David Ulin’s new book, Sidewalking, is a meandering narrative that follows the author and critic through the streets of L.A. as he contemplates the city’s past, his role in understanding it, and what it means to create space. Ulin’s work is a natural descendent of Rebecca Solnit’s Walking; as such, Ulin follows a winding path through L.A.’s collage of ideas and structures while considering the city’s effect on his his life. Sidewalking asks us to place ourselves on the (often neglected) sidewalks of L.A: to access the city as pedestrians, in every sense of the word.

Ulin was my mentor at UC Riverside’s Palm Desert Campus, and recently we conversed over email about his new book and his role as a “reluctant Angeleno.”

MonroeComp1.inddA date gone this awry might turn out fine if, for example, we could have gone back to my apartment and slipped off my shiny dress and made love like James Stillman and I used to do in Wisconsin, like Max and I used to do in Kansas, where you get into tried and true positions that take you to brief ecstasy. Then we’d relax, agree that the joke-telling had turned awkward. If the sense of intimacy lasted, in time I’d even be able to tell my date he needed to dry clean his sports coats. But the sex was polite, muted. Because he was polite, muted? Because his feelings were? I’ll never know. He left afterward because he had to teach folklore at a community college fifty miles away in the morning—by which time I was packing up my laundry to take to a laundromat a block away.

author photo 2015, chair, b&wThe blurbs say your book is funny, and yet it explores that era just after the feminist movement. Feminism is serious, necessary. How did this turn out to be funny?

It’s not a slapstick book, no. But the gap between what you expect and what you get instead—the ludicrously unexpected—is the definition of a punchline. If readers find the book funny, that’s probably because it’s about a life in which incompatible values coincide. I straddled social classes. I straddled opposed definitions of womanhood. This made for predicaments: the wrong words and behaviors in the right setting; the right words and behaviors in the wrong setting. And I prefer being amused, not stricken.

Kate Christensen 4 KB copyI fell in love with Kate Christensen’s fiction for the smart but deeply flawed characters, the vibrant settings, the good old-fashioned plot twists and, of course, the prose, once described by Janelle Brown in the San Francisco Chronicle as “visceral and poetic, like being bludgeoned with an exquisitely painted sledgehammer.” Always in the mix, lusciously omnipresent, was food and booze, flavoring the titles (In The Drink, The Epicure’s Lament) and served generously through the scenes. There was no doubt the author was deeply involved with eating and drinking.

HOW TO COOK A MOOSE_COV_hr copyA Tale of Two Kitchens

Right away, when we first moved to Portland, I noticed the large numbers of homeless and mentally ill and drug-addicted and hardscrabble people on the streets. Walking Dingo through our new neighborhood, I saw a lot of strung-out-looking people talking to themselves with unselfconscious intensity as they took refundable bottles from recycling bins, and couples screeching at each other, enraged and incoherent, often many feet apart on the sidewalk. Every time we drove to buy groceries, passing by a series of homeless shelters on and near Preble Street, I’d look out the window of our warm car at the faces of the people standing there, huddled groups of down-and-out men and women, a few black but mostly white, hunched in wool pea coats and hats with earflaps, or watch caps and down jackets, rubbing hands together, kibitzing and standing around waiting for the soup kitchen to open and exhaling cigarette smoke as if it had warming properties.

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My father died courteously a few years ago. We stayed in touch through the period of his decline. I visited as often as I could and he seemed grateful for my company. There was never any particular beef between us; he was mostly absent when I was a kid. Lots of dads hung around the periphery of their children’s lives in the sixties and seventies.  When I told him we should talk about him not living alone any longer, he said he understood. The following day, he told me he was checking into a nursing home to rehabilitate himself. I was baffled, but already had plans to see him in a week.  We’d work it out then. He waited for me, health declining. We both knew no “rehabilitation” would occur. When he saw me, he smiled, said he loved me, everything was good, and then he died. Before the next morning. Done.

My mother won’t be so easy. She’s losing her memory. She’s spent all of her money. She’s in great physical health and just moved into my house last week.  She seems to believe that most things are either my fault for nagging her too much or Barack Obama’s fault. This is, at least in part, because he’s a Black Democrat Muslim. The worst kind of each of those things.

What happens when the mind begins to misfire? And then a relationship begins to misfire? Rewind. What happens when a relationship misfires and then the mind misfires and? Playback. Misfires create misfires create minds. Forward. Where do we go from here?

