Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Back to New Orleans

The two families I know who moved to Austin from New Orleans after Katrina are now moving back. My son's classmate is moving back with her artist mom (check out some of Audra's amazing stuff here). And my neighbors just left. One of them, a girl of about 14, was sitting on the steps outside her place and looking quite sullen, so asked her, "Aren't you happy to go home?" She stared at me for a bit, then said, "No." So I asked, "Do you want to stay here?" Again, she said, "No." Then I totally understood. "You want to go somewhere else?" She nodded emphatically, and smiled.

Meena: New Mag

The editor, Andy Young, writes in about
a new bilingual Arabic/English literary magazine called Meena. We are based in New Orleans and in Alexandria, Egypt, attempting to open a "port-of-entry" between the two cultures. Our first issue was printed at the same time as Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed our city (we, the editors, live in New Orleans). But we are managing to get that one out into the world even as we work on shoring up our new issue, the theme of which is water and the city (this chosen before the event!)
Check it out, subscribe if you like what you see, and submit, especially if you have translations from Arabic.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Memorial Day Link: That Novel You're Working On

I like to watch this when I feel crappy about not working on that novel I'm working on (plus, watching it is an act of further procrastination), and I thought I'd spread the joy...

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Food Vainglorious Food

This Sunday's book review is a food issue, which is cool...I went to see Michael Pollan talk about food at BookPeople last week. It was only about an hour long, but it was enough to convince me to shop at local farmers' markets. He had many insights about corn-- yeah, corn-- and how it's become a huge percentage of what we eat: Americans use it to grow grass quicker; feed it to cows (whose rumens, or digestive sustems, are only used to grass), chickens, pigs, and even fish; put it in sodas and most desserts; use the starch and meal in most non-dessert carbs; fry things in it; and on and on. You can read more about it in Pollan's newest book, The Omnivore's Dillema, in which he "follows each of the food chains that sustain us—industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food we forage ourselves—from the source to a final meal."

Monday, May 22, 2006

Scenes from a Party

Last night, I went to a party, my second in 24 hours, and was met by a cute drunken man sitting on the front stoop. What follows is a "transcript" of what ensued.

HE: Hel-lo! What's your name? Strawberries! Stawberry dress with strawberry shoes. You look yummy.
ME: Randa.
HE: Hi, I'm Robert.
ME: O.K. I'm going inside now.
HE: First can I wear your cherry earrings? Just hang one in my ear.

I take my earring off and loop it into his ear lobe.

HE: You're cute.
ME: Thanks. Can I have my earring back?
HE: Not yet. Guess what my last name is?
ME: I have no idea.
HE: It's Fagg. F-A-G-G. Fagg. I was in the Marines briefly, and they called me seaman fag.
ME: Can I have my earring back?
HE: You don't believe me. Here.

He takes out his wallet and produces three forms of I.D. His real name is Richard A. Fagg. His license says so, his social security card says so and his...Screen Actors' Guild card says so.

ME: You're an actor?
HE: I try. Right now I work in security for the WB. I'm in town for the weekend.
ME: What shows do you do security for?
HE: Mostly Gilmore Girls.
ME: Shut up!

I sit down and light a cigarette.

HE: ...
ME: What's Lauren Graham like? Spill it!
HE: She's not nice. She's always on her cell phone. And her and Scott hate each other.
ME: I knew it.
HE: Yeah. But seriously, do you know how hard it is to be called Dick A. Fagg?
ME: You poor thing.
HE: Do you want your earring back?
ME: Sure. But first tell me about Alexis Bledel.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

"Real literature escapes being measured so crudely"

