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I am the wreck Titanic.

Did you know that one of the first human responses in an emergency is to pretend that there isn’t one?  So much could have been done to prevent the staggering loss of life in the wreck Titanic if only those in charge had been scared enough.

They kick around ice chunks on deck.  They are not properly alarmed.  They send the first few lifeboats barely half filled with drowsy women, because this is not a serious situation.  This is merely a safety precaution.  Go back to bed, the rest of you.

Sinking for hours, sinking for miles, the American scientist in the submersible sighs when the Russian asks him for the piss bottle again.  When the light finally breaks through the silted darkness and shines on what he has been looking for, the American cannot breathe for joy.  The wreck Titanic is broken in two just like he has surmised in his conjectures.

It must have been the moonless night that made it so the lookout did not see the iceberg in time.  It would have been better had he not seen it at all.  Had they hit it head on and only breached the very front of the hull, the water could have been contained by specially designed floodgates and the vessel would have stalled, but not sunk.  It was the ship’s desperate turn at the last moment that made that long, lethal gash.

In the lifeboats, they hear the terrible sound of the ship rending itself.  They hear the screams but do not row towards them, though they have room for more.  Do you think that if they had been forced by the sun to see the faces of the dying bobbing in that frigid water, do you think it would have been different?

The American beams with pride that he is such a canny reader of the behavior of shattering structures.  The Russian cannot contain his excitement at this new find, and asks for the piss bottle again.  Then for a moment, they are quiet.  They think of the invisible life that is eating the wreck Titanic.  They know that one day, it will be digested away.  Except for the propellers and the steering column—they are made of bronze, you see.  Nothing down there eats bronze.  And so the wreck Titanic will never quite finish dying.

I am the wreck Titanic, and I am telling you: listen to the sound of tearing metal.  Do not go back to sleep.  Do not send the first class passengers back to their plush rooms.  Do not lock the third class passengers down below to maintain order.  Let them save themselves if they can.  I am the wreck Titanic sinking for hours, sinking for miles, and I am telling you: know when to be urgent.  Know when to get your life jacket.  Know when to brace yourself for a long wait in cold, cold water.  Do not tell yourself you are built too well to be destroyed.  But do—but do, on the way down—allow the violinists to fill the black night with music until the very last moment.

It ends in a maudlin display, as promised.

Helloooooo fine people.

This here is the first blog post I am writing totally wasted.  Let’s see what happens.  I pulled a muscle in my chest, which I truly don’t advise, because it hurts when you breathe, which is, like, you know, most of the time.   Anyway, the nice people at Kaiser put me on Vicodin.  I have not been awake for more than 30 minutes at a time since Sunday morning.  Even my cats are impressed at my newly found marathon sleeping abilities.  Also, a warning: being high makes me maudlin.  I apologize in advance for what may come out of me before the end of this post.  (Yesterday I asked a friend, all dreamy-eyed, what he is like when he is in love.  Seriously, I am dangerous.)

I had an awesome reading at Lit Crawl on Saturday night, before I was felled by the Gods.  It was great fun; the room was packed and attentive, and they applauded me with gusto.  An author’s dream, which contrasts beautifully with those readings one occasionally has to give at bookstores to like one employee and one old lady with a broken hearing aid.

AND…  I have smashing news.  Drum roll…  The story I had performed at Sacramento’s Stories on Stage, “Commuting,” sold to Zyzzyva.  Awesomepants, no?  I do not yet know what issue it will be in, but will of course keep you posted so that you can all run out and buy it and then run through the streets proclaiming the transcendent benefits of my prose.

Damn, I am so wasted.

I have to go back to sleep momentarily.  But, it seems unsportsmanlike to leave you without the maudlin display promised earlier.  So, I will say, I very much like what is happening in this country right now.

I missed you, America.  I love you, America.  I believe in you, America.  Be your promise.  Rise.

reflections from a death bed

One of my favorite fourth of July playthings has to be that bitty hockey-puck-looking firework which, when you put flame to it, twists and writhes into a long, convoluted black snake.  Then when you try to touch said snake, it crumbles into nothing, leaving only smooth, faintly greasy ash on your fingertips.

