely inventive, and puts ours to shame, but then, even the worst Japanese food does that, pretty much.

“Convenience stores” there have gotten even more convenient, and their food offerings are also exciting. One can go into a 7-11 or its equivalent and buy a perfectly lovely little salad with a wafu dressing, a variety of onigiri, and so forth. Again, there is absolutely no comparison with the things we call convenience stores here.

I noticed also that almost no women have long black hair. Layers, dyed brown. Most of the women remain extremely skinny, and some look as if you pushed their foreheads lightly with an index finger, they would topple backwards. But that’s not really a change. Certainly there was a lot less of the Namie-Amuro look (fake tans, orange or white fingernails, bleached hair, anorexic body perching on high boots) but still a lot of the same weird quirky fashion tropes I remember even back from the late 80s, often involving various types of socks and legwear.

All this is to say, from my tourist’s perspective, things in Japan seem to be even better than they were when I lived there, but that could very well be because I (sadly) do not live there. What’s truly wonderful, though, is the ways that Japan does not change, and how one can feel the ancientness even inside all that sleekness.

Pedantic Usage Maven

I’m a pedantic usage maven particularly regarding the transfer of Japanese words into English.

I have remarked in this space before on the correct pronunciation of karaoke (kah rah oh kay), but I’m not going to harp on that now, as I really am thinking about usage and grammar at the moment, not phonetics.

The first and most important point is that there is no –s plural in Japanese. Most educated people sense this and do not say, for example, samuraiS or sushiS. (I have often heard kimonos, though.) Following this logic, benshi should never be followed by an –s. Ever.

It is important to note (I mean, I guess it’s important) that we have come to refer to our doctored film projects as benshi when in fact benshi means narrator. That means we are the benshi (no –s!), not our projects.

A similar issue came up recently when I was collaborating recently with Adeena Karasick and Sharon Mesmer on a conference proposal entitled “Towards a Testicular Feminist Poetics.” We wanted to describe our poetics in terms of the practice of bukkake, which Wikipedia defines as “mass ejaculation on any part of the body.” One of my collaborators had written that our poems “spew bukkake,” but that unnerved me a little. Bukkake is not semen; it is the act of mass ejaculation. Thus it was very hard to translate. In Japanese it’s bukkake suru which literally means, “to do bukkake” (which sounds a little awkward, but not unpleasingly so, in English). I was hard-pressed (as it were) to figure out how to better express (as it were) it, and I think I left the phrase as it was.

OK, one more little niggling annoyance, and it has to do with transcription and pronunciation. The stuff you buy in health food stores that is a combination of sesame seeds and sea salt is goma-shio (sesame salt), but the macrobiotic food companies render it as “gomasio,” which is truly unfortunate. First of all, Americans do this weird thing of accenting the second syllable, so it sounds like some kind of weird Spanish word: goMAseeoh. No! No! No! My ears hurt! Every syllable gets just about the same stress, and it sounds like this: go mah shee oh.

Am I just insufferable?

p.s. My mom wonders why Obama says Pahkistahn but not Ahfghanistahn….

Inauguration Day

Spielberg’s comment that he couldn’t “afford to do a shot like this.” False modesty. Of course he could.

Michelle in those olive green gloves: the fashion punctum of the whole event. Loved the brocade and Jackie O reference of her outfit (she likes necklines with “interest!” Fancy trim!). Maize is not her color, though, I think; I prefer her in strong jewel tones.

Cheney positively craven & Dickensian in his wheelchair. I watched from the packed auditorium in Pratt’s Memorial Hall. Everyone hissed with great drama.

Barack comes out with his “meditative” face. I think I want to be a fly on the wall of his brain.

All those alarums. Shouldn’t they update the music? Aren’t trumpets kind of pre-colonial? Like… feudal???

The Pratt auditorium fills with applause. “I love that man,” someone behind me says.

Feinstein’s lacquered 60s hair, her fine, robust voice. No one liked her in the 80s I remember. I like her now. That fine voice.

Rick Warren [why do we need an invocation? all these invocations & blessings. jeez]. He rhymed a lot: “History is your story.” I know he’s a hopeless homophobe but found myself moved. Sorry to be switching tenses.

How can they still talk about “the lord.” The lord?

BO looking golden – praying – cut to a woman in Memphis receiving divine grace

cut to a mixed couple in LA in designer shades

“hollow be thy name”

Aretha appears in gray felt cloche hat with giant bow, rhinestones and beads around the bow’s edge, her dove-gray eyeshadow coordinated with the hat. She sings, pauses after the first syllable of country, did anyone notice that? “Father” becomes singular, she’s interpreting. BO may be president but she’s the goddamn queen. NO one, no one does a grace note like Aretha.

Jill holds the bible, she’s the “helpmate,” Biden also speaks in a fine fine voice, sounds like he means it, but after the line “without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion,” which he says with conviction, a moment of spacing out, which I would do too after saying such a line of an oath… His oath followed by kisses,
then that awful piece “Air and simple gifts.” Personally I would be happy never to hear that damn Shaker song again, but I suppose I like that it’s appropriated….