Rockslinga pal Jim Lewis exchanges emails with Jeff Salamon over at the Statesman regarding the NYT's "best book of the last 25 years" exercise (I prefer to think of it as a white boys' bukkake). Here's some of what Jim had to say:
Please forgive me for saying so, but this sort of exercise, in both the Times' form and in your refraction of it, strikes me as hopelessly vulgar and meretricious, and stupefying to one's sense of the use and value of books. The literary world can be competitive, of course, but we should hardly encourage its devolution into an out-and-out contest, whether for first place or last. Books aren't written that way, or read that way; and culture doesn't work that way, nor does history remember that way.
And later, about the fact that the list of judges includes only three Latinos, of whom only one is American (Junot Diaz):
Were there no other American Latinos they could think of, or did they all demur? I don't think you have to wait to see the list before you make the judgment: Either way would be telling. Where was Sandra Cisneros or Christina Garcia or Julia Alvarez, or Richard Rodriguez? While I'm at it, where was Sherman Alexie, or Colson Whitehead – not because they're point men for ethnic groups, but just because they're American writers of some prominence. For that matter, where's McMurtry? As long as we're inviting Ian McEwan, why not Orhan Pamuk? My point is not that they should have had some sort of affirmative action clause at work, but only that it would be nice to see a list, naturally derived, which reflected the true state of American literature today.
I recommend that you buy and read his novels: Why the Tree Loves the Ax, Sister, and The King is Dead. They're all brilliant, and his characters--many of them misunderstood criminals-- are unforgettable.

Also: he has an article in the Times Magazine today about Biloxi, FEMA, and the New Urbanists, with some hilarious Kool-aid metaphors.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Fucking geniuses! Geniuses!!! Part II

A commentary on hybridity, post-colonialism, meat politics, women, and much more. I can't even begin to dissect its meaty core.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Fucking geniuses! Geniuses!!!

I just discovered Books2eat, "The International Edible Book Festival is a yearly event that takes place on April 1 throughout the world. This event unites bibliophiles, book artists and food lovers to celebrate the ingestion of culture and its fulfilling nourishment. Participants create edible books that are exhibited, documented then consumed." This shit is awesome! I am all for combining two things I love, food and books. Check out their gallery, it's astounding.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Touched for the very first time

Bookforum's Summer issue focuses on a topic near and dear to me: the first novel. It's worth perusing, especially for this William H. Gass quote: "One's first novel is not like one's first kiss—over after an instant of fearful bliss." There's also an interesting image from Rebecca Goldstein, who writes, "The first novel is dangerous for an author. It readies the little cubicle for all her future work to be crammed into."

When I read Iris Murdoch's Under the Net, I was consumed with jealousy that she'd written such a fabulous 1st novel. When I found out that it was actually her fifth, just her first published work, I became cloaked in a bit of schadenfreude, I admit. But many writers I've read about and talked to say their first published novel was not their first written. It just makes me wonder what exactly makes a first novel a first novel, and I like to wonder.

My first novel, in case you're curious, was written at the age of 19 in my bedroom by my kid's crib. If I had to summarize it, I'd say it's about an abused teenage mother telling her unborn fetus, over the period of a single night, the story of its ancestors. It borrowed heavily from the Sheherazade/Duniazad frame. Maybe someday I'll put it online for fun, but I'm glad it never went out as my first novel.

Monday, May 15, 2006

I'd go to this if I could...

Thursday at 7PM at the KGBBar, H. Aram Veeser, an old student of Ed Said's, will give a talk titled "The Influence of Edward Said". Veeser is apparently interested in writing a bio of Said interlaced with incidents from his own life. Here's an example of what that bio would look like: a charming essay, in which Veeser takes snapshots of Said's "paradox of identity" alongside Veeser's own:
But the Columbia campus of 1968 was no place for Cato the Elder, and when I met him there he was still an Englishman. It took the Reagan years fully to bring out the Jeremiah in him. The phrase “Tory anarchy” appealed to him, and for good reason: he embodied a style of high conservatism prey to fits of wild improvisation. He was beyond ambivalent; he was at war. Three events will convey the idea pretty clearly. First, my introduction to him went like this.

“Professor Said?”

“Yes, what is it?” Smile.”You see I’m on my way out.”

“Hi. My name is Harold Veeser and, uh, I, you are, I guess, my advisor.”

“Then you must have some little card for me to sign. Ah, yes, there it is, just give it over here. Oh, look [now delighted] your middle name is Aram. Why don’t you use it? Do you speak Armenian?” At this juncture Said put his arm around my shoulders. I was stunned.

“Well, no, a couple of words.”

“That was a piece of negligence, Aram. Why didn’t you learn it?”

“Well, my father, he’s German, so, I guess, they didn’t—you know, there wasn’t a lot of Armenian spoken.” I noticed that his chummy grasp was moving me toward the door.