Good Sister

By Stephanie Austin


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My sister rocks a 90s scrunchie like no one’s business and still loves The Lost Boys, her knock-off Crocs and silk shirts. She cannot rock adult conversation, the processing of complicated information, or general emotions. She is retarded, if you prefer that horrid little word. She is disabled, challenged, slow like dial-up. You hear the connection trying to start, you know eventually the connection will start, but in the meantime you’re sitting there sighing loudly in frustration, waiting because this has been your whole life, waiting for Sandy to get something. And sometimes when the connection happens, you get a  happy story about the wedding she wants to have at Disneyworld, the bakery shop she wants to open in downtown Phoenix and all the free cookies she’ll give her family, or sometimes you stories about her bullies in high school, her sadness hiding under irrational anger that involves swearing at people under her breath, stalking around, crying in the corner, locking herself in the bathroom because she is different and doesn’t quite understand how she is supposed to fit into the world.

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At a recent screening of The Gift, a sneakily great psychological thriller partly about, amongst many relevancies, the unknowability of other people, I felt that familiar paranoia. I’d noticed a man in the parking lot on my way in, walking in circles and talking to himself, hands never leaving his pockets. I told myself I was being unreasonable, misjudging this poor guy who, like me, only wanted to pass an idle Thursday at the movies. I bought my ticket and my popcorn. I took my preferred seat in the theater, in the center of the center row. Then the man entered, mumbling louder now, hands still in his pockets. He chose a seat in the first row, reconsidered and moved back one, thought again and moved back a few more. I decided to wait out the trailers in the lobby.

The rise of the movie theater shooting is, for the consummate moviegoer, a threat both mortal and existential. As a writer and a cinephile, I proudly consider myself a member of that special class of Americans—surely a growing class—who feel most fully themselves when situated in front of a screen; for all its ordinariness, no public space seems as momentously personal, to me, as the movie theater. That this secularly sacred place has become a stage for unthinkable, deathly violence is pure tragedy, one that I’ve condemned simply and processed complexly. Choosing between a matinee and a midnight show shouldn’t be a life-or-death decision, but the lurking, random terror of our violent present has leant that choice a terrible new weight. It’s a cruel inverse relation. Americans have never had more reasons to escape to the movies, and yet never has that escape been so dangerous.


Were you concerned that people would be put off by the story you were telling? It’s difficult material, your family with its two lobotomies.

I was worried all the time. I knew that life had given me an incredible story to tell—six siblings, two lobotomies: one third of my mother’s family.


Incredible, yes. But who would want to read that?

I’d tell people what I was writing and watch as they turned green when they heard the word lobotomy. But it turned out that there was a story behind the story. People have since come forward to tell me they too come from families with mental illness. Allen Ginsberg, whose mother was lobotomized, wrote: “It would seem odd to others…that is to say, familiar—everybody has crazy cousins and aunts and brothers.’ What I first thought was strange turned out to be a universal story.

Cover_WhiteMatterThe Family


(b. unknown, Byelorussia; Smalnitsky changed to Small at Ellis Island)


PHILIP GOLDSTEIN (b. unknown, Poland)

Their children (b. Boston), in order of birth starting from eldest

MINNA b. 1904

marries SAM Son DAN b. 1930

JEN b. 1905


BENNIE b. 1909


HELEN b. 1911

marries Lou Daughter JANET b. 1943

PAULINE b. 1914

marries GEORGE Son PHIL b. 1939

FRANCIE b. 1920

marries HARRY

This is the story of a family who made mistakes. Who made choices based on imperfect knowledge—of the world, and of themselves—and had to live with their consequences, as did I, the next generation of that family.

The words “prefrontal lobotomy” were spoken often, common currency growing up in my family. Sometimes I’d hear the term shortened to “frontal” lobotomy. I had no idea what premeant, but it seemed to confer authority, as though the speaker knew what he was talking about. This childhood recognition of distinctions made me—a Jewish, lower-middle-class child—a true citizen of Boston, a city that prided itself on being correct. I really should not have heard any of those words.

On Hatching

By Katie Seeley



return to sender

In the fall, I received an email intended for a woman named Kelly Seeley: a buoyant welcome to the parents of new second graders. My first thought, as with every legitimate-sounding email from an unknown sender, was that the catalyst of my life’s plot had finally arrived.

I have no second grader. I have no child at all.