One of my friends must have set one of those off in my brain when he mentioned the Pandora myth in an e-mail.  My response was probably not what he expected:

Do you remember what was left cringing in the bottom of the box once all the world’s evils had come screeching and roaring out of it?  Hope, I believe it was.  Once upon a time, I used to think it was the last thing in that box because it was the most evil of all.  Every morning I’d wake up from a horrid dream life into a waking nightmare, and wish I had it in me to put myself to sleep for good.  All I would have had to do is grind up my morphine pills to break the time-release coating and eat them all at once.  But it was fucking hope that kept me from doing that, the ridiculous hope that one day it would get better.  Back then I was fifty pounds lighter than I am now (which, contrary to what they show you in beauty magazines, does not look good on my frame).  One day I may tell you the story if you want, or I can let the tidy surgeon cuts on my body tell you if you prefer.

Death is not so bad at all.  Death was actually a rather soothing presence.  When I would wake up in the morning soaked in the sweat of my narcotic nightmares, it would be sitting right there at the foot of my bed reading a magazine.  Waiting.  It would look up at me ever so calmly and ask, “Today?”
“No, not today.”
“Well, if you need me, you know where I am.”
“I know.  Maybe tomorrow.”
I grew to like Death so well that I actually still have a bunch of decade-old morphine in the recesses of my medicine cabinet.  I like having that exit there should I need it–should I need it in case the thing I am really afraid of chooses to come back.  That thing is extreme, sustained, physical suffering.  You can be as clever and as strong as you want, suffering will collapse you in ways that you cannot anticipate.

Well, I’m here now; I guess hope was right after all.  That one time.

tiny worlds beneath our feet

What are *you* lookin' at?

On a trail walk, I stopped to look at a wheat-colored praying mantis resting in my path. I might have stepped on it had I not been looking down at the pavement while pacing, my thoughts grinding away.  I squatted to get a better look at it, then blew on it gently.  When it felt my breath, it shivered like a blade of grass in the wind. This camouflage must work well when ensconced in vegetation, but in the middle of bare asphalt–not so much, dude.

Inquiring minds want to know what tasty stuff you might have stored in *your* butt.

On another constitutional, a flurry of tiny but intense activity down below caught my eye, so once again I stopped and crouched to check out the happenings. It was a yellow jacket working its pincers quite hard to rip the abdomen off a dead honey bee. I watched it hack away until it succeeded. And then I watched it bury its face into the bee’s severed ass as if it were a feed bag, excitedly gobbling up the crumbly orange pollen harvested inside.

I am cannibal. Fear me.

Since I couldn’t sleep, I was out again.  At the very least I could be soothed by the freshness of night.  And there, in the dark at my feet, was yet another spectacle: a pile of snails in the middle of the sidewalk. I wondered, hey, is this how snails screw?  In a big love heap?  I shone my pocket flashlight to behold this event.  This was when I noticed there was a broken snail in the middle of the pile and they were all eating it. Well. That went from porno to horror real quick.

So, next time you step on tiny, negligible life, take a moment to reflect who are you are crushing.

Ten years ago today, America.

There was that crazy hour with one tower up one tower down.  After that first collapse, one remained without its twin and you had the absurd thought that it would not fall.  You hung on to the hope that it would not fall, that somehow if one stayed up it would be all right.  That this was not the end of something.

But the lone building is on fire, inside it an exploded jet.  Unfathomable heat from the fuel.  There is so much paper swaying through the air like white leaves falling from a ghost tree.  There are the trapped ones that decide to jump.  A man and a woman holding hands for a dive ending in a thump you will never be able to unhear.  The lone building is on fire and it groans to its foundations and History laughs, laughs, laughs and says, welcome America to this twenty first century.

Do you remember how neatly the tower telescoped?  There was no wrenching halfway up the metal skeleton, no toppling of a broken giant.  Instead it dissolved into that uncanny white ash.  Imagine the beautiful engineering that allowed for such a perfect collapse.  The smooth destruction written into the construction all those years ago.

America, America, you can only dream that you might collapse so gracefully.