“A way can always be found, my dear boy. You haven’t progressed very far with this card, have you. Your courses, you see, need to be written in here.”

“I wanted to ask you about courses, uh, because—well, I am an English major.”

“Of course. But, look, it can’t be today, I’m late for an appointment. This is just not the time. Why don’t you come round later this week.”

“Well, but I have to register now . . . .”

“Look, uh, Harold, I would love to discuss all this with you, and I will when you come in for a longer chat.” Big smile. I realize that his warm embrace has been steering me to the door. He opens it. “You sign up for Professor M******* R********’s course. The Bloomsbury Circle. He’s fantastic, a brilliant intellect. Look, I’ll sign the form.” He flourished a gold pen the size of a frankfurter and autographed my program card. “And it was really an immense pleasure to meet you. You must come in and see me. Good-bye.”

I found myself standing in the hall, having just experienced for the first time the odd pattern of embrace-plus-expulsion that distinguished so many of Said’s involvements. With literary theory, with the PLO, in fact everywhere except for his personal relationships which never wavered, there is the gift for extraordinary intimacy and the power of bitter, dismissive rejection—simultaneously. The meltingly warm embrace lay over a cold and steady gaze, like two transparencies on an overhead projector.
It gets better; go read the whole thing, you'll love it.

I am so all about biographies right now. I hope he really does write it.

[Via L. Cerand over at Maud]

Happy Belly Day

One of the funniest things about Mother's Day is that children are the most self-involved, clueless creatures on the planet, so they really can't be relied on for great Mother's Day presents. Or even cards. My son's version of a Mother's Day gift was coming up to me first thing in the morning, tapping my belly, and saying, "Happy belly day." Now, moms who live with adults tend to get presents and cards, because adults have access to cars. I did not get presents, but I did get to go to brunch with Erika and her family, and later I had msakhan* at Selina's, which was a pretty damn fine Mother's night feast.

*This recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of olive oil--hilarious! I think they mean 2 liters (Selina--you rock my world!).

Friday, May 12, 2006

Heraklion is elsewhere

I stayed up until 2 am this morning writing some extra scenes into my novel after I realized that my narrator doesn't swim at all in the second part of the book, which just isn't right. I put in some whimsical stuff about seeing Heraklion, the submerged city that was discovered in Alexandria's shores a few years ago, and where Helen is said to have escaped from Menelaos.

This morning I woke up and went to read El-Ahram and found out that there's a new exhibit of the sunken treasures going on in Germany this week. Collective consciousness indeed. It was bizarre, and I love bizarre...and not just 'cause I'm part Egyptian & Greek.

On Borges

Colm Toibin has a great piece on Borges over at the London Review of Books, exploring his writing, his overbearing mother, and his love life. I'm reading The Aleph right now-- completely in love with it.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

My Best Friend's 1930s Wedding

I like to take credit for a lot of things. And I will now take credit for getting these two together. Erika is shy and reticent, and I forced her, in 2005, to come out to a New Year's Eve party with me. The person I was seeing at the time met us there, which was weird since Erika was solo, and in my whole friendship with her she had always been the one with the partner and I had always been solo. Anyway, I saw a hottie hot guy in the near distance and pointed him out to Erika. Me: "Go talk to him!" She: "No!" This went on about a dozen times until she went over eventually. Almost a year and a half later, they are married.

The person I was dating? We broke up a long long time ago.
And I've been single ever since.
Hence the fervent urgency with which I caught the goddamn bouquet.

You know why I love weddings? They remind me that there must be a stallion out there for me. And if not, that I'll always have good friends to get happy and piss drunk with.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Hedbgebrook & Comfort Foods

I'm going to Hedgebrook in 5 weeks, and I'm really looking forward to it. It'll be an amazing experience; I can't wait.

They asked me to list my comfort foods, and I wrote the following:

Mangoes, French Fries, Cheese, Guava Juice, Mint Tea, Bagels, Tacos, Spinach Pies, Spinach anything, Eggs, Palak Paneer.

I don't know what else to put. What would you put?