But this email had mysteriously presented the idea of a long lost child who would be hilariously introduced to my student loan-riddled life with a sideways cap and a pet frog. He would joyfully playact fairytales by puppeteering low-rent cockroaches around the Lego universes he builds atop my duct-taped floorboards. He would fill any unobserved voids I have, and call my boyfriend Pops. We would ride the train to Cubs games and he would punch the stiff leather of a mitt and I would worry about a foul ball shattering his perfect zygomatic arch. He would start school and I would spend hours at Mariano’s toiling over which selection of sliced turkey I should sandwich for his lunch. And I would think about whether I should send him alone on the El to school, or if I should lease a safe sedan. Consider the tactic I would advocate in how to approach a bully. Wonder if his crowd of second grade friends will transition safely and responsibly into high school. How and when to warn him of the link between hereditary lung cancer and peer pressure. How much money the tooth fairy should leave. Are molars worth more than the front ones? Or by second grade, had I already missed the wiggly teeth phase completely? And what else would I miss?


A few years ago, over the Grapevine mountain range, down at Disneyland, I caught sight of the Beastmaster waiting in line for the Mad Hatter’s teacup ride. And by that, of course, I mean I saw Marc Singer, the actor who played the sword-swinging, animal-loving barbarian, Dar, in the 1982 fantasy film, Beastmaster.[1] I saw the actor, not the character, though it was, admittedly, a little tough for me to keep them apart in my mind.

I’d come to the Land of Disney with my former wife and our son. We’d driven four-plus hours to visit some friends in Hollywood and to escape the murderous San Joaquin Valley heat; and there we all were, nestled into the ample bosom of the happiest place on earth, queuing up for the Mad Hatter’s ride, when I spotted him.

Across the winding maze of happy people, I caught a quick glimpse of the Beastmaster. Brief at first, my gaze shifted away, but I kept glancing back, subtly collecting the confirming details—angular face, aquiline nose, overly large nostrils, broad shoulders and blondish hair. It took a minute or two for me to register Singer’s face and place him in the films I knew; but when I did, I felt that strange satisfying heat of nostalgia settle into my gut, and I wanted to roll around it in a like a dog rolls in dead stuff.

Funeral_Procession_by_Ellis_WilsonIn August of 2007, our co-worker, Sherri’s, daughter was killed by an ex-boyfriend. He followed her car home, slipped under the arm of the security gate, and then shot her multiple times in her apartment. He went back to the parking lot and killed himself. The complex has them on videotape: Daneel standing her ground, telling him “It’s over, Manny. Go home,” and then walking back up the stairs to her place, Manny in his car, getting his gun from the glove compartment, loading it with bullets kept in the trunk, walking back up to Daneel’s, then back down to his car before putting the gun under his chin. It took him thirteen minutes to die.

Zoom Zoom photo

That’s my life in 2009: my Mazda 3, my new landscaping, my maroon curtains I thought went well against the cream color I’d chosen for the walls of the room downstairs I made into an office. The office my ex-husband (sans ex at the time) used to walk into and spread his arms and say, “Look what I gave you,” and say, “How much money can you contribute this month?” and say, “I’m posting an ad for a stranger/roommate on Craigslist to make up for your lost income.” If you looked through those curtains, you’d see me slumped over my computer, unemployed, drinking my fourth cup of coffee, submitting resumes and/or writing my novel I used to believe in, and/or posting on Facebook and/or feeling depressed about my depression.

The City of Mesa paid us $500 to replace that grass with desert friendly shrubbery. Removing grass is a horror. Annihilate it with chemicals. Wait for it to die. Rip it out by its roots. Cover the ground with black plastic so it can’t push back through. My father-in-law, taking a break from schizophrenia to help with our landscaping project, shoveled the remains of the grass into the back of his white van and drove the dead pieces out to the desert where he dumped them. The same white van he used to park down the street and watch our house in an attempt to catch the kidnappers who’d taken my husband. The same white van he called from asking my husband if he was safe to talk, if he was safe to signal from the window, if he was safe to use code words so the kidnappers didn’t catch on. When we planted the Jacaranda near the walkway, we imagined how beautiful it would look in springtime, how magnificent it might act as shield from the sun. When I left in 2012, the support beams were still in place, holding up that scrawny trunk like two men carrying their drunk friend out of a bar.


In 2006, I started tutoring the Moorhead sisters twice a week at their charter school on Napoleon Avenue. It was one of the first schools to open after Hurricane Katrina with 319 students enrolled. The Moorhead sisters got to school by city bus. They had evacuated Katrina late – in a rainstorm – and saw the car in front of theirs drive over the spillway. Everyone in it died. Their family had lost their home and they’d relocated to a double on Elysian Fields. Their mom was an RN at Touro Infirmary, but she’d decided to open her own catering business.