Aren’t YoYo Ma’s hands cold? BO torquing his body to look at the musicians. My favorite thing is watching the girls, Malia with her little camera, such a modern child! And so beautiful! Sasha’s the family darling and clown, I can tell, but Malia already has gravity and grace.

An amazing thing to see the auditorium audience rise here at Pratt and then onscreen in Memphis, too.

The oath: his sweet fallibility.

The dynamics of his speech: a plunging arrow that then moved back up….

“worn-out dogmas that have strangled our politics”

“the makers of things…men and women obscure in their labors” (poets, did you not think of yourselves here?)

Cut to Pasadena, where a woman sees herself on CNN and jumps, startled. A frightening moment: “Did something happen to him?””

“harness the sun and the winds and the soil” this is like Steinbeck language, lovely parallelism, repetition of articles

“imagination…joined to common purpose” I hope he’s right.

Again there’s Malia with her camera, taking pictures of poppa

“the lines of tribes shall soon dissolve”: postmodern utopia

His message to leaders: “we will extend a hand, if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

key moment: “a man whose father might not have been served at a local restaurant can stand before you to take this most sacred oath”

then the speech finishes and everyone starts to leave not wanting to hear the poet

she was not worth staying for, “all about us is noise,” so how to use that noise more interestingly in the poem?

“say it plain,” she says, with much annoying rustling of paper, and I think NOOOOOOO, don’t say it PLAIN. More TORQUE pleeeze.

And I look down the row of auditorium seats to where Julian Brolaski and E. Tracy Grinnell are sitting and we grimace…

OK, New Era… bring it on.

Dear Diary: Tomorrow is a New Day

Today, helped Gary purge books. What a lovely feeling. Bye, books.

We went to get quarters to do the laundry. The bank clerk was so radiant. I wonder if she’s always radiant or if she was thinking of the imminent historical moment.

It’s a winter wonderland outside, not so horribly cold and every delicate branch is topped with powdery snow. G. and I said, whoa, the snowflakes look like 3-d graphics! They’re coming right at us! And they look so realistic!

Purging books is fun because you remember what you have. I kept poking my nose into The Arcades Project and Stendhal’s diaries.

I did not accomplish anything that I wanted to accomplish this long weekend, but that’s OK: my belly is full of brown rice and stew and broccoli and san pellegrino, and tomorrow is a new day.


Today was frustrating. I don’t blog about it much, but I still get terrible RSI from computers. There are two muscles, one in my right trapezius, I guess, the other under my shoulderblade ¬– a teres minor or major? I don’t really know my muscle names ¬– that seize up and then refer knotty, ropy tension down both my arms, in the front of the shoulder and then down into my forearms. Those of you who have known me for some time will know that many years ago I had to stop working for a while because of this, and actually won a worker’s comp case for it. I don’t know the name of my condition, it’s some kind of “myofascial pain syndrome,” but even doctors say that’s not a very meaningful term. Oh well. What am I going to do, not write?

Most of the time when I am sitting at a computer, whether at work or at home, I am in a kind of agony of tension, my muscles contracted into mean little metallic constraints. The situation is only alleviated by not using a computer (like that’s really gonna happen) or by moving around, taking a long walk, or dancing. That’s one of the primary reasons I persist in my dancing despite having so little aptitude for it.

So today was horribly frustrating, you see, I was trying much of the morning to work on a piece I want to send to the Vanitas film issue. I was making screen captures of my Uzumaki benshi and then trying to get them into some format that wouldn’t look too terrible in print. I tried reducing the size, desaturating or grayscaling, upping the dpi (stupid, I know, but a girl’s got to try), and fiddling with the contrast. The last trick seemed to help somewhat, but then I realized that the widget I was using to get the screen captures had left the little finger-pointing cursor visible. Arggh. So I can either not care about that, just lay bare the device, or go through and do the screen captures over again. That sounds easy enough, but it’s so important just to get that right little moment. After doing all this noodling for hours this morning, taking a break only to fix lunch, I was just a bundle of screamy tension, so I went huffily out into the bleak Brooklyn winter afternoon to try to find some poetry and aerate my system.

I walked fiercely down Ocean Parkway and cut over at I think Ditmas, walking all the way over to MacDonald and down along the El to 18th Ave., where I made a left turn and found myself in a little bodega that happened to sell Djarums. I bought a pack of lights on the recommendation of the zaftig, false-eyelashed woman who was talking to the cashier about how Rebecca likes Malik, but Malik is gay, and she shouldn’t get her hopes up. Maybe they can be very best friends, I said.

On my little stroll I took a few pictures, not with my beloved camera, for I dropped it and now the flash doesn’t work, so I took it in to be repaired on Friday, but with my iPhone camera, so I apologize for the quality (since when, I wonder, do I apologize for lack of quality? but anyway), here’s what I saw:



Marina’s dress shop. Observe the odd puffy things on the skirt:


and best of all:



"New York Feels Different Now"

I do love to work on commission. Michael Scharf wrote in asking me to expand on how “New York feels different now,” as I asserted in my list of things I miss. He asked me to include even the most obvious observations on the topic.