CS Monitor is all about Palestine

Well, their recent book reviews were: they loved Jean Said Makdisi (Edward Said's sister)'s book, Teta, Mother, and Me, and they also loved The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan. The latter sounds amazing; check it:
The Eshkenazis, Jewish refugees from Bulgaria, arrived in the brand new state of Israel in 1948. They were taken to the town of al-Ramla where they were settled in an empty home. Four months earlier, that house had been abandoned by the Khairi family who'd fled - imagining they'd be back the next day - seeking refuge from fighting.

The Eshkenazis had an infant named Dalia. The Khairi's son, Bashir, was 6 at the time.

Twenty years passed. Then, one day, as Dalia was home alone in her parents' house on break from university, there was a knock on the door. It was Bashir.

For nearly two decades he and his family had been living in exile, dreaming of the home they'd left behind. When the 1967 Six-Day War changed boundaries, it suddenly became possible for Bashir to travel to Ramla by bus. He arrived at the door of his former house and, against all odds, Dalia invited him in.

Thus was forged the most unlikely of bonds, continued over the course of decades through visits, letters, and heartfelt dialogues. Dalia has long believed that between two people of goodwill there is no issue that cannot finally be resolved. Bashir - whose youthful anger drove him deep into the Palestinian resistance and who has since spent a significant portion of his life in Israeli jails - does not necessarily share her conviction. But he has never ceased believing in Dalia's personal goodness.
Don't imagine, however, that this story offers any answers. Dalia and Bashir have never been able to agree on a solution to the larger dilemma (she favors a retreat to Israel's pre-1967 boundaries and a two-state solution; he continues to insist on a full restoration of the land to the Palestinians). But due to Dalia's growing conviction that the house should never have been taken from the Khairis, she has since turned it into a kindergarten for Palestinian children living in Israel.
That book will make me cry. I cracked a tear while reading the freakin' review.

Been Napping

Sorry about the silence in these parts; I've been napping and packing and grimacing: I have 5 weeks left in Austin and I'm sort of cranky since the house I thought I would live in was snatched by other people. So now when I'm online I'm usually looking for a house.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


I've been reading Kim Jensen's The Woman I Left Behind, about an American white woman's relationship with a Palestinian refugee. The parts set in Palestine and Lebanon are brilliantly drawn and engaging, but the parts in California leave me a bit antsy. Maybe I'll write something coherent about it when I'm done reading it...

Monday, May 01, 2006


That's what the sign said infront of the ranch on Saturday. My good friend Erika got married to her sweet man, Taylor, on his Momma's ranch. Longhorns and horses were witnesses. It was a 1930s-themed wedding, which meant we all wore bias-cut dresses (the women anyway), hats and pearls and gloves. The men were in suspenders and driving caps. Billie Holiday sang and we sat on blankets in the grass. There was an old fire truck and a fancy old automobile, fried chicken and cupcakes. The ceremony was long, and I cried twice.

When it came time to catch the bouquet, I tackled a dozen hot women and a 9-year-old and caught it. Not really: it sailed in my direction and I just kept my eye on it.

I've known Erika 8 years, but it feels like a lifetime. I'm thrilled for her...and for her daughter, Destiny, whom I love as much as I love my own kid.

Ben & Izzy

The NYT had a piece this weekend about the new Jordanian show, Ben & Izzy, which is currently seeking distributors. It's partially King & Queen produced/funded, and it's about an American kid and a Jordanian kid who travel through time with the help of a genie. They bump into Mark Twain:
"I reckon you and Ben don't get along too awfully well," the animated Twain tells the Arab boy.

"He is annoying," Izzy tells Twain. "Americans are so brash and full of themselves."

A moment later, Twain takes Izzy's chin in his hands, and instructs him: "Don't judge the country, son. Judge the man."
Maybe the creators should take Twain's advice:
Ben the American is described as "a symbol for his country" who is "big" and "energetic," but "on the negative side, he is a bit xenophobic, self-centered, needs-to-win competitive."

"Like his native land," the creators write, "he sometimes blunders into situations without thinking."

Izzy the Jordanian, by contrast, is "slight of build, sinewy and studious," but "on the downside, Izzy can be a little too serious, self-righteous, superior, even devious."
I explained the plot to my kid and his eyes glazed over half way through and he looked away. Then he said, "What's Izzy? What kind of Arabic name is that?" When I showed him the picture of Mark Twain, he said, "I don't like it...That animation is weird." I guess there's one Arab American kid who won't be watching that show...