How to win at God

So, my husband’s a total atheist.  I am not.  Let’s say I am agnostic, for the sake of simplicity.  The other day we were talking about what happens when we die.  His answer, of course, is nothing.  My answer is, well, TBD.  Although I think it would be the finest joke in the universe if the light you go towards when you croak is in fact the opening at the end of the birth canal of your next mother.  As in, there is no transcendence, no dead relatives waiting for you at the celestial arrivals gate, you don’t get to look up any of the Big Answers at the Askashic Library, you’re just unceremoniously pulled out of your meat suit to be dropped straight into another that you’re going to have to wire from scratch to walk and talk and remember shit.  Ha!  A freaking infinite hamster wheel.

Anyway, we were talking about what happens when you die, and I posited to him something I’d like to share with you.  It’s called Pascal’s Wager, Douche Bag Version:

You should believe in an afterlife because, whether or not there is one, you win either way.  As in, if there is an afterlife, I get to find my husband in spectral form and go, “Ha!  Suck it, atheist!”  Whereas if there’s nothing and neither one of us exists, he doesn’t get to lord it over me.  Sad, no?  So, the moral is: Believe in God, it’s the only way you get to win the ultimate marital argument.

Catharsis FTW

Last night was incredible.  I got to watch what art is for.

———- Forwarded message ———-
Date: Sat, Jul 30, 2011 at 7:52 AM
Subject: commuting

Hi Elena,

I attended Stories on Stage last night even though it was Friday night and it required a 30-minute drive and I was leaving daughters at home who I’d barely seen all day because I was on deadline for my magazine and  . . . and . . . and . . .

. . . I’m so glad I did. Your short story, Commuting, has hung with me in a wonderful, inspiring way. Weird to say, given that it made half the room cry, including the actress who read it, but that’s just proof that it got under other people’s skin as much as it did mine. I did not cry, but I had a few moments of feeling intensely sick to my stomach, and it had nothing to do with the bones crunching and viscera the narrator’s childhood cat involved herself with under the bed. It was the narrator’s despair and the nothingness that comes with signing on for something so hollowing, so undermining. You don’t have to have engaged in adultery to know that stripped-by-layers devastation.

Thank you for a beautiful, rich story. I’m headed off to the Squaw Valley writers conference next weekend (my first one, as a fiction newbie) and part of the reason I set aside all my busy-life crap last night to go listen to stories was because I wanted the inspiration, the spark in the ass before I go plunk myself in the middle of almost 100 sure-to-be-better writers than me. So thank you for that, too. Your book is on my fall reading list!

Seriously, I can die now.  And I even made a little money selling a few books!  Yo G, I be droppin’ Hamiltons like I be Aaron Burr.

Thank you so much to Bonnie Antonini for a fabulous reading, and Valerie Fioravanti + the Stories on Stage crew for putting it together!


Well, it’s a rental.

Today, the awesome comes in two flavors: local and international!

(1) Local: Tomorrow night, Friday July 29th, my story “Commuting” will be performed by actress Bonnie Antonini at Sacramento’s Stories on Stage!  The show starts at 7:30 PM at the Sacramento poetry center on 25th street (at R).  So exciting!  Also terrifying!  But mostly exciting!

(2) International: 13 rue Thérèse was nominated for the Guardian’s First Book Award.  Sweeeeeet!  I just received a copy of the paperback edition for the UK (coming out in September; apparently they do paperback six months later over there rather than a year later like over here) and it is gorgeous–complete with a fabulous blurb from Simon Schama front and center: “A flirty, dirty tease of a novel.”  Rowr.

Also: some great write-ups for my book from the Commonwealth: Australia’s MC Reviews, South Africa’s TO>NIGHT, and England’s The Spectator.

With all this worldwide fame, I have to wonder why I still live in a messy apartment filled with dilapidated furniture mostly pulled from dumpsters, and carpeted almost entirely in old cat puke stains.  (Fortunately the carpet is cat-puke-colored, so the stains are invisible.  But if you scan it with a black light, it’s like a fucking House of Horrors in here.  Forensics EVERYWHERE.)

Well, I must decamp, because I have cats meowing at me for dinner.  Off to go refuel their squirty stomachs so they can juice up the last few square inches of our living quarters that don’t glow like a freaking nuclear reactor when swept with my Stinkfinder.  (Yes, that is what my hand-held black light is called by its marketing team–poetic, is it not?)  As the husband likes to say about our dwelling: “Well, it’s a rental.”