Of course New York has objectively changed, particularly since 9/11, although I don’t think 9/11 was the catalyst for my feelings about how the city has changed. I also know that New York has changed objectively in the last few decades, but everyone knows that, and I didn’t come here until 1999, when all of the gentrifying socioeconomic changes were well underway, so I really didn’t mean that.

I was speaking purely about my subjective feelings about the NY poetry scene, which are of course created by my relationship to it, which has changed greatly in my near-decade here.

I remember saying, when I first got here, that the scene felt like a Renaissance court. It seemed to me that there were clear holders of power that one had to sort of kowtow to in order to curry favor. I’m not sure if that was really true, but that was my received impression from talking to Gary, Chris Stroffolino, Mitch Highfill, and Drew Gardner, who were more or less my first points of contact on arrival. Like most poets, they have their paranoiac tendencies (I hope they don’t mind my saying so), and their sociology of the scene very much colored mine, initially. At any rate, I was a newcomer looking in, and everything felt novel and strange (and hence, exciting).

For one thing, I had just arrived here from Japan. My frame of references was different. I felt a little like Rumpelstiltskin. I could talk about contemporary American poetry, mainly but not exclusively from the West Coast, through 1988. Beyond that, all I could talk about was butoh and Terayama Shuji. I also conversed in a different mode, at first. I couldn’t interrupt properly. I couldn’t really be ironic (isn’t that ironic?). And I certainly didn’t get ANY of the pop culture references. Lots of colloquialisms were lost on me, too: I remember Gary used the phrase “don’t go there” in one of his early emails to me and it sounded totally bizarre. I would cringe when I’d hear people say in pizzerias, “Can I get a slice?” Now I say that, too, although I try not to eat pizza.

I mean, I was in Japan a hell of a long time and during very formative years (24-35), and I arrived here under very bizarre circumstances, never having lived in NY before, and having only spent a week with Gary in the flesh before moving in with him (and, for a little while, with Chris as a roommate). I remember in the first couple of weeks being afraid to walk around the city, just like a Japanese tourist.

All that being said, the formations of the crowds at (for example) the Zinc Bar (and parties, and other spaces, although maybe not St. Marks, which continues to feel for me like a church) from 1999 to, say, 2003 (not sure if that’s the delineator, but anyway), seemed to me almost utopically intimate, and quite unlike, in terms of a shared poetics, what I was able to experience as an expat in Tokyo. The atmosphere also felt looser and differently engaged than what I remembered from San Francisco in the 80s, less like an austere display of intellectual plumage and more playful, even kind of familial. I loved how the audience at the Zinc Bar in particular was practically right up against the reader, even though it was an awkward space, ergonomically (although not as awkward as the old Double Happiness, which was also, incidentally, an intimate-feeling space). Book parties at the now-gone Teachers & Writers space also gave poets a lot of friendly mixing time.

It’s funny, but I hadn’t thought about the extent to which physical space affects the social formations of poetry. Now most things happen at the Bowery Poetry Club, which is a narrow and distancing space that doesn’t, because events are so rushed in a little window of time, necessarily foment intimacy. I think the new Zinc Bar is beautiful, ideal really, and could be something quite wonderful if more people would actually go habitually and make a core audience. I remember some days at the old Zinc Bar, Gary and I would be like 40% of the audience, and we went really regularly. We should have got a medal or something.

If I compare NY to my trips to San Francisco, where readings so often take place in people’s living rooms, I feel very sorry for this city indeed. Poets need lots of leisurely, playful, friendly time together, and readings should be packed with people in not-very-big spaces. That way the poet gets a lot of “chi” (energy) from the audience and the room starts to sort of vibrate.

Perhaps for us, the flarflist has become that “not-very-big” vibrating space? As more poetic activity (for us, anyway) has gone online, the less there is non-virtually? That could be one difference I feel.

I didn’t mean by my statement that “New York feels different now” to simply telegraph angst. For one thing, I certainly don’t feel like an outsider looking in anymore as I’m very often likely to be the one curating an event I’m interested in. I feel very happily connected to so many brilliant people here, perhaps more people of more awesome stature and achievements than I could ever have dreamed of knowing. So I’m grateful for that.

I suspect many of my feelings of “difference” could simply be connected to my age. Friends have children (O but I love when Safi or Coco are around at events), obligations, wearinesses. (Or they have moved out of New York for better employment and standards of living?) There are very likely other poetry scenes going on in NY right now that I’m not privy to as a near-elder (I thought it was PMS, but now I’m hot-flashing: god, this bridge-age is terrible). It’s like maybe I’m seeing everything through bifocals now and so it feels different? I don’t know. Mike, what do you think? I know you’re not here right now (or are you?), but I’d love to hear your perspective, especially as a recent (future? I think I’m confused about where you are) expat.

Other New Yorkers? Your thoughts?