July events. And fish paste.

Come to Books Inc. in Berkeley tomorrow for a Bastille Day event with me and mystery writer Cara Black!  There will be wine and cheese and much frenchiness.  Cara is trying to talk me into singing the Marseillaise.  Seriously, you can’t possibly miss me embarrassing myself to this degree.

Also cool: my story “Commuting” is going to be performed at Sacramento’s Stories on Stage on the 29th.  I am very stoked and somewhat terrified about this (imagine some other voice performing your voice!).  Do take a look at the lovely interview Sue Staats did of me for the Stories on Stage blog.  If you come and someone in the audience bursts into flames from brain overload, that would probably be me.

I had the most fabulous dream: I was playing a Disneyfied under-the-sea videogame in which I had to go up all the levels of the ocean in order to reach the surface and ascend to meet Poseidon on Olympus.  I did it as a merman and everything was cool.  Then I did it as Ariel, the little mermaid from the Disney movie, and on the way up through the sky to meet my maker, I was sucked into the turbine of a jet engine.  It.  Was.  Awesome.

Either my unconscious was making some kind of commentary about inequality of the sexes, or it just wanted to grind some fish paste.

Girl, take off those seashells and give that lobster something to sing about.

Mutants! Zombies! Physicists!

Ahoy fine people!  I have just seen the last X-men movie in the theater.  It was passable entertainment, helped along by the fact that I want the man who plays Magneto to do dirty, dirty things to me.  Also, it imparts two important life lessons:

(1) Do not make Fabio angry.  He will fuck your shit up.

(2) Ladies: Always make sure you are wearing saucy black lingerie under your CIA duds so that you can strip and sneak into a sex party for world leaders at a moment’s notice.  Note: This only works if you are really hot.

Also, I have found a way to reset my brain after reading way too much about serial killers.  What did I do?  Did I look at nothing but pictures of kittens until the creepies went away?  Did I have chamomile tea and a heartfelt chat with a friend?  Did I go to the mountains and commune with nature?  Nope.  It turns out I detraumatized myself by watching a whole bunch of hideously gory horror movies.  Yep.  I don’t know why this actually helped.  Maybe because the violence was so cartoonish and preposterous that its power was catharsized away.

One of the movies I watched was Pandorum and it royally pissed me off.  Not strictly because it was shitty (if I got mad at every shitty movie, I would spend a lot of time mad), but because it was shitty but could have been awesome.  Why?  This is the part where SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS so be warned.

The movie operated on the following premises:

(1) Spaceship bearing slumbering human cargo towards Earth-like planet is humanity’s last hope.  Spaceship crashes into ocean.  Spaceship is marooned in ocean while everyone aboard who is awake thinks that spaceship is still in space and freaks out with space madness.  There is an awesome reveal at the end when they look out the window to see sea creatures.  This is a fabulous premise for a sci-fi movie, please stop there, Pandorum.

(2) Pandorum says, “No, one premise is for bitches.  I also want to note that when the passengers have space madness for too long, they turn into flesh eating zombies.”

(3) WHAT?  Oh, and also, Dennis Quaid is Tyler Durden.

What the fuck.  Seriously, Pandorum, you should have stopped after (1).  The script is so ludicrous it reads like eight scripts thrown together in a blender resulting in a movie that was such hash that I was rewriting it while I was watching it.  Fuck you for making me work while I was supposed to be entertained, Pandorum.

So, watching this debacle made me hanker for a movie about space madness that executed itself well.  I remembered having the shit scared out of me by a movie called Event Horizon about ten years ago, so I ordered it on Netflix.  It did not disappoint.  I mean, it wasn’t transcendent or anything, but it suspended disbelief adequately enough that I was not script doctoring while watching it.  Also, it featured Sam Neil being all broody and insane, which is awesome, and Lawrence Fishburne being all broody and stoic, which is just hot.  It also featured one of my favorite hammy premises, which is that physicists are really all homicidal maniacs.  I am married to one, so I dig that.  What can I say, I enjoy a good frisson.